String quartets, Op.20 – Joseph Haydn


  Joseph Haydn playing string quartets 


                (Staatsmuseum, Vienna)


upon first hearing the first movement only 
even of the opus 20, no 5 of Haydn, I was 
immediately struck by the more determined, 
insistent, peremptory strokes of the strings,
something not especially appropriate in an 
aristocratic setting, where the music should
be polite, reserved, nearly unobtrusive, a 
music composed for performance here 
rather than as an after dinner mint

the second and third movements return to 
a more conventional, which is to say courtly,
tone, but the end of the fourth movement is
also, and more virulently, vociferous

what’s up 

you might view this as the very beginning 
of the Classical Period, the stately 
institutions of not only the aristocratic 
social experiment, but also of the very 
world order were being debated, personal
opinion was beginning to supersede 
convention, the very core of the upcoming
Romantic Era, which saw the rights of the 
individual installed rather than the voice
of an imperial, or an indeed spiritual,

Haydn was expressing his musical, and
dare I say Delphic, anima, his inspired 
spirit, setting the stage for what was to 
come, however historically blindly, the
French Revolution was coming up

I have a beef with the third movement, 
the adagio, however lovely – it’s right 
out of Bach, without anywhere any 
apparent attribution, I object to that 

is this a tribute, or an appropriation,
or does it matter, you tell me, I think
it’s, again however lovely, and ever
so influential, not only not right, but 
neither as lovely as the sublime 
BWV1031, a complete and utter
serenity, a sin of the sons against 
the fathers, or is it, rather, our 
indifferent patrimony, like putting 
moustache on the Mona Lisa 

the opus 20, no 2, is, for reasons I
won’t get into, a later work, it is 
throughout vociferous, peremptory,
insistent, adamant, assertive, 
vehement, uncompromising, it’s 
nearly even Beethoven, it’s, in
other words, a scorcher, like 
Beethoven, it takes no prisoners 

check it out, it’s only 1772 and the 
earlier model of civilizational order 
isn’t any longer holding, opus 20,
no 2 is an augury, an omen of what
is to come, which is, of course, the 
very task of the poet 

R ! chard