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String Quartet in D minor, Op 9 No 4
c1769; recorded from 1790 Longman and Broderip edition

'Haydn: String Quartets Op 9' (CDA67611)
Haydn: String Quartets Op 9
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Movement 1: Moderato
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Movement 2: Menuetto
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Movement 3: Cantabile adagio
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Movement 4: Presto
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String Quartet in D minor, Op 9 No 4
The most famous—or, perhaps more accurately, the least neglected—quartet in the set is No 4 in D minor, probably the first to be written, and Haydn’s first quartet in the minor. In the Classical period, far more than in the early eighteenth century, the minor mode was associated with a special rhetorical intensity and the expression of sorrowful or turbulent emotion. With its disquieting pauses, ‘pathetic’ sighing appoggiaturas and extreme dynamic contrasts, the first movement of No 4 evokes the empfindsamer Stil, or ‘heightened sensibility’, of CPE Bach. But this music is also more rigorously argued than any of the other Op 9 first movements, through the powerful development (dominated by a three-note fluttering figure that may remind listeners of Mozart’s G minor symphony, No 40) to the drastically compressed recapitulation.

Equally powerful is the minuet, which a few years later became the direct model for the teenaged Mozart in his D minor quartet, K173. As so often in Haydn’s minuets from this period onwards, this is pointedly written against the grain of the traditional courtly dance. The phrase structure is asymmetrical, the tonality restless, with cadences asking new questions rather than resolving (the first section seems to be settling in F major but then slews round to a ‘tensing’ A minor). The pianissimo final bars allude unmistakably to the first movement’s pervasive ‘fluttering’ motif. Harmonic balm comes with the D major trio, composed as a ‘trio’ for the two violins, with the first playing in double stopping throughout. As Hans Keller pointed out in his classic study of the great Haydn quartets (London and New York, 1986), the double stopping creates a fuller sonority, with richer overtones, than would be possible if the same notes were played on two instruments.

The Cantabile adagio, in B flat, is another aria-serenade for Tomasini, a point of relaxation between two highly charged D minor movements. Following the example of C P E Bach’s ‘varied reprises’, the first section is delicately embellished on its repeat. The 6/8 finale, back in D minor, begins as if it were a fugue (the minor mode was closely associated with ‘learned’ counterpoint in the 1760s and 1770s) and continues with bantering scherzando textures. But levity is banished from the development, with its grimly striding arpeggios, and the recapitulation, even more violently compressed than that in the first movement and reaffirming D minor right through to its brusque unison close.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2007

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Details for CDA67611 disc 1 track 1
Recording date
2 February 2007
Recording venue
St Paul's Church, Deptford, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ben Turner
Recording engineer
Philip Hobbs
Hyperion usage
  1. Haydn: String Quartets Op 9 (CDA67611)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: October 2007
    2CDs for the price of 1
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