Quartet in E flat Op.33/2 ‘The Joke’

Composer: Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
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Composer: Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)

Performance date: 30/06/2013

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1781

Duration: 00:16:12

Recording Engineer: Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins], Liz Freivogel [viola], Dan McDonough [cello]) - [quartet]

This is the third of Haydn’s Op.33 quartets that so
impressed and inspired his equally famous colleague and friend, the 25-year-old
Mozart. It is the only quartet in the set to have earned a nickname, one which
the famous critic, player and writer, Hans Keller, described in his typically
robust and indignant manner as being singularly inappropriate. The ‘Joke’
refers to Haydn’s witty use of his opening phrase in the finale, where, against
all expectation, he brings this phrase back at the end of the movement and then
proceeds to totally confuse us by repeating it several times in such a way that
there is no knowing when the show is over. Keller finds this compositional
witticism both intriguing and prophetic of future developments and feels that
calling it a joke rather demeans it. I suspect Haydn would have just asked if
you got the one in the first movement.

The quartet begins with a leisurely Allegro moderato
based on an expansive melody that unfolds over a sort of continuo bass. The
close-knit development explores the potentialities of the theme’s rhythmic
components, followed by a recapitulation that is full of surprises. The
good-natured Scherzo is enlivened by discreetly discordant touches and encloses
a melodious Trio with a high-lying first fiddle part, whose fingerings, slurs
and glissandi call for a relaxed, Viennese style of playing. The Largo is notable for
giving the theme to the viola in a duo with the cello – Haydn and Mozart both
played the viola and the story goes that they used to swap parts when playing
through Mozart’s string quintets. This however is the first time Haydn gives
the viola a leading role, when the refrain next appears its place is democratically
given to the second violin and only the last time around does the first violin
reclaim his place. The eloquent and graceful theme twice bursts out in a
rapturous declamation of great solemnity. The cheeky little finale then brings
us back to earth.