String Quartet in E flat major Op.64/6

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

Performance date: 06/07/2018

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1790

Duration: 00:17:32

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Elias Quartet (Sara Bitlloch, Donald Grant [violins], Simone van der Giessen [viola], Marie Bitlloch [cello]) - [quartet]

This Quartet is the last quartet Haydn composed
while working in the service of Prince Nicholas of Esterhazy. Over the 24 year
period he had worked for the Prince, he had composed 43 string quartets. Haydn
composed these quartets, not for the Prince, but for himself and for his wider
public. He was now publishing his quartets all over Europe. Demand was
considerable and they were important in establishing his international


The Op.64 quartets were commissioned by Johann Tost, originally a violinist in the Esterhazy orchestra. Tost had decided to go to Paris to make money
and Haydn had given him the rights to some earlier quartets and a couple
symphonies to publish there. It took Haydn a long time to receive any money
from Tost although Tost himself apparently became rich. He returned to
Esterhazy and married the Prince’s housekeeper.


Haydn had often been depressed at Esterhazy and in
early 1790 was particularly gloomy.  Tomorrow I return to dreary solitude he
wrote from Vienna and well I sit here in
my wilderness….
after he had arrived in Esterhazy. It is supposed that the
Tosts gave Haydn the commission of Op.64 in early 1790 partly to cheer him up. There
is little hint of depression and loneliness in these quartets except possibly
in the slow movements. The E flat Quartet is the lightest of the set and the
first movement is a fine example of Haydn’s monothematic technique. Almost all
the music in this movement derives from one theme. Haydn manipulates key changes
and varies the theme to suggest there is much more new material than there is.


The slow movement begins with a calm beautiful
canon. The middle section is more passionate with the solo violin soaring above
the other three accompanying instruments. Perhaps Haydn wanted to give Tost,
the violinist, an opportunity to shine.  The
Minuetto is charming. It is based on six repeated notes followed by a “wrong”
(off-key) note. The Trio is even more delightful with swooping accidentals. In
the finale, Haydn returns to the monothematic idea. This is a rondo based on
only one theme.  In the coda, Haydn
delights in any number of arbitrary changes and false endings as if he was waving
a happy goodbye to Esterhazy.


Prince Nicholas died
in September 1790. His successor had little interest in music and allowed Haydn
to leave Esterhazy. On January 1st 1791, Haydn was making an
uncomfortable passage across the English Channel to be received in London as an
international celebrity. The long lonely years in Esterhazy were to pay great
dividends.  He was the father of the
string quartet and in this quartet he shows us his complete mastery of the