Composer: Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Performance date: 28/06/2015
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 1772
Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation: vn, va, vc
Instrumentation Category:String Quartet
Signum Quartet (Kerstin Dill, Annette Walther [violins], Xandi van Dijk [viola], and Thomas Schmitz [cello]) -
six Op.20 Quartets are often called the Sun
Quartets after a picture of the sun which appeared on the frontispiece of a
later edition. In fact this is precisely the wrong image for these quartets.
They were written in 1772 during Haydn’s sturm
und drang (storm and stress) period. Sturm
and drang was a literary and musical movement which anticipated nineteenth
century Romanticism. It emphasised a return to nature, the importance of
individual emotions particularly when they were passionate and, if the weather
became involved, it would of course be stormy.
knows why Haydn was attracted to this cultural movement but its effect on his
major musical compositions was substantial. It allowed him to compose
symphonies and quartets which were much more serious than ever before. He used
more dynamic contrasts with long crescendos as well as sudden outbursts of loud
music. His compositions, no longer
intended as simply diversions for a court, became much more emotional and much
less frivolous. To emphasize the seriousness of these Op.20 Quartets Haydn
includes two in the minor key instead of the usual one. Of all the six
quartets, the one in F minor is probably the most emotional.
first movement is in sonata form and opens with a mournful melody which
dominates the movement. The second main
theme, which is introduced by a semi quaver passage on the cello, is in a major
key. Its dotted rhythms make for a sunnier mood, but it plays little part in
the rest of the movement. The return to the recapitulation is marked by three
downward triplets on the first violin. The main theme is further developed in a
passage of considerable emotional turmoil. After repeating the whole movement
in two parts, Haydn adds a harmonically adventurous coda which briefly develops
the second main theme before a subdued conclusion. The Minuet, also in F minor, manages to be both sad and elegant. The
playful Trio brings a brief moment of
warmth and charm.
slow movement is a dance. It has been called a Siciliana and for most of the movement the violin weaves an
intricate accompaniment of semiquavers above the other instruments which keep
to the distinctive Sicilian rhythm. Above one of the longest passages of violin
decoration Haydn writes per figurem
retardationis. A well known English
music critic asked the great nineteenth century violinist Joseph Joachim what
this meant. He replied it means that the
figures of the violin are always a step behind the chords; it must be played
dreamily and tenderly….
Finale is one of the three final
movements in Opus 20 which are fugues. This one is based on two short themes.
The first begins the movement played by the second violin. It is a theme often
used for fugues during the baroque period and even makes an appearance in
Handel’s Messiah. The second theme, which is Haydn’s own, is introduced by the
viola two bars later. In this movement
Haydn shows his mastery of contrapuntal technique. All four instruments play
equal roles. The themes are split up, turned upside down and continually passed
from one instrument to another.
anguish and sadness of the first three movements has been replaced by a more
optimistic mood of Enlightenment rationality. It was often argued that the
string quartet was the ideal eighteenth century form as it allowed the four
instruments to engage in a rational democratic conversation. This movement exemplifies this idea. Haydn
concludes with a canon between the first violin and the cello of both themes in
turn. The Finale is the only movement
of the Quartet that ends with a confident cadence played forte.
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