Haydn String Quartet Op 33 No 1 Analysis Essay


It has become a commonplace that the publication of Haydn’s string quartets Op. 33 prompted Mozart’s return to this genre in 1782. The latter’s Op. 10 quartets have been considered as attempts either to imitate or to contradict Haydn’s ‘models’. The present article, in contrast, focuses on the Italian influence on Mozart’s string quartets, from the ‘Lodi’ quartet K. 80 and the ‘Milanese’ series to his Haydn dedication set. In the context of a mostly unknown contemporary Italian repertory, several aspects of Mozart’s seemingly personal genre conception can now be related to Italian practice. Features of his early works are still extant in his ‘Viennese’ and ‘Haydn’ quartet series. In the latter, they coexist with the demonstrable influence of Haydn’s Op. 33. In comparison to Haydn, Mozart came from a different, probably Italianate tradition of quartet writing, to which he remained largely true.

In December 1781, in personal letters to a number of distinguished persons, Joseph Haydn offered his Opus 33 for subscription, claiming that these string quartets were written ‘in an entirely new and special way’ (‘sie sind auf eine gantz neue besondere art’).1 There can be few if any publications dealing with Haydn’s Op. 33 where this dictum is not mentioned. Many scholars have tried to define this ‘entirely new and special way’, pointing out quite different features. To cite just a few representative examples: Adolf Sandberger identified it with the principle of motivic work (‘Prinzip der motivischen Arbeit’).2 H. C. Robbins Landon, in his monumental Haydn biography, specified a ‘sense of humour which in some (but not all) of the works of Op. 33 finds a boisterous and even hilarious outlet’, and further, ‘the use of “Scherzo” or “Scherzando” instead of Minuet’, and a ‘more profound’ character of the slow movements.3 In an article with the programmatic title ‘The Significance of Haydn’s Op. 33’, Orin Moe listed ‘a balanced movement-sequence … found in both a fluent use of equal-voice texture and an appropriate, fully-formed style in all movements, … a formal complexity not found in the previous quartets’, and ‘metric, rhythmic, and harmonic irregularities’.4 Friedhelm Krummacher, in the first of his two handbook volumes on the string quartet, added another aspect: that of a broader repertory of characters of movements and technical procedures; and he emphasized a new flexible relationship between the voices.5 James Webster, in his Haydn article for the second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, enumerated ‘smaller outward dimensions, a more intimate tone, fewer extremes of expression, subtlety of instrumentation, wit (as in the “Joke” finale of no. 2 in E♭ major) and a newly popular style (e.g. in no. 3 in C major, the second group of the first movement, the trio and the finale)’.6 In the article ‘String quartet’ in the same dictionary, Cliff Eisen returned to Sandberger’s argument of ‘the consistent application of motivic work (thematische Arbeit)’ and discerned ‘the reintroduction of a light, popular touch, and the integration of the movements of varying character into a convincing whole’.7 Finally, Richard Taruskin, in his five-volume music history, highlighted ‘a newly versatile texture, no longer nearly so dominated by the first violin’, and he identified ‘two dimensions of introversive pointing: horizontal (“structural”) and vertical (“textural”)’.8

All these observations may well be correct, but in the generalizing way in which they are presented it is hardly possible to relate them exclusively (up to 1781) to Op. 33.9 It is difficult to imagine that these features, which were already partly present in Op. 20, partly revived and renewed from earlier works, should have determined Haydn to propagate the notion of an ‘entirely new and special way’. Consequently, other scholars have preferred to consider Haydn’s claim as mere sales talk and to insist on the continuity of string-quartet writing during the 1770s and 1780s, in which Op. 33 would be a prominent but in no way unique work.10

One of the strongest supporters of this line of argument has been James Webster. In his review of Ludwig Finscher’s Habilitation thesis published in 1974, where Finscher had insisted on the outstanding importance of Op. 33,11 he advanced strong doubts:

The weakest link in Finscher’s argument, however, is his exaggerated claim that Op. 33 ‘created’ Classical quartet style. The ‘Op. 33 hypothesis’, an invention of Adolf Sandberger about 1900, is neither historically nor stylistically persuasive… . Thus Op. 33 was merely one prominent event in the rapidly increasing production of string quartets in the 1780s.12

The first to identify any analytical detail that might demonstrate a qualitative leap in Op. 33 was Charles Rosen in 1971. As the quartets Op. 20 had circulated widely and were well known, Rosen believes that Haydn rightly thought that his claim of an ‘entirely new and special style’ had some chance of seeming plausible. In this context, for Rosen the opening page of the B minor quartet is ‘a manifesto’, in fact ‘a revolution in style’ (see Ex. 1):

