Archive for April, 2014

Brahms, String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51/1

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51, No. 1, 1873

Brahms was 40 years old when he was finally ready to publish a string quartet for the first time even though he had already published many celebrated works. As with the symphony, the string quartet was hallowed ground since before Beethoven and Brahms was particularly careful with his first public works in either genre. Brahms had destroyed something like 20 previous string quartets and labored on this one for many years. He published a set of two quartets as Op. 51, still some years before he would publish his first symphony. Curiously, his first published quartet and symphony share the same dramatic key of C-minor. Both are masterworks recalling the humorous quip that, “an overnight success takes 10 years.” (more…)

Haydn, String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3, “Kaiser” (“Emperor”)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Joseph Haydn

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3, “Kaiser” (“Emperor”), 1797

Haydn’s final “six pack” of string quartets, Op. 76, completed in 1797, may well constitute the finest works of the genre before Beethoven’s middle period. Though Haydn wrote dozens of quartet masterworks over the decades in a more or less consistent progression of excellence, beauty and ingenuity, his style becomes ever more fluid, inventive and brilliant. The quartets composed after his celebrated trips to London in the late 1790’s show a new vitality and grandeur with greater virtuosity, power, depth of thought and feeling spanning a greater range across every essential musical facet: melody, figuration, polyphony, harmony, rhythm, texture, dynamics, formal innovation and expressive dramatic narrative. Haydn’s Op. 76 quartets reflect Mozart’s innovations and anticipate some of Beethoven’s. They are simply stunning and essential touchstones of the art from its original pioneer during his burnished maturity. Three of the six quartets have pet names, “Fifths”, “Sunrise”, “Emperor”, and this last, Op. 76, No. 3 in C major, is surely the most famous for its slow movement hymn that become, over time, more than one national anthem. But like all the quartets of Op. 76, the “Emperor” is magnificent throughout its four movements including some artistic cross-connections for a composite of finely wrought coherence. (more…)

Haydn, String Quartet in G Major, Op. 76/1

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

String Quartet in G Major, Op. 76, No. 1, 1797

The six quartets of Op. 76 are frequently and justly described as Haydn’s greatest works in the genre. They reflect over 40 years of experience with quartet writing that always placed Haydn at the vanguard of tradition, upset only briefly by Mozart with the six quartets he dedicated to Haydn. By 1797, when Haydn received a commission from the music and quartet loving Hungarian aristocrat Count Joseph Erdödy, Mozart was dead, and his quartet innovations had been reabsorbed by Haydn. Beethoven’s initial foray in quartet writing would begin one year later, close, but as yet, unknown to anyone. At the age of 64, Haydn had just returned from his second “tour” of England where he was fêted as the greatest living European composer. Now in rather luxurious retirement from his decades-long employment with the Esterhazy family (yet more Hungarian nobility), Haydn composed with his finest skill, his most daring self-assuredness, his undiminished capacity for innovation and, in the words of a contemporary, his still unquenched fire. (more…)