STRING QUARTET IN F MINOR, OPUS 20, NO. 5 (1772)
I. Allegro moderato
IV. Finale: Fuga a due Soggetti
Haydn was a seminal figure in the history of music and is considered father of the symphony, string quartet, piano trio and sonata. Haydn’s childhood was modest – he looked back on his childhood as "more floggings than food”; he was the peasant son of a wagon maker. Early on he showed great promise in music and at eight joined the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna where he thrived until his voice broke and he was expelled (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 sizable helping of luck he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister to the Hungarian Prince Esterházy. When the Kapellmeister died, Haydn became chief of the family’s orchestra. Under his direction it became one of the premier ensembles in Europe and a terrific resource with which an endlessly resourceful composer could experiment. During his first few years at the Esterházy court (when he was 40), Haydn wrote his groundbreaking set of six Opus 20 string quartets. With these works Haydn single-handedly established the form which was to become the outlet for many of the greatest composers’ most profound works. Opus 20, No. 5 is typical of the entire set in its uniqueness: the intensity of expression, experiments with structure and tonality and color, asymmetrical length of phrases – all were significant breaks from the past tradition of string divertimenti.
The last movement in particular is one of my favorite fugues in the literature. Marked sotto voce (hushed), the tension builds and builds until near the end when it explodes in sound.
Program notes by David Yang