The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn

Article excerpt

HAYDN STUDIES The String Quartets of Joseph Haydn. By Floyd and Margaret Grave. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. [x, 382 p. ISBN 0-19-517357-0. $65.] Music examples, tables bibliographic references, index.

In 1990 Floyd and Margaret Grave published an indispensable handbook for Haydn scholars: Franz Joseph Haydn: A Guide to Research (New York: Garland). With this latest book, they have produced yet another comprehensive and thoroughly documented addition to the Haydn literature. "To undertake a study of Haydn's string quartets," they observe at the outset, "is to enter a domain of music scholarship whose byways far exceed the scope of a single book" (p. 3). However, the Graves successfully narrow their field by focusing on detailed analyses that foreground opus-level observations and musical connections. Chapters on "Points of Departure" ("The Repertory," "Genre and Character," and "Texture, Ensemble Technique, and Sonority"), and "Formal Perimeters" lead to studies of each opus, most of which are allotted a full chapter. These background chapters prove essential, given the authors' twofold aim, in the ensuing discussion, of accounting for the individuality of each opus group while drawing out the repertoire's "constant elements, variables, and miscellaneous norms" (p. 25). In light of several recent critiques of traditional evolutionary narratives of the string quartet, which are cited here, the authors are wise in their decision to address the opus groups "on their own terms," and to attempt to avoid assumptions about stylistic progression.

Signs of the Graves' bibliographic acumen are manifest. The text is meticulously referenced, directing the reader towards much of the relevant recent literature on the subject. They acknowledge directly that their work complements important recent studies in the field, such as those by William Drabkin on op. 20 (A Reader's Guide to Haydn's Early String Quartets [Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000]) and W. Dean Sutcliffe on op. 50 (Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 50 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992]). There are also references and citations from many of the relevant primary sources; these form the basis of sections within the later chapters on the works' genesis, publication, and reception. Haydn's shrewd dealings with his publishers, as evidenced in contemporary correspondence, make for particularly fascinating reading. Presumably, and a little unfortunately, the book went to press too early to include mention of Mara Parker's invaluable new handbook, The String Quartet: A Research and Information Guide (Burlington, VT: Routledge, 2005).

Perhaps the main contribution in the Graves' study is their discussion of large-scale integrative elements in Haydn's quartets; indeed, the topic could have been more overtly thematized. A significant thread in their narrative is what we might call Haydn's inter-opus "meta-discourse" in the string quartets, whereby he returned, in later works, to ideas explored in previous sets. Especially compelling is their reading of op. 17 as a critique of op. 9, one that is "variously challenging, destabilizing, or indulging in ironic commentary, while at the same time building on its precedents" (p. 169). The specific case study of op. 17, no. 4 as a critique of op. 9, no. 4 is typical of the detailed, thought-provoking analyses that one finds throughout this book. Occasionally there are readings that are somewhat problematic: with respect to op. 20, for example, can one really speak of the cello's "liberation from standard bassline duty" (p. 184, my italics)? Surely this verges on traditional, teleological assumptions about string quartet history and genre ideals. Perhaps a better approach would be to consider Haydn's manipulation of string quartet roles in the first movement of op. 20, no. 2 as "meta-discourse" on these roles.

Elsewhere in the chapter on op. 20, the authors provide a broadly conceived reading of the works' integrative forces as they arise through disintegrative rhetorical tendencies. Their inspired discussions of work-level cyclicity must be deemed one of the book's major strengths: the analysis is carefully nuanced and multivalent. Particularly refreshing and tantalizing are the references to Haydn's use of register and sonority as means by which to achieve large-scale connections and coherence. These leave the reader with a desire to go further in exploring Haydn's use of these parameters in an entire movement, or indeed across an entire work or opus. Again the analyses are not always indisputable: is Haydn's use of register in the trio of op. 55, no. 1 really "more purely coloristic" here than elsewhere (p. 251)? Could this be related to a larger registral "story" in this work? The authors have provided numerous tables, which assist with the comparison of opus and movement-level design across the oeuvre. One wonders whether some of this information might have been represented graphically, which would allow for the simultaneous display of various data sets and would aid the reader's recognition of trends and "outliers." So too, the authors might have provided a few more music examples, especially for the earlier works; these would have helped to clarify visually the various inter- and intra-movement connections that are discussed.

