STRING QUARTET IN D MAJOR, OPUS 20, NO. 4
I. Allegro di molto
II. Un poco adagio ed affettuoso
III. Menuet alla Zingarese: Allegretto
IV. Presto e scherzando
Haydn was a seminal figure in the history of music and is considered the father string quartet. Haydn’s childhood was modest – he looked back on his childhood as "more floggings than food" - and he was essentially a peasant son of a wagon maker. But early on he showed great promise in music and at eight he joined the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna where he thrived until his voice broke and he was expelled (um, apparently he could have remained in the choir if he elected to go the castratti route but his father declined). Much of his early career was spent living hand to mouth and, in his own words "a wizard on no instrument...eked out a wretched existence." Yet through hard work and a large helping of luck he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister to the Hungarian Prince Esterházy and, when the full Kapellmeister died, Haydn became chief of the family’s orchestra. It was during his first few years at the Estrhazy court that Haydn wrote his set of Opus 20 string quartets. With these works Haydn pretty much single handedly established the form which was to become the outlet for many future composers’ most profound works.
The quartet in D Major is typical of the entire set in its innovation and is one of Haydn’s most popular works. The first movement starts out with a hymn but then jumps suddenly to frothy arpeggios…only to return suddenly to the calm hymn-like section. Haydn continues these schizophrenic leaps throughout the movement leaving you wondering: which side will win out in the end?
The second movement is a series of striking variations where each instrument gets its moment in the sun, an innovative move for the time. My friend Lucy Miller put it best in her book “Adams to Zemlinsky” when she wrote:
“In this wonderful movement, we have something of three centuries: the seventeenth century Baroque, the eighteenth century Classical, and the nineteenth century Romantic. Haydn's genius encompasses it all."
The third movement is an ethnic dance (“zingara” is “gypsy” in Italian) where the sense of pulse and meter are twisted and turned until, if people were dancing to this, they would be colliding right and left. The fourth movement continues in in a whirling display of virtuoso playing.
Program notes by David Yang