The relation between principal voice and accompanying voices is transformed before our eyes. In measure 3, the melody is given to the cello and the other instruments take up the little accompanying figure. In measure 4, this accompanying figure has become the principal voice—it now carries the melody. No one can say just at what point in measures 3 and 4 the violin must be judged the principal melodic voice, and where the cello shifts to a subordinate position, as the passage is not divisible. All that one knows is that the violin starts measure 3 as accompaniment and ends measure 4 as melody.13

What Rosen describes here is much more than the oft-mentioned ‘motivic work’ (thematische Arbeit) for which ‘classical’ instrumental music has been praised. This is a new dialectical relationship between ‘theme’ and ‘accompaniment’, between what seem at first glance to be either more or less important elements. Rosen calls this ‘the true invention of classical counterpoint’ (though that may be a misleading way of putting it).

It is surprising that almost no one picked up Rosen’s point for several decades.14 An exception seems to have been a contribution by Ludwig Finscher to a series of radio lectures in 1988, published in 2002,15 where he presented a detailed analysis of the C major quartet in Op. 33 (identified traditionally as ‘no. 3’). In addition to observations concerning the relationship between theme and accompaniment, which confirm Rosen’s observation as a general feature of Op. 33, Finscher identified a similar relationship between apparently unimportant and important linear elements (discussed below).

There is even contemporary evidence that in Op. 33 Haydn really did pave a ‘new way’. Apparently, Op. 33 prompted Mozart’s return to this genre after almost ten years. Beginning in 1782—the very year of the first print of Op. 33—with the G major quartet K. 387, during the following years Mozart composed a series of six string quartets, which he published in 1785 with an often-cited dedication to Haydn.16 No document exists that would confirm Haydn’s role in the conception of this series. If, however, chronology and dedication were not pure coincidence, it must be assumed that something in Op. 33 had provoked Mozart. Indeed, it is almost a commonplace of music historiography that Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets were stimulated and influenced by Haydn’s Op. 33.17

This has not, however, been underlined by scholarly publications on the topic. Where so few authors have managed to pinpoint the originality of Op. 33 itself, it is not surprising that the question of its relevance to Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets has yet to be answered convincingly. Mark Evan Bonds, in an article on these quartets and the question of influence, mentions some presumed similarities between Op. 33 and Mozart’s quartets, of which the most distinct are the final movement of K. 421 in D minor (Ex. 2; related to the last movement of Haydn’s G major quartet from Op. 33) and the Menuetto of K. 428 in E flat major (Ex. 3; related to the Scherzo of Haydn’s quartet in E flat major).18 It is by no means certain, however, that these references were conscious acts. Neither in Op. 33 nor in Mozart’s quartets are they of such outstanding importance as, for instance, the beginnings of the B minor or C major quartets in Op. 33, the pathetic first subject of K. 421, or the slow introduction of K. 465. Bonds himself admits: ‘All in all, however, the list of acknowledged specific parallels between Mozart’s quartets and Haydn’s earlier works in this genre is surprisingly meager.’19 It was again Rosen who got to the root of the problem:

But the trouble with these borrowings—Haydn’s and Mozart’s in particular—is that the more evident the borrowing, the more superficial it is… . If it’s exact, it’s not an influence at all, but simply plagiarism, the appropriation of another’s property (which every composer indulges in, consciously or unconsciously). But the more profound forms of influence are not verifiable in that way. In particular, Mozart’s and Haydn’s styles are so different in many respects, their procedures are so often diametrically opposed, that a really interesting example of influence is likely to be completely absorbed and leave little trace.20

Ex. 2

(a) Haydn, String Quartet in G major, Op. 33 No. 1/iv, bb. 1–4; (b) Mozart, String Quartet in D minor, K. 421/iv, bb. 1–4

Ex. 2

(a) Haydn, String Quartet in G major, Op. 33 No. 1/iv, bb. 1–4; (b) Mozart, String Quartet in D minor, K. 421/iv, bb. 1–4

Ex. 3

(a) Haydn, String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 33 No. 2/ii, bb. 1–6; (b) Mozart, String Quartet in E flat major, K. 428/iii, bb. 1–6

Ex. 3

(a) Haydn, String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 33 No. 2/ii, bb. 1–6; (b) Mozart, String Quartet in E flat major, K. 428/iii, bb. 1–6

