HAYDN AT ESTERHÁZA And the “Sun” Quartet Op. 20 no. 6
By Nomadic1 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56152280
Esterháza, the Hungarian Versailles
Over a period of forty plus years, Haydn served as musician to four Esterhazy princes, including Paul Anton, Nikolaus I, Anton, and Nikolaus II. The noble Esterhazy families were strong supporters of music, including orchestral, chamber, and opera.
Haydn’s position as Kapellmeister was classified as a house officer. All artists were demanded to be in permanent attendance. This meant that some musicians and actors had to leave families to be in residence full time. For some, this led to much discontent. But Haydn managed to turn the disadvantages into career advances.
The demand for court entertainment had to be filled. As conductor of the resident orchestra, Haydn was free to experiment and create original compositions, thus establishing his own symphonic style. Since the prince was a performing musician, there was also high demand for new chamber music. The resulting compositions defined clearly the differences between symphonic and entertainment music. Nikolaus I was a great lover of opera. Some weeks Haydn was asked to produce two operas as well as orchestral concerts and chamber music. This demand resulted in many operas written by Haydn himself, few of which are performed today.
‘Sun’ Quartets, Op. 20 no. 6
In our April virtual concert, the Sopris Quartet chose to perform Haydn’s String Quartet in A Major, Op. 20 no. 6, one of six quartets referred to as the ‘Sun’ Quartets (1772) No string quartet seems more appropriate for the welcoming of spring, because it’s overall character is bright and optimistic compared to the other five quartets in Op. 20 that are more somber in character. These quartets are considered a milestone in the history of string quartet writing. David Tovey writes, “Every page of the six quartets of Op. 20 is of historical and aesthetic importance…..there is perhaps no single opus in history of instrumental music which has achieved so much.”
In the ‘Sun’ Quartets, one can observe more equality of voices, giving each instrument new and exciting appearances. Goethe described Haydn’s new approach to texture as, “four rational people in conversation”. Haydn chose to write these quartets in four movements including sonata-allegro, minuet, slow, and fast finale. His structural innovations, particularly development of sonata form, appear in unexpected locations in various movements. He reintroduced contrapuntal fugal writing particularly in the final fourth movement of the piece. Experimental use of tonality is evident throughout, resulting in the expression of deep emotion. One hears operatic drama, a sense of humor, and sometimes ‘trickster techniques’, as he playfully manipulates harmony and tonality.
String Quartet in A major, Op. 20, no. 6
I. Allegro di Molto e Scherzando II. Adagio III. Minuetto Allegretto IV. Fugga a 3 Soggetti Allegro
In listening to the first movement, one will hear the conversation between the four voices as they toss melodic ideas back and forth in a very playful manner. The adagio is a set of variations on sonata form. The Minuet will bring delight to your ears with its lilting rhythms. The finale of no. 6 uses three subjects in the fugue, truly a reversion back to the baroque academic style which was rejected during the gallant period.