Sunday, May 13, 2018

Haydn, op. 76, no. 2, in D minor, "Quinten"

One of the things I really liked about the Kanye West song I posted on yesterday was the extreme simplicity of the basic material, the isolated high notes on the piano on the offbeat that tie the whole together. The figure in music history that largely originated and perfected this strategy was Joseph Haydn. Whereas Mozart's sonata movements are typically characterized by a wealth of themes, Haydn's often consist of just one. Sonata form is supposed to involve the contrast between two tonal areas and two themes, but Haydn violated that principle more often than he observed it. One of the most famous examples is the first movement of his String Quartet, op. 76, no. 2 in D minor which has the nickname "Die Quinten" or "The Fifths." The reason for that is the theme that utterly dominates the first movement. This theme is nothing more than two falling fifths:

There is hardly a measure that does not include this theme in some form or another. Hidden away in the 2nd violin:

Falling fifths in a rising sequence:

Compressing some of the intervals:

Wandering into remote keys:

Some simple variants:

And all these examples are just from the exposition! The development starts with the opening in inversion. This was the beginning:

And this is how the development starts, the whole thing turned upside down:

And, of course, the accompaniment is in a new key. Here the theme is in augmentation (quarter notes instead of half notes) and in close canon:

Shortly after it is back in half notes, but in triple canon with one voice a quarter note delayed and two others a half note delayed:

Are you tired yet? Haydn isn't. We have a false recapitulation in the wrong key:

Then, after the real recapitulation, some statements of the theme with accompanying figuration in close imitation:

The final statement of the theme, leading into the cadence, turns the second interval into a diminished 7th!

What an amazing tour de force this movement is. Let's have a listen. This is the Cleveland Quartet and we have the score so you can look for that theme.

The second movement is one of Haydn's charming sets of variations in D major. Then, just when you are least expecting it, he delivers yet another tour de force in the minuet. This is sometimes called the "Witches' Minuet" because the whole thing is a canon between the violins, in parallel octaves, and the viola and cello, in parallel octaves, at the distance of one measure:

Click to enlarge
Not just for a phrase or two, nope, for the whole minuet. Oh yeah, he did something similar before, in the minuet of his Symphony no. 44.

The final movement is just one of Haydn's superb, rollicking finales; it begins in D minor and ends in D major. Here is the Alban Berg Quartet playing the whole piece:


Unknown said...

Wow I am so glad I found your blog! Will definitely be following. I'm a violinist and wish there were more connections made between popular and classical music.

Bryan Townsend said...

I once gave a talk on the string quartet and popular music and ended with a recording of the Kronos Quartet playing their arrangement of Jimi Hendrix' Purple Haze.