Program Notes By Eric Bromberger
String Quartet in C Major, Opus 20, No. 2
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809, Vienna
Haydn composed a number of string quartets during his first years with the Ezterházy family, but then set the form aside. For nearly a decade he wrote no quartets at all, and then in the early 1770s he suddenly wrote three cycles (Opp. 9, 17, and 20) of six quartets each. One should not conclude from their low opus numbers, however, that these are early works: Haydn was already 40 when he completed his Opus 20 (in that same year, in fact, he composed his Symphony No. 45). These cycles are the work of an experienced composer intent on exploring and refining the possibilities he was discovering in the form. The second quartet from his Opus 20, in C major, has been particularly admired. If one of the clichés about Haydn’s quartet-writing is that he liberated the cello from a merely accompanying role, this quartet is a textbook example of that. The quartet is also remarkable for the unusual key relationships between its movements (all four movements are in some form of C) and for the dazzling fugal writing in the finale. Instantly assuming its role as a melodic instrument, the cello opens the Moderato with the long and athletic main idea. Significantly, the first violin remains silent for the first six measures, and only when the cello is through is the violin allowed to take up this theme for itself. The first violin part is fairly brilliant, however, full of rhythmic swirls and some unusually high writing, and the second violin is hardly neglected: its accompanying music at the start of the development is brilliant, even as it does not call particular attention to itself. The second movement is also remarkable. Haydn moves to the tonic minor, C minor, and gives the movement the unusual title “Capriccio,” suggesting a whimsical flight of fancy. The movement has been compared both to a violin concerto movement and an accompanied aria–at its center, the first violin has a soaring cantabile melody. In an unusual touch, Haydn joins the slow movement with the minuet–there are brief modulating chords, and suddenly the C-major minuet simply begins. Haydn asks the first violin to accompany its own syncopated melody with a double-stopped drone, so there are actually five voices in this harmony; the trio section, once again prominently featuring the cello, returns to C minor. The finale is a fugue in four voices, introduced by the first violin. Haydn keeps the dynamic level low–his only dynamic marking is sempre sotto voce–and the individual voices emerge clearly from the busy texture. At one point, Haydn specifies al roverscio: in a brief but impressive display of compositional mastery, he turns the fugue theme upside down and develops it by inversion.
Divertimento in E-flat Major for Viola, Cello and Doublebass, P.102
Born September 14, 1737, Rohrau, Austria
Died August 10, 1806, Salzburg
Michael Johann Haydn was the seventh of the twelve Haydn children (his famous brother Franz Joseph was the second), and he had a long and successful career as a composer, despite inevitable comparisons with his brother. In many senses, Michael Haydn made career moves that were the exact opposite of Mozart’s: Michael Haydn began his career in Vienna, where he held minor positions, but in 1763 moved to Salzburg, where he spent the rest of his life in service to the Archbishop. When he arrived, Mozart was only 7, but they served together in the Salzburg court for eighteen years, became reasonably good friends, and Wolfgang learned much from the polyphonic and liturgical music of Michael Haydn. Michael remained on good terms with his famous older brother and sometimes traveled to Vienna and Eisenstadt to visit him. The younger Haydn held several important positions in Salzburg, among them concertmaster to the Archbishop of Salzburg and court music director. He wrote in virtually all the genres of his day: opera, symphony, concerto, church music, and chamber music. If his music lacks the individuality and genius of his older brother, it is nevertheless beautifully crafted and often winning. A significant amount of his music has been recorded, and it continues to give pleasure to audiences–Michael Haydn is not some hack composer who would be forgotten were it not for the fact of his being the brother of someone famous. Michael Haydn wrote about twenty works he titled Divertimento–this was music for small ensembles, intended for the enjoyment of both performers and listeners. The present Divertimento in E-flat Major dates from about 1765, shortly after the composer’s move to Salzburg. It is scored for viola, cello, and doublebass, though Haydn may have regarded the instrumentation (and key) of his divertimentos as fluid, and this music has also have been performed in a version for two violins and bass line. The Divertimento in E-flat Major is not in the classical form that Mozart and Joseph Haydn would evolve over the next generation. Instead, its three movements are in what might seem an arbitrary sequence to us today: an opening variation-form movement, a central minuet, and a concluding fast movement. Longest by far of the movements (it is longer than the final two movements combined), the Adagio can variazioni is a set of variations on a stately eight-measure melody. These are melodic variations, and they remain at the slow opening tempo throughout; Haydn keeps the variations brief and offers repeats of all of them. The sturdy Minuet has a great deal of energy, and Haydn makes sharp contrast with a smooth middle episode before the Divertimento concludes with a propulsive and high-spirited Presto. Haydn composed this music for the musicians of Salzburg, either court musicians or talented amateurs, and he wrote it for their pleasure. Over two centuries later, it continues to give pleasure.