In recent Mozart handbooks a veil seems to have been drawn over the problem. In his Cambridge Music Handbook, John Irving is content to cite Bonds’s explanations.21 In the Mozart Handbuch of 2005 Nicole Schwindt refers to ‘some manifest quotations and subliminal allusions’ without going into further detail.22 In the Mozart handbook of 2006 Wilhelm Seidel simply ignores the question.23 And in The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia it is again Irving who points out that in his ‘Haydn’ quartets Mozart ‘achieves that sureness of touch in the integration of counterpoint and Classical periodicity that had characterized Haydn’s Op. 33’, and he reads the ‘entirely new and special manner’ as a metaphor for contemporary Enlightenment ideals.24

If, on the one hand, it is a commonplace that Mozart was influenced by Haydn’s Op. 33—and we shall try to demonstrate later that he really was—it is obvious, on the other hand, that his quartets dedicated to Haydn display many features completely alien to Haydn’s set. It is a matter of the character, contrast, and multiplicity of melodic ideas as well as the actual length of the sonata movements in particular. Haydn’s shortest expositions have fifty-eight bars in 6/8 metre (D major), fifty-nine bars alla breve (C major), and thirty-one bars in common time (B flat major). Mozart’s shortest quartet of this series is the D minor quartet K. 421 with 41/117 bars in common time (exposition/entire movement), his longest the C major quartet K. 465, with sixty-one bars’ exposition (after a slow introduction of twenty-two bars) and a total number of 246 bars. Here is an overview of the first movements (ordered by increasing tempo indications):

This is a considerable difference in length, which corresponds—as has been observed by other scholars25—to a greater number of ideas and formal units within the exposition. These differences have usually been explained as a result of Mozart’s different personal style, as Finscher writes in his article ‘Klassik’ in the new edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.26 For Finscher, Op. 33 is on the one hand a watershed for the entire ‘Classical style’; on the other hand he emphasizes the differences between Haydn and Mozart. If Mozart, however, during his first years in Vienna (from 1781) developed a style that was clearly different from Haydn’s, it must be asked whether Mozart’s ‘personal style’ was perhaps indebted to a different tradition (or traditions). In the field of quartet writing, he may have continued—at least partly—along the route of his earlier string quartets. And these quartets may have been more influenced by a foreign repertory than is generally assumed. Thus, before returning to the question of Op. 33 and its consequences, it is necessary to take a closer look at Mozart’s earlier attempts in the genre of the string quartet (a list of these works is given in Appendix I).27

mozart’s ‘lodi’ quartet k. 80 and the ‘milanese’ quartets k. 155–160

Few details are known about the genesis of Mozart’s earliest string quartets. On 15 March 1770, he composed his first string quartet, K. 80, in the north Italian town of Lodi, near Milan. In its original shape, this work had three movements, ending with the Minuetto. (A fourth movement, Rondeau, was added more than three years later.28) His first series of string quartets, the so-called ‘Milanese’ quartets K. 155–160, was an outcome of his third Italian journey from autumn 1772 to spring 1773.

There is no evidence that Mozart received a commission for one or more string quartets. In the context of his Lucio Silla, which premiered in Milan on 26 December 1772, he may have felt the need to present himself to his public with a series of string quartets. This does not exclude the possibility that his father tried to commercialize the quartets afterwards. In any case, the almost exclusive concentration upon a single genre within a fairly short time is surprising and suggests a certain demand for string quartets in Italy.29 Until March 1773, father and son Mozart waited for a response from Florence concerning a possible engagement at the Tuscan court.30

Summing up, there is some evidence that Mozart’s earliest string quartets were composed for the Italian market and consequently were labelled ‘Italianate’ by older scholars: Théodore de Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix regarded the ‘Lodi’ quartet and the Milanese series as prime examples of the profound influence of Italian music on Mozart in this period.31 In some recent handbooks, this insight seems to have been forgotten. Schwindt believes that Mozart’s knowledge of the genre was very limited and considers the Milanese quartets as pivotal in his search for a personal solution; in the same vein Seidel negates any model and praises these works as fruits of an audacious and systematic approach to a new area.32