Also missing here is some further discussion of aesthetic issues in the string quartet repertoire, with reference to contemporary documents. This omission becomes apparent in connection with slow movements, fugues, and "chamber music" style. One would like to see some consideration of Haydn's vocally inspired writing in these works, especially in the early quartets where the invocation of "voice" is most palpable. As it is, "vocal" style tends to be mixed up together with "concerto" style in the Graves' narrative. Can the two stylistic markers be separated at all? If not, the writers might have considered an expanded idea of "the vocal" in this repertoire. Is it true that the Largo of op. 9, no. 3 represents an "abandonment of the operatic stage" (p. 173)? With regard to fugue, one would like to see a more comprehensive account of its significance in the earlier quartets. Is fugue itself always to be considered in this context as "learned, transcendent, resistant to whims of fashion" (p. 204)? Eighteenth-century fugues certainly entered the realm of the earthy and modish, as implied in the contemporary label "galant counterpoint" (galanter Contrapunct). The sprightly concluding fugue in op. 20, no. 6 could be considered as a case in point.

In terms of the discussion of contemporary aesthetics, a little more consideration of the idea of chamber music at this time seems necessary. This topic is central to the larger narrative that the authors construct, regarding the relationship of one opus to the next; yet this is one area where their otherwise excellent referencing falls short. At the outset, the authors might have referred to Michael Broyles's work on "sonata style" in the late eighteenth century ("The Two Instrumental Styles of Classicism," in Beethoven: The Emergence and Evolution of Beethoven's Heroic Style [New York: Excelsior, 1987], 9-36), and to Mara Parker's discussion of "chamber style" in relation to the string quartet (The String Quartet, 1750-1797: Four Types of Musical Conversation Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002], 1-23). In the analyses of the later quartets in particular, one would like to see a more complex account of "public" vs. "private" music. To be sure, the authors acknowledge a "mingling of public and private domains" in these works (p. 300). Yet they tend to reinforce rather than challenge the typical mapping of op. 64 and opp. 71 and 74 onto a public/private binary opposition. They observe: "To draw connections between the character of the op. 71/74 quartets and the circumstances under which they were written is a temptation hard to resist" (p. 282). They then proceed to point out elements that fit with a context of "public" performance and reception. Yet, are not the remote tonal schemes of opp. 71 and 74 in some respects "private" in import? What of "public" musical rhetoric in op. 64, most of whose finales, the authors remind us, "call to mind the spirit of opera buffa" (p. 269)? And to what extent do all of these works seek to publicize "privacy"?

Given the interest in movement forms here, and the authors' thorough charting of these through Haydn's career as a quartet composer, some broader discussion of movement norms seems necessary. Ludwig Finscher has argued that, in terms of canon formation, the major difference between Haydn's string quartets and Corelli's trio sonatas lies not the process, but rather in the products themselves, the former being more "norm-discursive" than "norm-defining" ("Corelli, Haydn und die klassischen Gattungen der Kammermusik," in Gattungen der Musik und ihre Klassiker, ed. Hermann Danuser [Laaber: Laaber, 1988], 185-95). This argument fits well with the Graves' narrative; yet surely these works were equally involved in the establishing of norms in instrumental music, especially with respect to cyclity and sonata forms. Hence can we really understand op. 20, no. 4 as already testing "the strength of the standard movement forms and the norms of cyclic organization" (p. 192)? To what extent can we speak of formal "aberrations" in this repertoire as a whole (p. 116)? The topic of norm establishment could be addressed in connection with the discussion of contemporary listeners and their perceptions. In this connection, too, one awaits further discussion of the significance of the golden section in Haydn's music. The authors make several intriguing but fleeting references to movement proportions that conform to this ratio (see pp. 155, 184, and 220). Can these be related to listeners' expectations?

These small deficiencies aside, it should be noted that the analyses, which make up the main bulk of the book, are astute, inspiring, and nicely integrated into the contextual material. In addition, they are generally very well written. While one might quibble with "verbosity" as a descriptor of a Haydn quartet Adagio (p. 24), one reads with relish of the "nostalgic shimmer of pizzicato accompaniments in the slow movement of op. 76, no. 2" (p. 44); the patches of "shaded, quiet space" in op. 2, no. 6 (p. 153); and the "shower of staccato sixteenth notes" in op. 71, no. 3, third movement (p. 291).

[Author Affiliation]

NANCY NOVEMBER

University of Auckland

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