Minuets & Adagios

Apart from sonata form – we had a brief look at that last week and will be returning to it again and again and again – what other musical forms does Haydn use in his quartets?

This week we’re going to start right at the beginning (you can’t go back much further than Opp. 1 and 2!) and study two of the other movements/forms that comprise Haydn’s ‘usual’ string quartet architecture: the Minuet and Trio (which eventually speeded up and morphed into the Scherzo) and the Slow Movement (Adagio or Andante or Largo or Lento, etc.)

Minuet/Trio movements (and each of the Opp. 1 & 2 quartets has two of them) have a fairly strict form, which basically looks like this:

Minuet form

Slow movements, on the other hand are a bit more flexible; at their simplest they can be aria-like two-part (binary) or three-part (ternary) structures and at their most complex they can be in extended variation or even sonata form.

And who (apart from Haydn himself, of course) was responsible for these first essays in a genre that was to engross the composer for most of his life?

Haydn’s biographer, Georg August von Griesinger tells us that…

…the following, purely coincidental circumstances led him to try his hand at the composition of quartets. A Baron Fürnberg had an estate at Weinzierl [the schloss still exists; it’s now an agricultural college(!) see the photo above – Chris] … and from time to time he invited his parish priest (violin), his estates’ manager (violin), Haydn (viola) and Albrechtsberger (a brother of the well known contrapuntalist…) (cello) in order to have a little music. Fürnberg asked Haydn to write something that could be played by these four… Haydn, who was then eighteen years old, accepted the proposal, and so originated his first Quartet which, immediately upon its appearance, received such uncommon applause, as to encourage him to continue in this genre.


A technical note: You’ll notice on the left hand side of the screen under the course calendar a new box marked ‘downloads’. By clicking on the files in the box (music, graphics or text) you can download them to your computer for your own use. At the moment I’ve put the score of Op.1 No.1 in there together with the ‘plan’ of the Minuet & Trio form. Try it, it can be a bit temperamental , but rewards persistence and will be very useful.

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