HAYDN String Quartet in D major, Op. 20 No. 4
MENDELSSOHN String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44 No. 2
WEBERN Six Bagatelles, Op. 9
BEETHOVEN String Quartet in C major, Op. 59 No. 3
If Joseph Haydn is considered the “father of the string quartet,” then his progeny would certainly include Beethoven and Mendelssohn. This program explores the development of the string quartet through these three generations.
With his Op. 20 quartets Haydn set out to prove his worth as a great composer, and these works represent a turning point for the string quartet as a genre for intelligent musical discourse rather than light entertainment. In his D major quartet, Op. 20 No. 4, Haydn throws off the shackles of the galant style and engages in a more earth-bound, human dialogue. Not only did the quartet provide a forum for enlightened debate, it also split the world into 4 prescribed points of view; each role in the discussion is set even before the music begins.
The Razumovsky Quartets (Op. 59) synthesize the progressivism that pervades such emblems of Beethoven’s middle period as the 5th Symphony and the Kreutzer Violin Sonata, with the rhetorical spirit of enlightened discourse that is inextricable from the quartet genre. From the onset of Op. 59 No. 3 the music is shrouded in ambiguity, and as it unfolds, unravels an identity crisis that won’t see resolution until the Finale. For the last movement Beethoven uses fugal rhetoric to maintain his objective stance.
As a boy, Mendelssohn spent countless hours immersed in the study of Beethoven’s music, and the influence of Beethoven’s late quartets can be heard in Mendelssohn’s early chamber music. Mendelssohn’s E minor quartet, Op. 44 No. 2, however, shows the composer coming into his own mature voice while still maintaining the youthful exuberance so characteristic in his early works.
Too far removed in time to have been directly influenced by these great masters, Webern’s Six Bagatelles provide a modernist commentary on the romantic expressive potential. What is striking is that despite all that changed from Haydn to Webern, the intelligent musical discourse and the prescribed roles remain a part of the music throughout.