Duo in B-flat Major for Violin and Viola, K.424
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna
The story of the composition of Mozart’s two duos for violin and viola has become part of the legend. On his first trip back to Salzburg after the bitter parting from Archbishop Colloredo, Mozart discovered his old friend Michael Haydn sick and suspended without pay for failing to complete a set of duos for the archbishop. Mozart rushed home and dashed off these two duos (overnight, as the story has it) so that they might be published under Haydn’s name and get the latter’s salary resumed. This story has been told often to point out Mozart’s many virtues: his loyalty, his generosity, his ability to compose at lightning speed, his capacity to outwit the archbishop yet one more time. The only problem with the story is that it probably isn’t true. Mozart did write these duos during the summer of 1783, and Michael Haydn was ill that summer, but this legend–first told by two of the latter’s students–has scant supporting evidence and seems a little too good to be true, a little too neatly conceived to make–one more time–Mozart the hero and the archbishop the villain. In any case, these two duos are impressive music. Mozart played both violin and viola (he preferred viola), and the writing for the two instruments is wonderful–graceful and beautifully suited to the strengths of each. Instead of relegating the viola to a mere supporting or harmonic role, Mozart makes it a true melodic partner and equal of the violin, which in turn is given a brilliant part, often written in an unusually high range. The Duo in B-flat Major is in three substantial movements. The first opens with a slow introduction; some have felt that the dotted rhythms and portentous manner here are a send-up of weighty symphonic introductions, but the music remains too appealing to be satiric. The Allegro flies along gracefully, with some surprising syncopations and excursions into minor keys. Mozart offers opportunities for repeats of both exposition and development, so this movement can be quite long if both are taken. The writing for violin over the final moments is impressive–Mozart gives it a series of runs, turns, and trills, and sends it rocketing up to a high B-flat. The Andante cantabile, in E-flat major and set in a flowing 6/8 meter, does in fact sing throughout. In the closing measures, Mozart brings the music to a halt and puts two fermatas in the same measure; his intention is clear: each performer has the chance to perform his own brief cadenza. The animated Andante grazioso is a variation movement. Mozart offers an eight-measure theme–encrusted with grace-notes–followed by six variations and a coda marked Allegro.
String Quartet in E Minor, Opus 59, No. 2
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Born December 16, 1770, Bonn
Died March 26, 1827, Vienna
When Count Andreas Razumovksy, the Russian ambassador to Vienna and chamber music enthusiast, commissioned a set of three string quartets from Beethoven in 1805, he could not possibly have known what he would receive in return. Beethoven had at that time written one set of six quartets (published in 1801), cast very much in the high classical mold as set out by Haydn and Mozart. Doubtless Razumovsky expected something on this order, and he provided Beethoven with some Russian themes and asked that he include one in each of the three quartets. The three quartets Beethoven wrote in 1806, however, were so completely original that in one stroke they redefined the whole conception of the string quartet. These are massive quartets, both in duration and dramatic scope, and it is no surprise that they alienated virtually everyone who heard them. Only with time did Beethoven’s achievement in this music become clear. Trying to take the measure of this new music, some early critics referred to the Razumovsky quartets as “symphony quartets,” but this is misleading, for the quartets are true chamber music. But it is true that what the Eroica did for the symphony, these quartets did for the string quartet: they opened new vistas, entirely new conceptions of what the string quartet might be and of the power it might unleash. The first Razumovsky quartet is broad and heroic and the third extroverted and virtuosic, but the second has defied easy characterization. Part of the problem is that in this quartet Beethoven seems to be experimenting with new ideas about themes and harmony. The thematic material of the first movement in particular has baffled many, for it seems almost consciously non-thematic, while harmonically this quartet can be just as elusive. All four movements are in some form of E, but Beethoven refuses to settle into any key for very long, and one key will melt into another (often unexpected) key in just a matter of measures. Such a description would seem to make the Quartet in E Minor a nervous work, unsettled in its procedures and unsettling to audiences. But the wonder is that–despite these many original strokes–this music is so unified, so convincing, and at times so achingly beautiful. Simple verbal description cannot begin to provide a measure of this music, but a general description can at least aid listeners along the way to discovering this music for themselves. The two chords that open the Allegro will recur throughout, at quite different dynamic levels and used in quite different ways. The “theme” that follows seems almost a fragment, and Beethoven reduces it even further, isolating rhythmic motifs and developing intervals from this opening statement. This is a big movement, and Beethoven asks for repeats of both the exposition and development (not always observed in performance) before the movement closes on a massive restatement of the opening theme, which suddenly fades into silence. Beethoven’s friend Carl Czerny said that the composer had been inspired to write the Molto Adagio “when contemplating the starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres.” Beethoven specifies in the score that “This piece must be played with great feeling,” and after the somewhat nervous first movement the Adagio brings a world of expressive intensity. This massive movement, in sonata form, opens with a prayer-like main theme, but all is not peace–along the way Beethoven punctuates the generally hushed mood with powerful massed chords. The Allegretto, with its skittering main theme (the pulses are off the beat), feels somewhat playful. In its trio section, Beethoven introduces Razumovsky’s “Russian theme” and then proceeds to subject it to such strait-jacketed contrapuntal treatment that some critics have felt that Beethoven is trying to annihilate the theme; Joseph Kerman speaks of the trio as Beethoven’s “revenge” on Razumovsky. The finale begins in the wrong key (C major) and then wobbles uncertainly between C major and E minor throughout. Despite the air of high-spirited dancing in the main theme, this movement too brings stuttering phrases and the treatment of bits of theme, which are sometimes tossed rapidly between the four voices. A Più Presto coda brings this most original quartet to a sudden close.