"Prussian Quartets", Op. 50, No. 1 - Haydn - full version!

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Joseph Haydn
Musicians from Marlboro
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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The String Quartets, Op. 50 (Hob. III/44-49, L. 36-41), were composed by Joseph Haydn in 1787. The set of six quartets was dedicated to King Frederick William II of Prussia. For this reason the set is commonly known as the Prussian Quartets. Haydn sold the set to the Viennese firm Artaria and, without Artaria's knowledge, to the English publisher William Forster. Forster published it as Haydn's Opus 44. Haydn's autograph manuscripts for Nos. 3 to 6 of the set were discovered in Melbourne, Australia, in 1982.

Each of the six quartets in the set has four movements, and in each case the movements are ordered in a conventional fast–slow–minuet–fast sequence.

The set was Haydn's first complete set of quartets since the Opus 33 set of 1781. While the Opus 33 set was apt for broad public consumption, the Opus 50 set is more serious and experimental. It is perhaps because of the Opus 50's intellectual character that other sets among Haydn's mature quartets have received more attention from performers.

The first quartet of the set, in B-flat major, is numbered III/44 in the Hoboken-Verzeichnis catalogue. Its movements are:

1. Allegro
2. Adagio non lento
3. Menuetto: Poco allegretto
4. Finale: Vivace

The first movement is in cut common (2/2) time. It starts with the cello, alone, playing eight quarter notes on the same B-flat. It is not until the third measure of the movement that the violins and viola enter. The cello's eight throbbing notes act as more than an introduction. They reappear at critical junctures throughout the movement, including at the beginning of the development and recapitulation sections, illustrating that they are part of the movement's primary thematic material. The melody that follows the eight cello notes is echoed in Beethoven's String Quartet No. 1 (Op. 18, No. 1).

The second movement is in E-flat major and strophic form, with a statement of a theme followed by three variations (the second of which is in E-flat minor) and a coda. Haydn used a similar design for the slow movement of the Opus 20, No. 4 quartet. In 1793 the poet Gabriele von Baumberg set the movement's theme to words, for inscription on a monument honouring Haydn in the composer's home town of Rohrau, Austria.

The third movement, a minuet and trio, features motivic elements that hark back to the previous two movements. In the trio, Haydn uses off-beat entries and second-beat sforzandos to disrupt what would otherwise be a regular and conventional triple metre.

The fourth movement, in sonata form but with characteristics of a rondo, is replete with Haydnesque false recapitulations and conclusions. In one example, the music lands in the tonic at the end of the recapitulation and apparent coda, and is followed by two measures of complete silence, creating an illusion of finality. However, the main theme is then reprised, and the real conclusion to the work follows some 20 measures later.
The text above is offered by courtesy of Wikipedia (German), under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Classical music piece performed by: Musicians from Marlboro
Licensed by: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Music license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Portrait by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Classical music piece ID: HDCM0730

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