Recorded on 02/19/2010, uploaded on 07/21/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Composed in 1772, at the height of the Sturm und Drang period of Western European music and literature, the six string quartets that make up Haydn’s opus 20 are a landmark of the genre and of music history. It was these quartets that gave Haydn the nickname “Father of the String Quartet.” The vestiges of the old Baroque were long gone and the Galant style was the prevalent style among composers of the time—a style which focused on simplicity and clearness. Such intricate techniques as counterpoint fell into disuse in preference to a single melody unobscured by its harmonic accompaniment. Major keys were favored over minor ones as they were more adapted for the lighthearted quality of the Galant style. Finally, music of the period often was divisible into evenly constructed four and eight measure phrases. Haydn’s opus 20 changed all this forever.
Perhaps taking his cue from the great philosophical and artistic trends that were spreading across Europe, Haydn wholly rejected the prim and proper etiquette of the Galant style. He returned to many of the hallmark techniques of the former Baroque era (such as fugue) but at the same time he forged a new method of composition that has influenced composers for the string quartet right up until modern times. Chief among his innovations was an equal balance among the four instruments. It was typical for the first violin or, on some occasions the second as well, to dominate the entire quartet melodically while the lower instruments simply provided harmonic support. Haydn, however, placed equal importance on each member of the quartet. If one part were omitted, it would certainly be missed and the whole would suffer. A corollary to the added importance of each part is a reinstatement of a contrapuntal form of writing. Whereas each of the quartets displays a contrapuntal mindset in nearly every measure, it was Haydn’s inclusion of such seemingly “dead” idioms as canon, melodic inversion and even fugue that solidified his wholesale rejection of Galant simplicity. Lastly, the structural innovations of Haydn’s opus 20 can not go unmentioned. In addition to the use of uneven phrases, the six quartets also show the first fruits of the modern sonata form.
Among the six quartets of opus 20, the fourth in D major is the best-known and has met with greater public admiration than its five siblings. Actually the fifth by composition order, the Quartet in D major opens with a pastoral first movement. The opening is reverent, yet imbued with fervent energy which manifests itself as the movement progresses. The first movement is also a wonderful example of Haydn’s “false reprises.” Multiple times through the course of the development section, Haydn alludes to a return of the sonata form’s first theme, each time only to carry the development onward. When the recapitulation finally does make its appearance, it begins deceptively, not in the key of the tonic, but in that of the subdominant! The following movement, a theme and variations in D minor, is one of Haydn’s most profound pieces. No doubt, it is surely a piece of supreme genius. One finds within its compass the intricacies of the Baroque era, the clearness of the Classical and a fascinating foreshadowing of the Romantic. Four variations follow the theme. Each instrument receives its turn in leading the ensemble—the second violin and viola together in the first variation, the cello in the second, and the first violin in the third.
Though titled “Menuetto,” the third movement’s only visible connection to the court dance is its triple meter. Marked “alla zingarese,” the movement is actually a gypsy air. High and low instruments play alternating accents, greatly confusing the location of the downbeat. In total contrast, the trio section, led by the cello, could not be more straightforward as if the music was somehow immovably fixed to the barlines. The fiery Presto scherzando finale continues in the gypsy spirit of the Menuetto. Flashy melodic lines and chromatic harmonies abound. The ending, however, is not as one might expect, though we should expect nothing less from Haydn. Joseph DuBose
I. Allegro di molto
II. Un poco adagio e affettuoso
III. Menuet alla Zingarese new
IV. Presto e scherzando
Performers: Nicholas Tavani, Violin
Rachel Shapiro, Violin
Greg Luce, Viola
Alan Richardson, Cello
beautiful soothing music
Just added to my playlist. It is indeed beautiful soothing music.
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