Franz Joseph Haydn : The ‘’ Kaiser ‘’. When in 1932 Walter Legge founded the Haydn String Quartet Society for His Master’s Voice, he chose Cecil Gray to write the programme notes.
In the booklet to the first release (April 1932), Gray drew attention to the fact, whereas the orchestra has changed enormously since Haydn’s time,
rendering his symphonies somewhat antiquated in sound, the string quartet was precisly the same vehicle for modern composers as it was when Haydn started to write for the medium.
Nowadays Haydn symphonies are no longer considered to be antiquated, but it is probably true that the quintessence of Haydn may be found in the more intimate realm of chamber music,
and especially the string quartet, which occupied him for about forty-six years : his first works in the form are now thought to have been composed about 1757, and his last, the unfinished Opus 103, from 1803.
Haydn is said to have invented the quartet. Nowadays we know that there existed various forms of music before Haydn for two violins, viola and double bass or violoncello;
but whether any of these pre-Haydn forms can be regarded legitimately as precursors of the quartet as we know it is still a matter of discussion among scholars.
Haydn himself related how, about 1757, he came across the form accidentally.
He had been writing string trios (two violins and violoncello), and his friend and patron, Carl Joseph, Edler von Fürnberg, who had invited Haydn to the Fürnberg Castle at Weinzierl in Lower Austria, suggested to the young composer to add a viola to the group.
Haydn agreed, and the result was ten quartets (known later as Opera 1 and 2) in the then current divertimento form of five movements (Allegro - Menuet/Trio - Slow movement - Minuet/Trio - Presto).
Haydn’s first quartets were an enormous success. Their gay, light-hearted charm won hearts everywhere.
The Germans thought them frivolous but they could hardly stem the tide of Haydn’s growing popularity, even in Germany.
Meanwhile Luigi Boccherini had arrived in Vienna with his father to play i the opera orchestra of the Kärntnerthortheater, and in 1761 Luigi began to write quartets in a quite different and more sophisticated manner,
with three rather than five movements. Haydn must have pondered deeply the problem of quartet writing, for he wrote none for over ten years, recommencing about 1768-9 with the so-called Opus 9.
There then followed Opus 17 (1771) and the epochal Opus 20 (1772) in which Haydn re-introduced large-scale fugues to the form, markedly deepened its content, enriched its texture, and posed an altogether new and startling intellectual challenge.
Then we have another silence, almost ten years, until 1781, when the witty, sophisticated Opus 33 appeared, creating a new manner of quartet writing which combined the popular style with great sophistication of technique.
From then until 1803, Haydn composed quartets in sets every few years, creating a standard of beauty, formal perfection and originality which inspired generations of composers, including Mozart and Beethoven.
The very last work Haydn began as an old man was a string quartet (Opus 103, 1803).
He could not finish it and sent it out to the world with a quotation from his own visiting card, ‘His ist alle mine Kraft, Alt und schwach bin ich ;' (Fled is all my strength, Old and weak am I’)
which the admiring musical world regarded sorrowfully as their civilisation burst asunder in the Napoleonic wars. END