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String Quartet No 1 in F major, Op 1

'Harty: String Quartets & Piano Quintet' (CDA67927)
Harty: String Quartets & Piano Quintet
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Movement 1: Allegro con brio
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Movement 2: Vivace
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Movement 3: Andante pastorale
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Movement 4: Allegro vivace
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String Quartet No 1 in F major, Op 1
Herbert Hamilton Harty was born in the village of Hillsborough, County Down in Northern Ireland on 4 December 1879. From a large and happy family, he was the fourth child (of ten) and third son of William Harty, the organist of St Malachy’s, Hillsborough, and a versatile all-round musician. William Harty ran the music in the local area of Lisburn, which included choral societies and instrumental concerts, and was highly regarded as one of the finest musicians in Ulster. The Gothic church of St Malachy’s, one of the finest of its type anywhere in Britain or Ireland, was built by the local aristocratic family of the Hills of Hillsborough Castle at the zenith of their wealth and influence. From the age of twelve or so, Harty was already playing the organ for services in the church, and it was here, almost certainly, that he developed his astonishing musicianship. At home he learned the piano under his father’s guidance and also the viola with moderate proficiency. Harty always claimed that his father was an outstanding musician and that he was one of the finest and most outward-looking of his generation in Ireland. This was borne out, so Harty maintained, by the extraordinary music library he possessed. The availability of this library to the young, self-taught Harty was more than enough to satiate his appetite. There was chamber music which various members of his family could play, with him contributing the viola part and his father the cello, and there was an abundance of piano music which ultimately became the focus of his studies away from his somewhat intermittent formal education at local schools.

Harty’s prowess as an organist soon permitted him to look for church jobs away from Hillsborough, first at Magheragall in 1894, a few miles away, and in Belfast in 1896, but it was as the organist of Christchurch, Bray, between 1896 and 1901, that Harty’s enviable abilities as an accompanist blossomed. In nearby Dublin, musical activity was fast expanding under the aegis of the Italian pianist and composer Michele Esposito, who played a crucial role in the foundation of the Feis Ceoil in 1897, a distinctly national competitive music festival, and the Dublin Orchestral Society in 1899. Harty and Esposito probably met for the first time in 1899 when Harty elected to audition for the DOS. The Italian was not especially prepossessed by the Ulsterman’s proficiency as a violist but there was clearly a mutual respect for each other’s innate musical ability; and though Harty did not, as he claimed, become a formal pupil of Esposito, he nevertheless showed him everything he composed and the Italian was quite evidently an important influence in his early development as a composer (and later as a conductor).

The Feis Ceoil played a vital role in Ireland’s cultural revival. Esposito earnestly campaigned for the festival to offer composition prizes in order to encourage the creative talent of native Irish citizens and those of Irish descent abroad. No doubt with Esposito’s encouragement, Harty entered his first chamber work, a Violin Sonata (now lost), in 1899. It did not win a prize, but the following year he was successful with his String Quartet No 1 in F major, Op 1, the first movement of which was played at the Feis. This Quartet was in fact not his first effort in the genre. An earlier work in A minor dates from March 1898 and may have been intended for the 1898 Feis, but it was probably not entered on account of its numerous flaws. By 1900, however, Harty’s technique had moved on appreciably. The first movement of the F major Quartet, full of invention and artifice, reveals if anything an over-ambition for developmental treatment in its zeal to explore new keys and new transformations. Yet one can detect a savoir faire in the handling of the quartet apparatus, and the melodic material is resourceful, bright and invigorating in its joie de vivre and contrapuntal dexterity. The will-o’-the-wisp scherzo in D minor, surely inspired by his knowledge of the late quartets of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, shows real flair in its quick-silver scoring and its love of tonal surprise, especially in the trio. The pastoral slow movement in B flat major is more expansive melodically and is richly scored. It also incorporates another surprise—the unexpected interpolation of the scherzo at its centre. The vivacious and technically demanding finale, which possesses musical ideas of lyrical interest and contrapuntal ingenuity, is an engaging if eccentric structure. Harty’s developmental phase begins in a remarkably chromatic manner (curiously suggestive of Bruckner) which leads with some surprise to a false yet extended recapitulation of the opening thematic material in E flat major. Even more unexpected, however, is the introduction of an entirely new episode before F major is restored for the final reprise, which has, by now, taken on the rhetorical mantle of a ‘rondo’ theme.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2012

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Details for CDA67927 disc 2 track 4
Allegro vivace
Recording date
25 June 2011
Recording venue
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Jeremy Hayes
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan
Hyperion usage
  1. Harty: String Quartets & Piano Quintet (CDA67927)
    Disc 2 Track 4
    Release date: May 2012
    2CDs for the price of 1
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