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String Quartet in B flat major Op.50/1

Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)

Composer
Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Composition Year
1787
Work Movements
1. Allegro 2. Adagio non lento 3. Minuet; Poco allegretto 4. Finale. Vivace
Artists
Quatuor Zaïde (Charlotte Juillard [violin], Leslie Boulin Raulet [violin] Sarah Chenaf [viola] Juliette Salmona [cello]) [quartet]

Programme Note Writer:
© David Winter

String Quartet in B flat major Op.50/1 [1787]

1. Allegro

2. Adagio non lento

3. Minuet; Poco allegretto

4. Finale. Vivace


After 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).


However 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.


This 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.

After a couple of brisk chords, the motif of 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.

Surprisingly 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.

In 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 wonderful quartet.

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String Quartet in B flat major Op.50/1

Composer: Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Performance date: Friday 30th June 2017
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Joseph Haydn (b. 1732 - d. 1809)
Work Title String Quartet in B flat major Op.50/1
Composition Year 1787
Work Movements 1. Allegro 2. Adagio non lento 3. Minuet; Poco allegretto 4. Finale. Vivace
Language English
Artist(s) Quatuor Zaïde (Charlotte Juillard [violin], Leslie Boulin Raulet [violin] Sarah Chenaf [viola] Juliette Salmona [cello]) [quartet]
Performance Date Friday 30th June 2017
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Opening Concert
Duration 00:19:54
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Instrumentation String Quartet
Programme Note Writer © David Winter

String Quartet in B flat major Op.50/1 [1787]

1. Allegro

2. Adagio non lento

3. Minuet; Poco allegretto

4. Finale. Vivace


After 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).


However 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.


This 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.

After a couple of brisk chords, the motif of 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.

Surprisingly 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.

In 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 wonderful quartet.