Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in D minor Op.103 II

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): a prolific composer, having written over 100 symphonies, 69 string quartets and vocal works and much more.  Known as the ‘Father of the Symphony’ and ‘Father of the String Quartet’, he was also one of the First Viennese School, the other two being Mozart and Beethoven, with Schubert occasionally mentioned.

Some say that Haydn did not purposefully create the string quartet as a new form, as his first string quartets show a striking similarity to the suites of the times, “with the five traditional movements (allegro, minuet, adagio, another minuet, presto finale), all in major keys (except minuet trios), melodies characteristic of Austrian folksongs, much two-part harmony (often by doubling the two violins and viola/cello parts), imitative filler phrases of ascending and descending figures, and dominant violins whose occasional dialogues recall trio sonatas”*.

(*Read much more about Haydn’s Quartets) from:

This string quartet was Haydn’s final quartet, composed in 1803 (the same year as Beethoven’s Eroica), and remained unfinished. There are only two movements, the second movement in minuet and trio form, harking to the days where there were dance suites, and the minuet and trio would be a type of dance (originating in France), giving the movement its characteristic 3 in a bar, and the trio originally only having 3 parts. The French term was ‘menuet’, with the equivalents being ‘minuetto’ (Italian), ‘Menuett’ (German) and minuet (English). Typically Italian minuettos were faster than their French equivalents.

Here Haydn’s Menuetto ma non troppo Presto follows the typical structure, being the minuet having two sections, with each being repeated, followed by a trio consisting of two sections, each also repeated. Then the minuet is replayed, but without the repeats, leading to a ternary-like structure overall.

Image result for minuet and trio structure

Contrasting to Haydn’s earlier string quartets, this is in a minor key, with more passing chromatic notes, particularly that descend in the accompaniment. A forte opening chord begins: a strong start. The first violin takes the energising melody, the second violin, viola and cello accompanying. The melody itself is filled with turns and acciaccaturas, the dotted rhythm giving its energy.  Occasionally the cello doubles the violin, and at other times phrases are imitated by lower parts, and when the phrase is repeated, Haydn knows that in order to maintain interest, there must be a change, so he just changes the dynamics to make it quieter instead.

Within the first 8 bars, Haydn also uses a hemiola for 2 bars, where he manipulates his use of rests to give the impression of 2 in a bar instead of 3. Whilst not necessarily related, it is interesting to note that Beethoven’s Eroica also heavily uses hemiolas in a similar way, with all parts (bar the first violin) on sfz crotchet chords.

One typical classical nuance to note is at the end of the first section, the cello finishes with a rising A minor triad.  However, when played, the crotchets get lighter, not heavier.

Here is the Grand String Quartet playing this movement:

As a performer, notice how the bow directions have been coordinated and the very subtle interactions between the musicians.

For further in depth analysis of other aspects:

 And the score:


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