Friday, May 07, 2010

Haydn Opus 33

I love the Haydn Opus 33 quartets. They were my first personal encounter with Haydn as a string player, and it wasn't long after starting to rehearse them that I began to think about trying to write for string quartet (the first step on my own journey as a composer). They were a true gateway drug for me, and the above recording made by the Cuarteto Casals that I have been listening to renews all my admiration for these pieces. Or maybe its obsession. This is my favorite recording to date of Opus 33, and I thought I'd share it here.

The liner notes mention that Haydn wrote these quartets almost ten years after writing his Opus 20 Quartets. I like to think that Titz had something to do with his return to writing string quartets.

These musicians play the Opus 33 Quartets like dramatic works--wordless operas with plots, sub-plots, comic relief, deep pathos, and lots of characters (as well as lots of character). Haydn (reportedly) was not crazy about writing operas. He was good at it (of course--he was Haydn and he was a pro), but it seems he didn't think much of himself as an opera composer. But like a brilliant mime, he could convey every dramatic nuance he wanted (and then some) without words.

Perhaps it was, in part, the operatic quality of these Quartets that impressed Mozart (who did enjoy writing operas) enough to come out of his own 8-year-string-quartet hiatus, and write a set of six quartets himself (and dedicate them to the great composer who inspired him). It seems that the first time Mozart and Haydn met was when they read the "Haydn" Quartets together. The rest is history.

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