Movement 1: Allegro spiritoso
Movement 2: Andante grazioso
Movement 3: Menuetto – Trio
Movement 4: Presto
This is a movement that finds Haydn at his most exuberant, and nowhere more so than in the closing moments of its first stage, which erupt into a chain of trills played by the full quartet in octaves. The trills are followed by two mysterious, long-sustained notes—D flat and E natural—forming a transition back to the start of the exposition for the repeat. When the same moment is reached again, Haydn provides a pair of second-time bars in which the first of the notes is transformed into C sharp. Since the listener cannot tell the difference between D flat and C sharp, the second-time bars are for the players’ eyes only; but the change in notation enables the music to take an entirely unexpected harmonic direction, and to plunge into the key of A major.
The two middle movements are much more straightforward. The first of them is a set of variations on a graceful theme. In the first variation the melodic line passes to the cello, while the succeeding variation, in the minor, provides one of Haydn’s great second-violin solos. The second violin also has the melody in the trio of the minuet movement, while above it the first violin weaves a smooth running accompaniment. The trio finds Haydn once more basking in the warmth of a third-related key—in this case D flat major—again necessitating a coda to form a modulatory link to the reprise of the minuet.
If the finale of Op 74 No 1 had a theme with more than a hint of a rondo character to it, this one presents a fully fledged rondo theme in two parts, each repeated—and this despite the fact that the piece turns out once again to be in sonata form. The structural deception is of a kind that had been used on occasion by Mozart (the finale of the great G minor Symphony No 40 is a familiar example). Haydn had previously exploited the idea in the finale of his F minor String Quartet Op 55 No 2, and he did so again in the last movement of the ‘Surprise’ Symphony No 94, written at more or less the same time as the Op 74 quartets. The finale of Op 74 No 2 boasts an exotic second subject, in the shape of a haunting Balkan-sounding idea that fluctuates continually between minor and major. It makes a return both during the course of the central development section and in the recapitulation. There is also a substantial coda in which the first violin takes off into flights of fantasy, playing rapid arpeggios across the strings in the manner of some wild cadenza.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2011