In any case, the Italian character of these quartets has scarcely been substantiated through detailed analysis. The overall three-movement form is obviously Italianate, as are—in the context of the genre—in particular the Minuetto or Tempo-di-Minuetto finales of K. 80, 156, and 158.33 Other Italianate features of sonata form in Mozart’s early string quartets have been identified. A very short modulating section at the beginning of €the second €part (‘development’), which is not characterized by ‘motivic work’ but by new motifs and sequences,34 is usually related to the Italian opera sinfonia. A. Peter Brown recognizes as ‘Italianate aspects’ of the first movement of K. 172 (composed some months later): ‘multiple-stop hammer strokes (b. 1), all parts in octaves (bb. 5–6), dialoguing of the violins (bb. 18–21), and the three-part writing for four instrumental parts’, features also observed by Brown in Giovanni Battista Sammartini’s early symphonies.35 The reference to Sammartini goes back to Wyzewa and Saint-Foix. These authors admit, however, that in addition to Sammartini (who was by then over 70 years old), other—nowadays mostly unknown—Italian composers may also have influenced Mozart.36 Nevertheless, Sammartini is still regarded as having been the key figure,37 although several authors have expressed reservations on this point.38

Next to Sammartini, Boccherini has often been considered as a possible model for Mozart, for instance by Wyzewa/Saint-Foix and Finscher.39 Surprisingly, however, since Christian Speck’s 1987 monograph on Boccherini’s string quartets,40 the prevailing view seems to be that—despite the similarities between Boccherini’s and Mozart’s musical language—Boccherini did not exert a special influence on Mozart. More recently and without further explication, Finscher has even denied any influence by Boccherini on other composers. In his eyes, Boccherini’s string quartets are individual phenomena, standing apart from any tradition or school.41 The only scholar who has posited a genuine Italian development of string quartet writing, with Boccherini as a key figure, is Fausto Torrefranca. However, due to his nationalistic bias and exaggerated conclusions, his writings have received little attention.42

The following observations are based on closer examination of a mostly unknown (even to Torrefranca) contemporary repertory of eighteenth-century Italian instrumental music, especially a corpus of more than 250 string quartets, preserved in libraries and archives in Italy and abroad. (A list of the works mentioned in this article is given in Appendix II.) Our intention is not to reignite old-fashioned discussions about musical nations.43 ‘Italy’ and ‘Italian’ here refer indiscriminately to the geographical entity of northern Italy and the peninsula, a practice that is in accordance with contemporary terminology: in a letter from 23 February 1778 to his son in Mannheim, Leopold Mozart mentions ‘Italy’ in the same breath with Paris and Vienna as one of the three places where a composer could become famous:

If you want to become universally known as a composer you need to be in Paris, Vienna or Italy. You’re now nearest to Paris. The only question is where do I have a better hope of achieving prominence? In Italy—where in Naples alone there must be at least 300 maestri and where, throughout Italy, the maestri often have a scrittura 2 years in advance from those theatres that pay well? Or in Paris, where there are 2 or 3 writing for the theatre and other composers can be counted on the fingers of one hand? The keyboard must bring you your first contacts and make you popular with the great, then you can have something engraved by subscription, which brings in a little more than writing 6 quartets for an Italian gentleman, for which you may get a few ducats or even a snuffbox worth 3 ducats. It’s even better in Vienna, there at least you can arrange a subscription for music in manuscript form.44

In addition to opera, Leopold refers here explicitly to string quartets. His wording suggests a certain musical homogeneity for ‘Italy’ compared with Paris and Vienna. This is confirmed by the mixed repertories preserved in different Italian centres, apparently not limited to local traditions.45

One of the leading experts on eighteenth-century musical life, Charles Burney, is another witness that artists of non-Italian birth who received their musical training in Italy were regarded as composing in an ‘Italian’ manner. His remarks in A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to 1789 on André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry are significant:

This admirable master had his musical education in Italy, and at the age of seventeen [recte: 24] he distinguished himself at Rome by the composition of an intermezzo, called Le Vende Miatrice [1765 (recte: La vendemmiatrice)]. Sacchini used to say, that he remembered him at Naples, where he regarded him as a young man of genius, who wrote as much in the style of that school as any of the natives of Italy; but when he heard his comic operas at Paris, many years after, he did not find that he was much improved, by composing to French words, and for French singers. However, from the small number of good composers in France, compared with those in every great city of Italy, he has enjoyed an unrivalled fame in his present station, which no composer is sure of at Venice, Rome, or Naples. He has, at least, improved the French taste as much as they have corrupted his … 46

Italian musicians, in contrast, working or publishing outside Italy, were considered part of an ‘Italian’ community, clearly opposed to German musicians. Accordingly, in his last chapter, ‘Music in England during the present century’, Burney comments on the violinist and composer Felice Giardini, who arrived in England in 1750 and eventually left for Italy in 1784:

After he had been here a few years, he formed a morning academia, or concert, at his house, composed chiefly of his scholars, vocal and instrumental, who bore a part in the performance. This continued, while he was still augmenting the importance of his instrument and our national partiality for the taste of his country, till the admirable productions and great performers of Germany began to form a Teutonic interest and Germanic body here, which, before Giardini’s departure from London [1784], became very formidable rivals to him and his Roman legion.47

These few but significant examples may well justify the labelling of works composed by Italians or musicians trained in Italy as ‘Italian music’, including foreign prints. Consequently, ‘Italianate’ refers to features in non-Italian compositions that may be related to Italian practice.

