Program Notes

FRANZ JOSEF HAYDN (1732 – 1809)

I, Allegro con spirit
II. Adagio sostenuto
III. Menuetto. Presto
IV. Allegro ma non troppo

Franz Joseph Haydn, or “Papa Haydn,” as he was known in his later years, is regarded as the father of the string quartet and pretty much single-handedly invented the form and went on to write eighty three quartets over forty years. He was Mozart’s teacher (whom he modestly regarded as the greatest composer he had ever known) and briefly taught Beethoven, as well. Born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau on the Austrian/Hungarian border, he had no formal musical training, but his family was very musical and loved to sing along while his father played the harp. Recognizing his musical talent, his parents sent him to live with a relative at six years old so he could become a chorister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

After several years of freelancing and odd jobs (he even worked as a valet), in 1761 Haydn secured a position as deputy-Kapellmeister (which translates loosely as music master/conductor) for the Esterházy family and proceeded to spend almost his entire career (nearly 30 years) in their employ, eventually being promoted to full Kapellmeister. The Esterházys maintained a full orchestra and theater, and Haydn was kept busy conducting the orchestra, writing and producing operas, symphonies, and chamber music, producing a prodigious amount of music during his tenure.

Haydn passed away in Vienna at 1809 and Mozart’s Requiem was performed at his funeral service; he had outlived his young friend and protégé by 18 years and was devastated by the loss. Buried in a modest grave, his head was subsequently stolen by phrenologists misguidedly seeking to discover the secret of his genius by studying the bumps on his skull, which was finally reunited with the rest of the composer’s body in 1954 in a marble tomb especially built for him by the current Prince Esterházy.

His string quartet Opus 76, Number 1 in G Major is the first of a set of six dedicated to the Erdódy Hungarian noble family and was the last set of quartets Haydn completed. They show a composer at the very height of his powers in both skill and invention.

Program notes by Gage Cogswell