Programme Notes

Joseph Haydn
String Quartet Op. 20 no. 2 in C major

Composed in 1772 at 40 years old, Haydn’s six string quartets from Opus 20 are among the great string quartets that earned Haydn the nickname ‘the father of the string quartet’. During this time the European philosophical and political ideas were shifting and undoubtedly influenced Haydn in his musical ideas and affected the emotions and ideas of the quartets.

The Opus 20 quartets highlight Haydn’s innovations of the string quartet. These included the equality of voices; the structure of each movement; depth of expressions; phrase lengths; and the use of counterpoint. In this quartet, Haydn specifically develops an equal interaction between all four instruments. The first movement opens with a cello solo, playing above accompanying instruments, gradually passing it onto the other instruments to play the solo line. The Adagio again begins with the cello stating the theme for what is a very emotionally charged movement with wide dynamic contrasts and complicated rhythmic accompaniment passages. The Minuet commences with a sense of rhythmic instability as all the instruments are tied across the bar line so there is no sense of a downbeat. A chromatic second section is built on the first violin’s descending chromatic scale. The Finale, Fuga a 4 soggetti, is a fugue with four subjects. The opening exposition subject statement is marked sempre sotte voce, where the first violin is followed by the viola, second violin, then cello. This movement demonstrates Haydn’s contrapuntal developments in the string quartet, with the texture gradually thinning, resulting in two voices playing at once, then suddenly bursting into forte with flowing sixteenth notes which lead to the close of the quartet.

Felix Mendelssohn
String Quartet Op. 13 in A minor

The Opus 13 quartet is the first string quartet 18-year-old Mendelssohn wrote. It is strongly influenced by the master of the string quartet Ludwig van Beethoven and contains classical composition technique such as fugues and counterpoint however it also has an amazing emotional drive and the melodic material makes it highly romantic. Some might say it is the perfect bridge between the two eras.

The quartet opens and concludes with a quote from a song which Mendelsohn himself had written earlier: a love song  entitled ‘Is it true?’, which one can´t help but connect with the musical question posed by Beethoven´s Opus 135, ‘Must it be?’.  Thematic material from that motto is to be found in all movements of the quartet. The melodic and rich Adagio opening in A major suddenly changes into an expressive yet agitated Allegro in A minor. The second movement opens and concludes with a quote of the motto of the song, this time in F major. With its serenity it takes the form of a fragile fugue, which through a rising agitation leads to a dramatic climax before returning to the opening motif. The Intermezzo gives a slight dramatic relief before the great finale where all the thematic material from earlier is used and the whole emotional range is used to conclude the masterpiece.