A palpable indication of the impact of Italian instrumental music on the young Mozart, and particularly on his string quartets, is the omission of the repeat marks in the first movement, Allegro, of the quartet in D major K. 155. The autograph of this quartet, the first of the Milanese quartets, reveals that Mozart had written the repeat marks initially, but then erased them.48 The erasure leaves no doubt that the lack of repeat signs was not mere negligence, but a subsequent decision. Hugh MacDonald has pointed out that the absence of repeats in sonata-form movements is extremely rare in Mozart’s non-symphonic works, with ‘the two early string quartets [K. 155 and 160] as the solitary and inexplicable cases’.49 The sole explanation presented until now has been Mozart’s affinity with Italian opera, and with the overture as a model for an instrumental two-part composition without repeats.50 There is, however, a much simpler reason. Composers like Baldassare Galuppi and Antonio Sacchini had almost no repeat signs in their string quartets.51 Moreover, this seems to have been quite a widespread phenomenon. Sonata-form movements without repeats appear in string quartets of several contemporary Italian composers.52 Some of these composers were personally acquainted with Mozart:53

  • Michele Barbici, 6 Quartetti per due Violini, Alto Viola e Basso: quartet in A major and in B flat major; Quartetti del Signor Michele Barbici: quartet in D major

  • Luigi Boccherini, Sei Quartetti per due Violini, Alto e Violoncello: quartet in B flat major (G. 160)

  • Giuseppe Demachi, Quartett[i] a due Violini, Viola e Basso (a copy of Six Orchester-Quartets for two Violins, a Tenor and Violoncello; also as Op. 3, Paris, c.177154): quartets in C major, B flat major, and E major

  • Baldassare Galuppi, Concerto à Quattro … che serve d’Introduzione à Sei Quartetti: quartets in D major, B flat major, and E flat major

  • Josef Mysliveček, Six Quartettos for two Violins, a Tenor and Violoncello (first printed: Paris; Lyon, La Chevadière; Castaud 1768/69): quartets in E flat major and A major; Quartett[o] a due Violini, Viola e Basso (copies of Op. 1, Offenbach, 177755): quartets in G major, B flat major, D major, F major, C major, and E flat major

  • Gaetano Pugnani, Quartetti per due Violini, Viola e Basso del Signor Gaetano Pugnani: quartet in E flat major

  • Antonio Sacchini, Sei Quartetti per due Violini, Viola e Basso (a copy of Op. 2, London, 1772–4): quartet in E flat major

  • Francesco Zanetti, Quartetti VI a due Violini, Viola e Basso (partly a copy of Sei Quartetti a due Violini, Viola e Violoncello (Perugia, 1781)): quartet in B flat major

Other significant features of Mozart’s early string quartets are the slow first movements and the unvarying key through all three movements of K. 80 and 159.56 Both features contrast with the common fast–slow–fast form and the usual change of key in the central movement. The sonata da chiesa and the suite have been cited as possible sources for this ‘inverse’ order slow–fast–tempo di minuetto/minuetto/rondò.57 The chronological gap, however, between these genres and Mozart’s string quartets raises doubts about an immediate influence. Mozart did not need to go back to the older genres to become acquainted with it. Surveying a broader repertory of works a quattro,58 a considerable number of quartets with a slow first movement and with the same key for all three movements may be found:

  • Gregorio Ballabene, Quartetti a due Violini, Viola e Basso: quartets in C major, B flat major, A major, C minor, and D major (the latter with second movement in A major)

  • Michele Barbici, Quartetto I per due Violini, Viola e Basso: quartet in D minor; Quartetto IV per due Violini, Viola e Basso: quartet in A major

  • Giuseppe Demachi, Quartett[i] a due Violini, Viola e Basso (a copy of Six Orchester-Quartets for two Violins, a Tenor and Violoncello; also as Op. 3, Paris, c.1771): quartet in F minor (second movement in F major)59

  • Nicolas Dothel, VI Quartetti (a copy of Sei Quartetti per Flauto o due Violini, Viola e Violoncello (Florence, 1777)): quartets in F major and C major

