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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

The Aeolian String Quartet Plays Haydn (Part 1)

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Vinyl's Revenge starts a two-part look (or should I say, listen) at the string quartets of Joseph Haydn.

Haydn was Kapellmeister to the Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, a great lover of music. Haydn presided over the busy musical life of the court, producing operas, oratorios, and symphonic and chamber concerts, and writing a steady stream of new music for the prince's amusement. If that weren't enough, it turns out Prince Nikolaus had a fondness for playing a peculiar musical instrument known as the baryton, a kind of viola d'amore that featured bowed strings with pluckable resonating strings underneath. In order to fulfill the princely demand for baryton music, in the decade from the mid-1760s to the mid-1770s Haydn composed over 120 trios for baryton, viola, and cello, not to mention numerous other works featuring baryton.

Yet Haydn still took the time to write string quartets, even though, in the course of over forty years with the Eszterhazys, he never once received a royal directive to do so.

The reason for this can perhaps be found in the extraordinary dedication with which he pursued his compositional duties. Haydn sought to improve his art by the thorough exploration of musical forms and textures, and by bold experimentation. And what he came to discover was that the string quartet provided the most concentrated forum in which to do this.

Another factor may have been the relative isolation of the Eszterhazy court, both at the summer palace in western Hungary and at the family seat at Eisenstadt. As Haydn later recalled, "I could, as head of an orchestra, make experiments, observe what created an impression and what weakened it, thus improving, adding to, cutting away, and running risks. I was cut off from the world. There was no one in my vicinity to make me unsure of myself or to persecute me, and so I had to become original."

Haydn was 40 years old when he composed the opus 20 quartets, the third set of quartets Haydn wrote at Eszterháza. The set became known as the "Sun" quartets, because of the picture of a rising sun that graced the cover of an early edition.

I will talk more about the featured artists and the critical reception of their "complete Haydn" project in Part 2, coming in December.

Happy Listening!

Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 20
no. 1. Quartet in E♭ major, Hob.III:31
no. 2. Quartet in C major, Hob.III:32
no. 3. Quartet in G minor, Hob.III:33
no. 4. Quartet in D major, Hob.III:34
no. 5. Quartet in F minor, Hob.III:35
no. 6. Quartet in A major, Hob.III:36

The Aeolian String Quartet:

Emanuel Hurwitz & Raymond Keenlyside - Violins
Margaret Major - Viola
Derek Simpson - Cello

Tracks from Disks 1-3 of "Joseph Haydn, Aeolian String Quartet ‎– Haydn String Quartets Volume 6 [Op.20 & Op.64]"
London Records ‎– STS15447-52-6

(The videos were posted by Youtube's LUDOVICUSDEOLOR. Thank you!)

November 7, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "In Menoriam: Carlo Bergonzi" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more on our blogs in English and in French.
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  1. itywltmt's Avatar
    We are featuring the music from this post as part of our ongoing “222 day Binge Challenge” on the For Your Listening Pleasure podcast October 9 and 10, 2021. The following notes are an update with useful links we have created or discovered since the original post.

    Many of the early posts in the Vinyl’s Revenge series did not have an archive page, as we relied entirely on the YouTube playlist discussed in the original post. The archive page for this share uses our original digital transfer files:

    The YouTube clips I provided in the original post have since been removed. However, the Aeolian String Quartet’s complete recordings of the Haydn quartets are provided to YouTube by the Universal Music Group in the below playlist:

    A word about the transfer quality: I used my old Crosley “One touch” recording system. It is convenient but sometimes introduces digital glitches. In spite of some wear and surface noise, the transfer is generally good.