Movement 1: Allegro di molto
Movement 2: Un poco adagio affettuoso
Movement 3: Menuetto: Allegretto alla zingarese
Movement 4: Presto scherzando
The poignant D minor Un poco adagio affettuoso is Haydn’s only variation movement cast entirely in the minor key (and there is no parallel in Mozart or Beethoven). The second half of the theme, with each instrument rising slowly by step, reaches an almost excruciating pitch of intensity. Of the three variations, the first is fashioned as a fretful dialogue between second violin and viola, the second exploits the cello over its whole compass, and the third dissolves the theme into triplets for the first violin. After a reprise of the original theme, shorn of its repeats, Haydn expands the scale in an astonishing, unprecedented fantasia-cum-coda that stresses the dissonant melodic shapes within the theme and, in the fragmentary final bars, pushes the music to the brink of incoherence.
Returning to a world of robust normality, the minuet, Allegretto alla zingarese (‘gypsy-style’), and Presto scherzando finale mine Haydn’s favourite Hungarian gypsy vein with irresistible wit and élan. In the former a riot of offbeat accents keep the listener guessing as to whether this is a minuet or a gavotte. In pointed contrast, the trio deals in perfectly regular four-bar phrases, with a jaunty cello solo against the simplest of accompaniments. The finale lives up to its scherzando billing in music of controlled waywardness and harmonic surprise, treating its impish opening motif in the free, informal contrapuntal textures that are among the chief delights of Haydn’s mature quartet style.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2011