Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Haydn Project, Part VI - “Gli Scherzi”

Gyros String Quartet rehearsing Haydn op. 20 series

On Monday, June 17, we got together for the 6th installment of the Haydn Project. On the menu was the last quartet in the op. 20 series, written in 1772, which was left over from the year before. The main course would be the op. 33 series from 1781. Haydn was now 49 years old, Mozart 25, Beethoven 11.

The Op. 33 String Quartets were written by Joseph Haydn in the summer and Autumn of 1781 for the Viennese publisher Artaria. This set of quartets has several nicknames, the most common of which is the “Russian” quartets, because Haydn dedicated the quartets to the Grand Duke of Russia. Apparently, many, but not all, of the quartets were premiered on Christmas Day, 1781, at the Viennese apartment of the Duke's wife. (as we have also discovered, it is difficult - though not impossible - to work one's way through a set of six quartets in the course of a dinner party).

Some tidbits surrounding the Op. 33 series:
The op. 33 series is the only group of string quartets surrounded by extended periods of inactivity. Nine years between the op. 20 and op. 33 quartets. Six years elapse before Haydn undertakes the next series (op. 50, 1787)

In 1779 Haydn's newly revised contract with Prince Esterházy gave him the right to sell his own compositions. Evidently he intended to publish the new set of quartets, but to offer them beforehand to a select group of aficionados in the form of manuscript copies, by subscription. Timing appears to have been bungled by Haydn's publisher Artaria, who had jumped the gun in announcing to the general public the quartets were being engraved and would be available shortly. Haydn in an irate response complained that the integrity of his offer had been compromised. Things had to be smoothed out and Artaria delayed publication for several months. Haydn, in a move that has been imitated by others since (including Beethoven), sold the set simultaneously to Hummel (another Vienna publisher), claiming that Artaria's “over-hasty announcement” had forced him to offer the quartets “all over the place”.

Haydn himself famously described the op. 33 quartets as written in “a new, quite special way”. While this may be perhaps just marketing language, it also points to the fact that he is now writing for a different customer, who might be more interested in comic opera, street and popular dance music than the “learned” style of op. 20. (the finales are now predominantly in the new and fashionable Rondo form)

The first movement of Op. 20, No. 6 has the exact same number of bars (164) as the first movement of op. 33, No. 1.

Reception must have been quite enthusiastic: Besides numerous early editions there were many arrangements of entire quartets or individual movements - for flute quartet, piano trio, piano four hands,  piano and violin, solo piano, and even voice with piano accompaniment.

  • Quartet No. 29 in G major ("How Do You Do?"), Op. 33, No. 5, FHE No. 74, Hoboken No. III:41
  • Quartet No. 30 in E♭ major ("The Joke"), Op. 33, No. 2, FHE No. 71, Hoboken No. III:38
  • Quartet No. 31 in B minor, Op. 33, No. 1, FHE No. 70, Hoboken No. III:37
  • Quartet No. 32 in C major ("The Bird"), Op. 33, No. 3, FHE No. 72, Hoboken No. III:39
  • Quartet No. 33 in D major, Op. 33, No. 6, FHE No. 75, Hoboken No. III:42
  • Quartet No. 34 in B♭ major, Op. 33, No. 4, FHE No. 73, Hoboken No. III:40

The evening included, apart from the by now de rigeur Spaghetti Bolognese, a reading of two new arrangements:

Guns 'N Roses’ “Sweet Child O'Mine”
followed by
Vivaldi’s  Aria: Vedrò con mio diletto

Swang Lin, violin
Amy Faires, violin
Jennifer Sweetman, violin, viola
Norbert Gerl, viola
Mitch Maxwell, violoncello


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