  • André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, Six Quatuors Op. 3 (composed Rome, 1765; printed Paris, c.1773): two quartets in G major; quartet in C minor

  • Giovanni Mosel, Quartetti: quartets in D major and A major (second movement in A minor)

  • Josef Mysliveček, Six Quartettos for two Violins, a Tenor and Violoncello (first printed: Paris; Lyon, La Chevadière; Castaud 1768/69): quartet in G major

  • Ignaz Pleyel, Quartetti Sei a due Violini Viola, e Violoncello (a copy of Op. 4, Offenbach, 1786): quartet in A major (BEN 322)60

  • Gaetano Pugnani, Quartetti per due Violini, Viola e Basso del Signor Gaetano Pugnani: quartet in F major

  • Antonio Sacchini, Sei Quartetti per due Violini, Viola e Basso (a copy of Op. 2, London, 1772–4): quartet in A major61 (see Ex. 4)

Ex. 4

(a) Sacchini, String Quartet in A major, 1st mvt., bb. 1–7; (b) Sacchini, String Quartet in A major, 2nd mvt., bb. 1–5; (c) Sacchini, String Quartet in A major, 3rd mvt., bb. 1–4

Ex. 4

(a) Sacchini, String Quartet in A major, 1st mvt., bb. 1–7; (b) Sacchini, String Quartet in A major, 2nd mvt., bb. 1–5; (c) Sacchini, String Quartet in A major, 3rd mvt., bb. 1–4

Even if by the end of the 1760s, the characteristic features of a slow first movement and unvaried key in all three movements occasionally also appeared in works by German-Austrian composers,62 the chronological and geographical circumstances suggest that Mozart became acquainted with this form during his stay in Italy and from Italian string quartets.

Another remarkable aspect of Mozart’s Milanese quartets is the sonata-rondo in the last movement of K. 157. The sonata-rondo—a rondo with features of sonata form—is usually considered a classical form, ‘invented’ either by Haydn or by Mozart, who consequently influenced each other. Criteria for the sonata-rondo have been defined in different ways, according to whether Haydn or Mozart should be declared the first classical composer to have used the form.63 Apparently the two composers placed emphasis on quite different aspects of form, and only from the late 1780s on did a more general model (‘Mozart-Haydn exchange’) develop.

Haydn began to transform the French rondo (ABACA/DA), in particular by elaborating the second episode with preceding motifs instead of new contrasting material. Thus the similarity between this episode and the development section of the sonata form had already emerged in the early 1770s.64 Scholars who defend the primacy of Mozart insist on the importance of the second subject, appearing in the first episode in the dominant key and in the third episode (within the ‘recapitulation’) in the tonic. The last movement of K. 157, the third of the Milanese quartets, is Mozart’s first rondo to fulfil this criterion.65 The same structure, however, is manifest in two of six Quartetti for two violins, cello, and harpsichord by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi, published in 1768 in London, four or five years earlier.66 As Mozart apparently never met Guglielmi and probably did not even know these quartets, Stephen C. Fisher conjectures an Italian tradition where the rondo—independently from any definitive mould—was combined with features of sonata form. He supposes that ‘the sonata-rondo concept was plainly in the air’ and appeared first in the music of lesser-known masters. Fisher concludes: ‘It is quite possibly there that both Mozart and Haydn first encountered it.’ Indeed, beyond Guglielmi’s Quartetti, early examples of combining sonata features and rondo forms can be found in instrumental music by Boccherini, Gaetano Brunetti, Gaetano Pugnani, and Giovanni Marco Rutini:67

  • Luigi Boccherini, Symphony (No. 2) in C major (Op. 7, 1769, G. 491): third movement: Allegro

  • Gaetano Brunetti, Symphony (No. 9) in D major: fourth movement: Finale / Allegro non molto

  • Gaetano Pugnani, La Tempesta di Mare a Violino solo due Violini e Viola e Basso: third movement: Furioso

  • Giovanni Marco Rutini, Sonata in G major (Op. 2 No. 6): second movement: Tempo di Minuetto (finale); Sonata in G minor (Op. 6 No. 5): first movement: Allegro molto

These identifiable aspects—the omission of repeat marks, the slow first movement with the same key for all movements, and the sonata-rondo—should leave no doubt that Mozart’s early string quartets do not differ from works such as Haydn’s Opp. 9 and 17 because of a ‘personal style’ of the young Mozart.68 They mirror the Italian ambience in which they originated and in which Mozart wished to remain.

