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|Title||Quartet in Bb, Op. 64, No. 3|
|Remarks||Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3
Much has been said of Haydn as “father” of the string quartet, which indeed he was with his enormous output in that genre. Beyond that astounding accomplishment, however, we must realize that with the refinement of that form he also defined the Classical period, moving once and for all from the Baroque. It was left for Mozart and Beethoven to culminate the Classical style, but no one represented it any better than Haydn in his string quartets.
Haydn’s voluminous output alone does not explain his powerful musical and cultural influence. His 83 string quartets, though daunting in number, are also overwhelming in their stylistic breadth and ingenuity. They move across the boundaries of the Baroque and the Classical and even lick the edges of Romanticism.
The move to a freer, more emotional expression was occasioned by the end of Haydn’s 29-year tenure as Kappelmeister in the court of the Hungarian aristocrat, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy. That, coupled with two highly successful visits to London, gave Haydn a wider musical exposure. Freed from musical and financial obligations, Haydn went to London where, under the direction of the German violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, he became an international celebrity.
If there was a certain new-found verve and sophistication to his work, surely that is reflected in the six quartets of Op. 64 known as the “Tost Quartets.” The set was published in 1791 shortly after the collapse of the Esterházy court. It should come of no surprise, therefore, that the dedicatee was the violinist Johann Tost, a member of Haydn’s orchestra during his thirty years in the employ of Count Esterházy. The exact details of that dedication are a source of scholarly debate.
The first movement bears all the best Haydn imprints: energy, charm, wit. These are combined with a wonderful conversational quality, rich thematic development, and no small display of virtuosity. Typical in this movement, also, are Haydn’s quick “frowns” or, more musically stated, modulations from the major to the minor.
The tender sadness of the Adagio refutes any thought of “Happy Haydn.” Here he weaves beautiful melodies into a complex song shared by all the instruments. He also makes dramatic use of the repeated note in a way that suggests music far ahead of his time.
The third movement Menuetto is a return to more traditional 18th century elegance but one fraught, once again, with modulations to the minor key. The movement abounds with embellishments—grace notes, turns, and trills. It is also rhythmically rich with syncopation.
In the Finale, Haydn allows himself almost sheer fun. The high-spirits are interrupted only for a moment before the lively coda completes the work.
©2009 Lucy Miller Murray
Lucy Miller Murray is founder of Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her book, Adams to Zemlinsky: A Friendly Guide to Chamber Music, was published by Concert Artists Guild of New York and is available at amazon.com. A second edition is forthcoming.