Quartet in G minor Op.74/3 ‘Rider’

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

Performance date: 29/06/2019

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1793

Duration: 00:20:06

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Quatuor Zaïde (David Haroutunian [violin], Leslie Boulin Raulet [violin] Sarah Chenaf [viola] Juliette Salmona [cello]) - [quartet]

Joseph Haydn [1732-1809]

Quartet in G minor Op.74/3 ‘Rider’ [1793]

1. Allegro

2. Largo assai

3. Menuetto – Allegretto

4. Finale – Allegro con brio

Haydn wrote so many quartets that it is more than understandable that posterity sought a way through the maze by labelling as many of them as possible. The Rider is one of the most popular of his quartets due to its infectious high spirits and doubtless it used to get more than its fair share of performances as it’s so easily identified. Ever since Haydn’s bicentenary in 2009 the huge numbers of Haydn’s quartets appear much more often in concert and on disc. 

It was written at an extraordinary period in Haydn’s life, when he had suddenly become a major international figure as a result of his first series of concerts in London in 1791-2. He had spent most of his working life at the Esterháza estate as both Kapellmeister and court composer. His works were well-known all over Europe, but the composer himself had never travelled beyond Vienna. Suddenly his music-loving patron died, his successor no longer needed a resident orchestra and the sixty-year-old composer was free to travel. It is in some ways comparable to the visits to the West by Soviet bloc composers as their travel restrictions were lifted – for instance when Shostakovich attended the Edinburgh Festival in 1962. The difference being that Haydn composed freely while in England and loved being feted wherever he went, while the gloomy Russian hated the limelight, was incurably homesick and only wanted to get back to composing his latest symphony.

The Quartet opens with an acerbic eight-bar introduction that remarkably goes on to become the central subject of the development. The first subject proper begins in the cello and works its way imitatively up through the quartet. This delight the four instruments show in echoing each other quickly establishes itself as a defining feature of this movement. 

The E major slow Largo assai is justly famous and gives the impression of being more emotionally revealing of the composer than most of his slow movements, as though his adventures in London had extended his expressive resources. There is a central section in the minor. The Minuet and Trio are surprisingly introspective, perhaps in contrast to the famous last movement with its irrepressible Rider and its exposed writing for the first violin.

Francis Humphrys