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String Quartet in G minor Op.20/3

Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)

Chiaroscuro Quartet (photo credit: Eva Vermandel)

Chiaroscuro Quartet (photo credit: Eva Vermandel)

Composer
Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Composition Year
1772
Work Movements
1. Allegro conspirito
2. Minuet, Allegretto - Trio - Minuet da capo
3. Poco Adagio
4. Finale. Allegro di Molto
Artists
Chiaroscuro Quartet (Alina Ibragimova, Pablo Hernán Benedí [violins], Emilie Hörnlund [viola], Claire Thirion [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© David Winter

In the years 1768-72 Haydn wrote three sets of string quartets and the third set, the six quartets of Op.20, have become the foundations of the serious string quartet. Emulated by Mozart, copied out by Beethoven, revered by Brahms, these quartets have not lacked for high powered admirers.

It is in this set that the idea of the quartet as a conversation among equals begins to take hold. Although the first violin still has the lead part, every part now becomes important. There is no (or very little) mere accompaniment.   The musical structures are often similar to the ones Haydn usually used; particularly the sonata form. But here these forms are continually varied. Keys change either before or after they are expected to change. Instead of using phrases made up of four or six bars, Haydn experiments with five and seven bar phrases.  In addition three of the last movements of the six quartets are fugues.  These stylistic innovations would be of little interest if they did not also accompany a radical change in emotional power. No-one knows why Haydn’s personal emotions burst into this music in a way that is quite unlike his earlier quartets.

When you first hear the Opus 20 quartets do not expect elegance and charm.  For those qualities, there are plenty of earlier – and later - works. These quartets often sound awkward. They stop and start at odd moments. There are sudden crescendos followed by equally sudden quiet moments. Strange unconnected phrases intrude. Most movements end in quiet, almost inconclusive passages.  As if to signal the seriousness of the quartets Haydn included two (instead of the usual one) in a minor key. Opus 20 no 5 in F minor (which was performed at last year’s festival) is a dark almost depressing work. No 3 in G minor is not quite so dark but nevertheless is often disturbed and uneasy.

The first movement’s main theme is made up of two seven bar phrases. This lopsided motif dominates the movement. After repeating it, Haydn introduces a small idea based on semiquavers, which recurs throughout. The second subject consists of a number of stops and starts with surprising modulations. The development is largely based on the main theme. There is a false return to the recapitulation. When the recapitulation does happen it is followed by more development. The movement ends with a series of quiet modulations, followed by an upward scale played forte by the first violin before two quiet final chords.

The main theme of the minuet is made up of two five bar phrases. This mordant minor key dance continues the disturbed mood of the opening movement. In the good humoured trio, the first violin accompanies the rest of the quartet with delicate arpeggios. The beautiful calm Adagio begins with a hymn like tune. In the second subject the cello accompanies the other instruments with a semi-quaver base line but as the movement continues Haydn exchanges the roles of the first violin and cello with the violin taking the semi-quaver passages.

The Finale shows that Haydn can still be humorous even in a minor key. The movement is in sonata form but with only one theme which consists of a sufficient number of contrasting phrases to supply Haydn will all he needs for a wonderful display of contrapuntal quartet writing. All the instruments share the material. The quartet ends with the cello accompanying the other three instruments, but as the music fades into silence the cello has the last word to conclude this strange and remarkable work.

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String Quartet in G minor Op.20/3

Composer: Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Performance date: Tuesday 5th July 2016
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Work Title String Quartet in G minor Op.20/3
Composition Year 1772
Work Movements 1. Allegro conspirito
2. Minuet, Allegretto - Trio - Minuet da capo
3. Poco Adagio
4. Finale. Allegro di Molto
Artist(s) Chiaroscuro Quartet (Alina Ibragimova, Pablo Hernán Benedí [violins], Emilie Hörnlund [viola], Claire Thirion [cello])
Performance Date Tuesday 5th July 2016
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:23:19
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © David Winter

In the years 1768-72 Haydn wrote three sets of string quartets and the third set, the six quartets of Op.20, have become the foundations of the serious string quartet. Emulated by Mozart, copied out by Beethoven, revered by Brahms, these quartets have not lacked for high powered admirers.

It is in this set that the idea of the quartet as a conversation among equals begins to take hold. Although the first violin still has the lead part, every part now becomes important. There is no (or very little) mere accompaniment.   The musical structures are often similar to the ones Haydn usually used; particularly the sonata form. But here these forms are continually varied. Keys change either before or after they are expected to change. Instead of using phrases made up of four or six bars, Haydn experiments with five and seven bar phrases.  In addition three of the last movements of the six quartets are fugues.  These stylistic innovations would be of little interest if they did not also accompany a radical change in emotional power. No-one knows why Haydn’s personal emotions burst into this music in a way that is quite unlike his earlier quartets.

When you first hear the Opus 20 quartets do not expect elegance and charm.  For those qualities, there are plenty of earlier – and later - works. These quartets often sound awkward. They stop and start at odd moments. There are sudden crescendos followed by equally sudden quiet moments. Strange unconnected phrases intrude. Most movements end in quiet, almost inconclusive passages.  As if to signal the seriousness of the quartets Haydn included two (instead of the usual one) in a minor key. Opus 20 no 5 in F minor (which was performed at last year’s festival) is a dark almost depressing work. No 3 in G minor is not quite so dark but nevertheless is often disturbed and uneasy.

The first movement’s main theme is made up of two seven bar phrases. This lopsided motif dominates the movement. After repeating it, Haydn introduces a small idea based on semiquavers, which recurs throughout. The second subject consists of a number of stops and starts with surprising modulations. The development is largely based on the main theme. There is a false return to the recapitulation. When the recapitulation does happen it is followed by more development. The movement ends with a series of quiet modulations, followed by an upward scale played forte by the first violin before two quiet final chords.

The main theme of the minuet is made up of two five bar phrases. This mordant minor key dance continues the disturbed mood of the opening movement. In the good humoured trio, the first violin accompanies the rest of the quartet with delicate arpeggios. The beautiful calm Adagio begins with a hymn like tune. In the second subject the cello accompanies the other instruments with a semi-quaver base line but as the movement continues Haydn exchanges the roles of the first violin and cello with the violin taking the semi-quaver passages.

The Finale shows that Haydn can still be humorous even in a minor key. The movement is in sonata form but with only one theme which consists of a sufficient number of contrasting phrases to supply Haydn will all he needs for a wonderful display of contrapuntal quartet writing. All the instruments share the material. The quartet ends with the cello accompanying the other three instruments, but as the music fades into silence the cello has the last word to conclude this strange and remarkable work.