the ‘viennese’ quartets k. 168–173

It might be objected that, even if the detailed evidence were not known, the Italianate character of Mozart’s ‘Lodi’ and ‘Milanese’ string quartets would still be clear, not least in contrast with Mozart’s next series, the so-called ‘Viennese’ quartets K. 168–173. Surely these are quite different from the first Italianate attempts? For do they not reflect the Austrian and even the specifically Viennese ambience in which they were produced? Surely this, and not the Italian tradition, was the ground from which Mozart ascended to the heights of ‘Viennese classicism’?69

Mozart composed the six quartets K. 168–173 during a three-month sojourn in Vienna from July until the end of September 1773, just a few months after his third Italian journey.70 At first glance their indebtedness to Haydn seems obvious. In contrast to the former quartets, they present four movements instead of three, more thematic development, imitations and canons in minuets and trios, the use of variation form and fugue finales, characteristics that have usually been traced back to Haydn’s Opp. 9, 17, and 20.71 Only sporadic voices uttered doubts and asked for clear evidence. Finscher compared the above-mentioned features of Haydn’s and Mozart’s string quartets and noted important differences:

The first movement of K. 171 is a kind of ‘French Overture’ which has nothing to do with Haydn, and the slow movement is fashioned after the obsolete model of the trio sonata. The first movement of K. 172 is an Italian sinfonia of quite unabashed simplicity—a type of first movement that Haydn had abandoned long before. The finales of K. 169 and 170 are French ‘Rondeaux’ in a style which Haydn hardly ever utilized, and K. 170 has a strong flavor of the divertimento.72

Finscher regarded these quartets as a ‘frank mixture of French and Italian traditions’ with a ‘stylistic orientation that in these respects is quite different from Haydn and from Vienna, and much nearer to Mozart’s primary artistic background: Salzburg, especially the chamber music of Michael Haydn’.73 Consequently, Finscher questioned Mozart’s supposed imitation of Haydn’s fugue finales and saw Mozart’s fugues in the more general context of a genuinely Viennese tradition of fugue writing for string quartet, something actually rather alien to Haydn.74

In a similar way, Brown rejected the common hypothesis that Mozart’s Viennese string quartets were influenced by Haydn, referring to a supposed common Viennese musical practice. He noted several features, among them the fugue finales of K. 168 and 173 once again: ‘Both K. 168 and K. 173 also conclude with a fugue, as do three of the finales from Haydn’s Op. 20. This parallel has lost much of its potency since the Haydn fugal finales have been shown to be not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a broad Viennese tradition.’75

Yet this hypothesis, too, may be questioned, for two reasons. First, it is difficult to document a continuous Viennese tradition of string-quartet fugues from the 1760s on. As a form in vogue, the fashion has been related to the taste for counterpoint of Joseph II, and to Baron Gottfried van Swieten’s acquaintance with old music during his stay in Berlin (1770–7).76 Van Swieten was appointed Prefect of the Imperial Library (and later President of the Court Commission on Education and Censorship) in 1777. Quartetti fugati are gathered in the so-called Kaisersammlung (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, sn 11410–12680) and were probably copied from 1786 onwards, whereas the vogue for fugue quartets is not noticeable in printed sources before 1800.77 Some of these prints do include fugue quartets composed before 1773, for example by Gassmann or Carlo d’Ordonez.78 But it is far from certain that they were Haydn’s and Mozart’s immediate models.

Secondly, the hypothesis of a genuine Viennese tradition of fugues for string quartet ignores the existence of the same phenomenon in Italian compositions of the 1760s and early 1770s. Italian composers may not have been the first to write fugues for string quartet; Viennese composers, however, were certainly not the only ones. Examples, mainly final movements and in part explicitly entitled ‘fuga’, are:

  • Gregorio Ballabene, Quartetti a due Violini, Viola e Basso: quartet in D major, third movement of three (= 3/3)

  • Luigi Boccherini, Sei Quartetti per due Violini, Alto e Violoncello: quartet in B flat major G. 160, 3/379

  • Gianbattista Cirri, Six Quartettos for two Violins, a Tenor and Violoncello obligato … , opera XIII (London, 1775): quartet in E minor, 1/3

  • Giuseppe Demachi, Quartett[i] a due Violini, Viola e Basso (a copy of Six Orchester-Quartets for two Violins, a Tenor and Violoncello; also as Op. 3, Paris, c.1771): quartet in B flat major80

  • André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, Six Quatuors: quartets in G major and C minor, always 3/3

  • Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi, Quartetto 4 del Sig. Pietro Guglielmi: quartet in G minor, 2/3

