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String Quartet in C major 'The Bird', Op 33 No 3
'Russian' Quartet No 3; the Schmitt Edition (Amsterdam, 1782) gives the movement tempo indications slightly differently to other editions

'Haydn: String Quartets Op 33' (CDA67955)
Haydn: String Quartets Op 33
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'Haydn: String Quartets Op. 33 Nos 1-3' (CDA66681)
Haydn: String Quartets Op. 33 Nos 1-3
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'Favourite Encores for string quartet' (CDH55002)
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
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Movement 2: Scherzando: Allegretto
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Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegretto
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Movement 3: Adagio
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Movement 4: Presto
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Movement 4: Rondo: Presto
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String Quartet in C major 'The Bird', Op 33 No 3
The glorious first movement of No 3 in C major (‘The Bird’) has one of the most magical openings in all Haydn. Against soft pulsations from second violin and viola, the first violin steals in with a soft sustained high G, grows increasingly animated (with a hint of birdsong) and then plunges down two octaves against an ardent rising cello line. C major seems firmly established. But Haydn then questions this certainty by repeating the same process in D minor before gliding back to the home key. The violin’s chirping acciaccaturas in bar three come to permeate much of the texture, not least in the second subject, where the motivic fragments finally coalesce into a more-or-less rounded tune. At the heart of the development these bird-calls suddenly become mysterious in a sequence of pianissimo clashing suspensions—one of the most haunting moments in all these quartets. Haydn wittily exploits the movement’s unstable opening in an oblique, off-key ‘recapitulation’, stealing in before we quite realize it, and in the reharmonization of the theme (with a feint towards G major) in the very last bars.

Contradicting its title of Scherzo—and the usually bright, ‘open’ key of C major—the tenderly veiled second movement transmutes a dance into a hymn or prayer, with the four instruments playing sotto voce on their lowest strings. With comical incongruity, the trio resumes the first movement’s avian associations with a twittering duet for the two violins on their high A and E strings. The serene, warmly textured Adagio, in condensed sonata form (with a brief transition instead of a central development), surely left its mark on the slow movement of Mozart’s ‘Dissonance’ Quartet, K465, in the same key. Instead of literally repeating the first section, Haydn varies it with floridly expressive figuration for the first violin: a touchstone for the player’s ‘taste’ and imagination.

The rondo finale is Haydn at his most antic. Its manic refrain, oscillating obsessively between G and E, derives from a Slavonic folk dance. After the tune has tumbled down from first violin to cello, Haydn swerves into an impassioned episode in Hungarian gypsy style. But the mood is quickly punctured by the irrepressible, hyperactive folk tune. The coda is pure slapstick, with a fragment of the theme bandied about between upper and lower instruments before the music seems to disappear into thin air.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2013

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