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Quartet in E flat Op.33/2 ‘The Joke’

Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)

Jupiter Quartet (photo credit: Merri Cyr)

Jupiter Quartet (photo credit: Merri Cyr)

Composer
Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Composition Year
1781
Work Movements
1. Allegro moderato
2. Scherzo, Allegro
3. Largo e sostenuto
4. Presto
Artists
Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins] Liz Freivogel [viola] Dan McDonough [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

This is the third of Haydn’s Op.33 quartets that so impressed and inspired his equally famous colleague and friend, the 25-year-old Mozart. It is the only quartet in the set to have earned a nickname, one which the famous critic, player and writer, Hans Keller, described in his typically robust and indignant manner as being singularly inappropriate. The ‘Joke’ refers to Haydn’s witty use of his opening phrase in the finale, where, against all expectation, he brings this phrase back at the end of the movement and then proceeds to totally confuse us by repeating it several times in such a way that there is no knowing when the show is over. Keller finds this compositional witticism both intriguing and prophetic of future developments and feels that calling it a joke rather demeans it. I suspect Haydn would have just asked if you got the one in the first movement.

The quartet begins with a leisurely Allegro moderato based on an expansive melody that unfolds over a sort of continuo bass. The close-knit development explores the potentialities of the theme’s rhythmic components, followed by a recapitulation that is full of surprises. The good-natured Scherzo is enlivened by discreetly discordant touches and encloses a melodious Trio with a high-lying first fiddle part, whose fingerings, slurs and glissandi call for a relaxed, Viennese style of playing. The Largo is notable for giving the theme to the viola in a duo with the cello – Haydn and Mozart both played the viola and the story goes that they used to swap parts when playing through Mozart’s string quintets. This however is the first time Haydn gives the viola a leading role, when the refrain next appears its place is democratically given to the second violin and only the last time around does the first violin reclaim his place. The eloquent and graceful theme twice bursts out in a rapturous declamation of great solemnity. The cheeky little finale then brings us back to earth.

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Quartet in E flat Op.33/2 ‘The Joke’

Composer: Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Performance date: Sunday 30th June 2013
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Work Title Quartet in E flat Op.33/2 ‘The Joke’
Composition Year 1781
Work Movements 1. Allegro moderato
2. Scherzo, Allegro
3. Largo e sostenuto
4. Presto
Artist(s) Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins] Liz Freivogel [viola] Dan McDonough [cello])
Performance Date Sunday 30th June 2013
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:16:12
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

This is the third of Haydn’s Op.33 quartets that so impressed and inspired his equally famous colleague and friend, the 25-year-old Mozart. It is the only quartet in the set to have earned a nickname, one which the famous critic, player and writer, Hans Keller, described in his typically robust and indignant manner as being singularly inappropriate. The ‘Joke’ refers to Haydn’s witty use of his opening phrase in the finale, where, against all expectation, he brings this phrase back at the end of the movement and then proceeds to totally confuse us by repeating it several times in such a way that there is no knowing when the show is over. Keller finds this compositional witticism both intriguing and prophetic of future developments and feels that calling it a joke rather demeans it. I suspect Haydn would have just asked if you got the one in the first movement.

The quartet begins with a leisurely Allegro moderato based on an expansive melody that unfolds over a sort of continuo bass. The close-knit development explores the potentialities of the theme’s rhythmic components, followed by a recapitulation that is full of surprises. The good-natured Scherzo is enlivened by discreetly discordant touches and encloses a melodious Trio with a high-lying first fiddle part, whose fingerings, slurs and glissandi call for a relaxed, Viennese style of playing. The Largo is notable for giving the theme to the viola in a duo with the cello – Haydn and Mozart both played the viola and the story goes that they used to swap parts when playing through Mozart’s string quintets. This however is the first time Haydn gives the viola a leading role, when the refrain next appears its place is democratically given to the second violin and only the last time around does the first violin reclaim his place. The eloquent and graceful theme twice bursts out in a rapturous declamation of great solemnity. The cheeky little finale then brings us back to earth.