The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn

The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn

The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn

The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn

Synopsis

A monumental accomplishment from the age of Enlightenment, the string quartets of Joseph Haydn hold a central place not only in the composer's oeuvre, but also in our modern conception of form, style, and expression in the instrumental music of his day. Here, renowned music historians Floydand Margaret Grave present a fresh perspective on a comprehensive survey of the works. This thorough and unique analysis offers new insights into the creation of the quartets, the wealth of musical customs and conventions on which they draw, the scope of their innovations, and their significance asreflections of Haydn's artistic personality. Each set of quartets is characterized in terms of its particular mix of structural conventions and novelties, stylistic allusions, and its special points of connection with other opus groups in the series. Throughout the book, the authors draw attentionto the boundless supply of compositional strategies by which Haydn appears to be continually rethinking, reevaluating, and refining the quartet's potentials. They also lucidly describe Haydn's famous penchant for wit, humor, and compositional artifice, illuminating the unexpected connections hedraws between seemingly unrelated ideas, his irony, and his lightning bolts of surprise and thwarted expectation. Approaching the quartets from a variety of vantage points, the authors correct many prevailing assumptions about convention, innovation, and developing compositional technique in themusic of Haydn and his contemporaries. Going beyond traditional modes of study, The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn blends historical analysis and factual information with critical appraisal in a way that will engage all Haydn enthusiasts.

Excerpt

To undertake a study of Haydn's string quartets is to enter a domain of music scholarship whose byways far exceed the scope of a single book. The quartets' complexities of texture, thematic process, form, and topical allusion are perennial tests of acuity on the part of critics and interpreters, and explorations of the works have followed many paths. By any measure, the quartets enjoy preeminent stature in the canon of later-eighteenth-century chamber music, and it is easy to imagine that Haydn regarded them as a congenial medium of expression. Widely disseminated through manuscripts and printed editions, and judged favorably for the most part by contemporaries, they helped define the terms of the genre as a touchstone of taste, as a true medium for connoisseurs, and as a type of work whose exacting standards required [a composer who lacks neither genius nor the broadest knowledge of harmony.]

Later commentators came to understand the quartets as quintessential reflections of Haydn's artistic personality and, by extension, as emblems of a larger historical process. In this view, the allegedly undistinguished, mid-century Viennese idiom from which the earliest quartets sprang was a starting point, and tendencies witnessed in subsequent opus groups arose either as hindrances or as signs of progress toward the eventual achievement of a mature Classical style.

Recent scholarly writings have tended to view such teleologically driven narratives with skepticism, and in fact the very notion of Viennese Classicism as a coherent, period-defining concept has been vigorously challenged. It is not our purpose to support or repudiate particular claims with respect to the quartets' historical role. However, we do question any method that allows our evaluation of the quartets to become enmeshed in assumptions about stylistic progression. To be sure, patterns of development may be traced in the quartets as in other instrumental repertories from the period. But to argue from a notion of ineluctable progress is to run the risk of suppressing contrary evidence, skewing the analyses . . .

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