Quartet in B flat major Op.50/1 
Adagio non lento
Minuet; Poco allegretto
the great success of his opus 33 quartets in 1781, Haydn began
discussions with his Viennese publisher the following year about a
new set of six quartets. Haydn was so busy both at Esterhazy and in
completing numerous commissions, including a set of six symphonies
for Paris, that he only began working on these quartets in 1787. At
some point it was suggested that they should be dedicated to the King
of Prussia, the amateur cellist Friedrich Wilhelm II. Unlike Mozart,
who was to dedicate a set of string quartets to the same king three
years later, most commentators agree that Haydn makes no concessions
to the royal cellist either by making the cello part more prominent
or by making it easier to play (a rather desperate Mozart did both).
the first quartet in the set does begin with the cello playing a low
B flat repeated twenty times; probably not too difficult even for the
royal person to manage. Some critics have thought this opening was a
nod in the direction of the King. This is possible, but Haydn also
has some brilliant musical ideas up his sleeve.
quartet is in the key of B flat. The repeated low notes anchor the
opening in the home key. The somewhat plodding nature of this opening
could be mistaken for a rather boring piece of accompaniment.
However, the other three instruments play a suave figure in an
ambiguous key and the contrast between these two ideas forms the
basis of the whole movement. The repeated B flats are passed to the
second violin (two octaves higher) and then, an octave higher again,
to the first violin.
a couple of brisk chords, the motif
repeated notes now reappears with the second violin on a different
note and in a different key. The effect is startling, especially when
followed by an exhilarating passage of semi-quavers when all four
instruments answer each other at high speed. This monothematic
device, using one musical idea for two quite different purposes, is
typical of the Opus 50 quartets This brilliant first movement is a
marvellous example of a late eighteenth century allegro.
this is the first quartet that Haydn wrote where the first movement
tempo marking is simply allegro.
He had written nearly forty quartets already and the first movements
of nearly all of them had a tempo marking where allegro
is qualified, usually by the term moderato.
This change has been attributed to the influence of Mozart and this
new style would become increasingly common in the first movements of
Haydn’s later quartets.
the slow movement, Haydn takes a delightful, wistful tune and
proceeds to spin three ever more elaborate variations on it. This
could be a very slow waltz and the effect of the variations is to
produce an air of delicate melancholy. The mood hardly changes for
the minuet and trio, but the bustling finale is full of surprises.
There is a misleading return to the main theme and the coda contains
a false ending. Two loud chords provide the real conclusion to this