Haydn String Quartet: Op 76 No 2 ‘Fifths’

Haydn String Quartet: Op 76 No 2 ‘Fifths’

Gut or metal? Repeats, or straight by? Pathos or plain talking? Peter Quantrill seems to be behind the notes of an enigmatic masterpiece and asks ‘What is Haydn as much as’?

Aquick reminder: tonal music – certainly nearly all western music for that matter – is constructed from 12 equally separated notes throughout the compass of an octave. Each tonality (C main, D minor, and so forth) makes use of eight of these notes in a scale: therefore octave, 1-8. The root chord of every tonality (additionally known as key signature) comprises the primary, third, fifth and eighth notes of the dimensions, 1-3-5-8.

The strongest, most steady relationship inside these notes is 1-5, or 5-1. That’s the primary theme of this D minor Quartet in a nutshell, two falling fifths of A-D adopted by E-A. So what’s Haydn as much as?

Virtue Of Simplicity

The composer typically made a advantage of simplicity, however Op 76/2 takes melodic economic system to a brand new degree. With an understated virtuosity of approach, he challenges his listeners and his colleagues to marvel at what will be wrought from a humble pair of descending fifths. It’s a taut drama of contrasts, typically emphatic and abrupt.

Anyone who performs a string instrument is aware of that these are additionally tuned in fifths. There is a pure concord between medium and message within the ‘Fifths’ Quartet that heightens the sense of a return to first rules. Haydn composed the Op 76 set of six quartets round 1796-7, on the summit of his fame. He was unbiased, a person of some means, dwelling in Vienna however celebrated throughout Europe, dedicated solely to writing an annual Mass for his former patron in Esterházy. Otherwise he centered most of his energies on writing his oratorio, The Creation.


Quatuor Festetics, illuminating Haydn with intestine strings and Hungarian verve

The Op 76 quartets manifest an expressive freedom that appears to flower in Haydn’s music after the dying of Mozart in 1791. Take the third motion, starting with a grimly relentless canon in two elements – the 2 violins enjoying one half in octaves, viola and cello following three beats later. Then comes an off-the-wall trio that’s neither main nor minor however each, and sounding like a rusty squeezebox with half the keys jammed down.

Last autumn I heard Op 76/2 given stay by a younger Norwegian ensemble, Opus 13. It was a Goldilocks efficiency which made me fall in love with the piece another time. Tempo, articulation, intonation, expression – every part was good. Back at dwelling, I pulled out my trusty Qualiton LPs of the Tátrai Quartet. The sound was comfortingly acquainted, old-school Hungarian, however the efficiency learn like a court docket report. The notes, my Lord, and nothing however the notes.

Goldilocks Scale

Hans Keller wrote of Op 76 No 2 as ‘the least misinterpreted nice Haydn quartet’, implying it was one way or the other bombproof from odd concepts or wayward execution. He, of all critics, was entitled to his incorrect opinion for there’s a small and really candy spot on this music between doing an excessive amount of and too little with it. Go again to the Galimir Quartet and their recording from 1949 and you’ll hear them sawing by the Minuet. Accents, phrasing, dynamics, who wants ’em?

Then I turned to the London Haydn Quartet on Hyperion, inside a much-admired, up-to-date period-instrument cycle of the quartets. The distinction with the Tátrai is so radical as to make a nonsense of the concept solely nineteenth century Romantic music invitations extremes of interpretation. The first motion is greater than twice the size: a matter of repeats, sure, but additionally tempo, and certainly the LHQ is the slowest model on report.


The Doric Quartet, an invigorating single-disc selection in one of the best trendy sound

Tempo – the fundamental pace of the music – is one factor, and pulse is one other. Quartets in older recordings are inclined to set a pace and keep on with it, typically slightly charging throughout the barlines (‘too little’ on my Goldilocks scale). Modern, interval quartets, in contrast, form the phrases with lavish software of rubato. In the case of the LHQ, scarcely a phrase is allowed to talk for itself with out some expressive refinement or different, and the consequence compromises the momentum of the music, and the logic of its argument.

The Chiaroscuro Quartet likewise stay as much as their identify. There is gentle and shade in all places – a telling pause right here, a shock accent or dynamic there – however the painterly results draw extra consideration to themselves than to the notes after some time. So, to place away Beckmesser’s slate, there should certainly be room for a center means that does not sound like an inventive compromise.

And there’s. A British custom of plain-spoken, clever musicianship in Haydn was exemplified on report first by the Aeolian Quartet (Decca), then The Lindsays (ASV). Their trendy successors are the Doric Quartet on Chandos, who comply with trendy interval follow by taking all of the repeats. They discover gravity in addition to 18th century magnificence within the Andante theme and variations with a slower tempo than their predecessors.

Among older ensembles, the Tokyo Quartet (RCA/Sony) and Quartetto Italiano (Warner in mono, Philips in stereo) additionally rating by not treating the Andante as a pleasing intermezzo. Their Minuet canon is stern however not aggressive; native character is not on the menu. The opening of the finale brings with it one other check – whether or not or tips on how to construct as much as the primary forte, which arrives at bar 20, and the Tokyos flip up the warmth by every bar.


‘Strings quartets’ anybody? But there isn’t any mistake in regards to the excellence of Quatuor Festetics on Arcana

There is, although, a lot to be mentioned for the extra yielding tonal palette of intestine strings in Haydn, a wider palette of vibrato, and period-style bows that lean in to the pure form of the phrases. With these instruments at hand, the primary violinists of the Mosaïques and Festetics contact within the cheeky tail to the finale’s predominant theme the place different quartets make a meal of it with clever pauses.

Front Row Seat

The Festetics’ intonation is barely extra suspect, and the recording extra homespun, however they bounce the bow off the string completely within the Trio. As ordinary, the Naïve recording consists of the sniffing of the Mosaïques chief Erich Höbarth – a deal-breaker for some, although not for me – and the compensating issue is a palpably vivid sense of sitting within the first row.

Both ensembles have the measure of the primary motion as a grand narrative anticipating Beethoven, proper as much as the coda the place Haydn appears to show up, nearly by probability, with the identical ‘destiny’ motif immortalised by the youthful man in his personal Fifth Symphony. Both of them additionally sustain the strain by the finale in order that the D main coda rises above the standard, ‘that is all, people’. You will not discover the Festetics besides in a field set of the entire quartets – however then you definately purchase a lifetime’s leisure and meals for thought into the discount.

Essential Recordings

Quatuor Mosaïques
Naïve E8665 (2CDs)
Period-instrument quartet pioneers which can be Franco-Austrian in sound and structure, by no means taking Haydn with no consideration.

Quatuor Festetics
Arcana A207 (19CDs)
Still the one Hungarian period-instrument group to have recorded the quartets, and uniquely ‘genuine’ in that regard.

Quartetto Italiano
Warner 9029673920/Philips 4260972
Whether in mono (Warner) or stereo (Philips), one of many few ‘basic’ ensembles to transcend enjoying by the e book.

The Lindsays
ASV/Universal CDDCA1076
Some dated legato within the Andante, however in any other case it is a usually looking out account with a correctly Sturm und Drang finale.

Doric Quartet
Chandos CHAN10886 (2CDs)
Lots of concepts, most of them good ones, and a recording robust on interior elements in a sensible chamber-scaled acoustic.

Quatuor Modigliani
Mirare MIR506
Another glorious trendy group, with a extra compact sound and perceptive couplings of Bartók (No 3) and Mozart (K565).

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February 13, 2024 at 08:47PM

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