Haydn, String Quartet D Major, Op. 1, No. 3

February 25, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet D Major, Op. 1, No. 3, (c. 1757-1762)

Joseph Haydn Haydn is justly regarded as the mighty pioneer of the string quartet for, though he may not have been the very first, he proved the exemplar, firmly establishing the genre with a stunning collection of 68 works, nearly half of which are regarded as masterworks. Concert programs rarely feature any of his quartets before Op. 20 (1772) and Haydn himself, when compiling his official catalog late in life, declared his Op. 9 (1769) to be his first group of "real" quartets. But Haydn began his journey with a series of pieces genuinely scored for string quartet and published in collections under various early titles such as cassation, divertimento and serenade as Op. 1 and Op. 2. Although the precise dates are unknown, scholars believe that Haydn composed these initial 10 quartets between 1757 and 1762, suggesting that the string quartet tradition is now at least 250 years old. Tonight, you will hear not only a very early Haydn string quartet but perhaps, according to some scholars, his very first: the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 1, No. 3.

Like each of the first 10 quartets, it follows a five-movement design reflecting its evolution from the Baroque dance suite and the Viennese serenade. Like only one other early quartet, it begins with a slow movement adagio, a simple, affective three-part form bearing far more kinship with the Baroque Trio Sonata than the Classical sonata-allegro forms yet to come. Like all 10 early quartets, Haydn supplies two minuets, the one lasting vestige of the Baroque dance suite here played at a moderate tempo, each with its customary contrasting trio. The first trio features a light pizzicato texture while the second darkens into a minor key. Between both minuets is a swift Presto, in some scores actually titled "Scherzo." Although it features a duple rather than a triple meter, its lively hijinks across a tight 3-part form presage the true scherzo to come, a hallmark of high Viennese Classicism. The presto finale, a lilting gigue, simultaneously recalls the Baroque dance suite once again while likewise portending the jocular rondo, another signature of the emerging classical style of which Haydn was undoubtedly chief architect.

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.