Program Notes

FRANZ JOSEF HAYDN (1732 – 1809)

I. Allegro moderato
II. Scherzo: Allegro di molto
III. Andante IV. Finale: Presto

Haydn, the “father of the string quartet,” published three sets of quartets (Opus 9, 17, and 20) before 1772 and you can actually watch the modern form develop right before your eyes. Its direct precursor, the divertimento, had the first violin noodle around on a melody while the cello grounds the group and the inner voices, viola and second violin, provide harmonic cannon fodder. Opus 20 is recognized as the first set with independent inner voices not mere slaves to first violin but Haydn then put aside quartet writing for ten years until he brought forth Opus 33. The idea of what constituted a string quartet had gestated during this decade away from the divertimento form to reach full maturity in the new set. Haydn recognized what he had accomplished announcing it as "a brand new à quadro written in a new and special way." Mozart was so inspired by this new music that he composed his own set, dedicating them to Haydn, his teacher and mentor. Emily Anne Gendron writes:

“Goethe once described the quartet medium as “the serious conversation of four friends.” Having composed 68 of them and dabbled in a quartet himself when off the clock, Haydn surely would have agreed. His Quartet Op.33/1 is a fixture on my own quartet’s list of beloved standards--one which we chose while drinking around a laptop tuned into the Op.33 cycle. It’s a happy memory that exemplifies the camaraderie inherent in the best possibilities of a string quartet, and by extension in Haydn’s musical voice, with its spirit of congeniality and good humor. The first movement--at turns surging and stormy, then bright and confident--wavers between extremes in a way that looks ahead to Romantic-era composers a half-century ahead and beyond. The quick Scherzo explores tension between darkness and light with an elegant yet brooding outer section, contrasted with a pastoral middle section. A stately slow movement follows, with a dainty opening melody that blossoms into an aria-like closing theme of striking radiance and profundity. The relentless Finale pulls out all the stops with fiery passagework and some good old-fashioned fiddle dueling that races us to the finish line.”

Program notes by David Yang