  • Joseph Christian Michl, Sei Quartetti del Sig. Giuseppe Michl: quartet in D major, 2/2

  • Antonio Sacchini, Sei Quartetti per due Violini, Viola e Basso (a copy of Op. 2, London, 1772–4): quartet in A major, 2/381

In the context of string quartets with fugue finales, Warren Kirkendale noted a typically Italian practice: ‘only one fugue in a set of six trios or quartets, particularly at the end of the set’. As examples, he mentioned Gaetano Latilla, Sacchini, Francesco Zannetti, and Boccherini.82 To these names we can add from the list above Gregorio Ballabene, Gianbattista Cirri, Giuseppe Demachi, André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, Guglielmi, and Joseph Christian Michl.83 As an example, the beginning of the third (and last) movement of Ballabene’s No. 6 of his six Quartetti a due Violini, Viola e Basso

Haydn - String Quartet In E-flat Major Opus 33, No. 2 ' The Joke '

Like many musical forms, the string quartet evolved from earlier musical forms. The string quartet's history began in  the Baroque era with the trio sonata, a form that had two soloists accompanied by the continuo which consisted of a keyboard instrument and a bass instrument. Alessandro Scarlatti (father of Domenico Scarlatti) took the form to the next step and added a third soloist and omitted the keyboard, letting the bass string instrument play the bass line by itself. This had already been common in the early 18th century, but Scarlatti was the first known composer that wrote works for the 4-instrument ensemble titled Sonata for four instruments: two violins, viola, and cello without harpsichord.

The early form of the string quartet was taken up by the young Josef Haydn, who at first used the form because his resources were limited. He wrote a few quartets for amateur use, works that were more like a Viennese serenade as they consisted of 5 movements. Haydn neglected the form for quite a few years but in 1769 he resumed writing them and in a matter of a few yeas had written eighteen of them. By now the form had been standardized to include 4 movements. Haydn ended up writing 68 string quartets, and ever since the string quartet has been a test of a composer's skill and command of their art.

Haydn's six quartets of his Opus 33 were written in 1781 and they are sometimes referred to as the 'Russian' quartets because they were dedicated to the Grand Duke of Russia and first played in the Viennese apartment of the Grand Duke's wife. The second quartet of the opus is in E-flat major and has earned the nickname of 'the joke ' for reasons given below. The quartet is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  Haydn was very important in the development of sonata form, but his musical instinct didn't follow any kind of a textbook working out of the form. The first movement of this quartet shows Haydn's fondness for creating an entire movement from a musical motive only a few bars long. The main theme is stated immediately. Haydn plays this theme through and instead of a contrasting different theme, he takes the theme and changes it in ways that give the impression of contrast. So instead of two themes in his exposition, there is but one theme and a variant that fulfills the role of a second theme, a technique that has been called thematic elaboration; a 
ways. If done by a master composer such as Haydn, thematic elaboration can give a feeling of unity to a piece of music while also giving a sense of contrast to avoid monotony. The development continues thematic elaboration (including the theme modulating to C minor), the recapitulation is reached after which the movement ends.

II. Scherzo: Allegro -  All six of the opus 33 quartets have the usual minuet movement replaced by a scherzo, a first for Haydn. As with his other quartets, Haydn changes the order of the scherzo; sometimes being the second movement, other times the first. Haydn's scherzo has the same basic form of a minuet with both parts of the scherzo being repeated at the beginning, a trio, and a reprise of the scherzo with no repeat. The nature of this scherzo could be one of the reasons this quartet got the name 'The Joke' for the first section of the scherzo is ten bars long, an odd number that does not break down into two 4-bar phrases. Haydn inserts two extra bars in the middle of the two 4-bar phrases which sound rather odd, especially for the time it was written:
 These two bars, with the first violin playing the slurred eighth notes C-flat and B-flat give an awkward kind of humor to the piece. After the scherzo plays through the first time the trio begins. Haydn has the first violin slide from note to note to good effect that adds to the joke:

III. Largo -  The slow movement song-like theme has the viola and cello play a duet in the beginning, and the violins enter with their own duet. The theme is interrupted by some biting chords about half way through the movement, but the theme returns and is itself an example of thematic elaboration.

IV. Presto -Written in rondo form, this movement has a sprightly theme that is interrupted twice by contrasting material. The coda of the movement is the reason for the quartet's nickname, as Haydn inserts rests in the music at strategic places within the rondo theme, each of which can be taken as the end of the piece. After a grand pause of more than three measures, the first section of the rondo theme is played pianissimo, and the work ends.

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