Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): String Quartet in G Major, Op. 33, No. 5, "How do you Do?"

After a hiatus of ten years Haydn returned to composing string quartets in 1781, he composed set of six dedicated to Grand Duke Paul – which is why they’re often called the "Russian" quartets, that were published the following year as his Op. 33. While many call this set of six string quartets the "Russian" quartets there’s another collective name for them Gli Scherzi  which in English means "The Jokes". imageThe "jokes" in question refer to the fact that Haydn didn’t use the traditional title of "Minuet" opting instead for the Italian word "Scherzo" which means a joke or being playful.

In and of itself this wasn’t a particularly big deal maybe the dance movements in these pieces were a bit different and maybe they weren’t the big deal arises from these quartets’ place in musical history because they represent firstly the birth of a new movement genre and secondly because with this sextet of quartets Haydn first transformed the nature of the string quartet from its previously somewhat austere character to something that could be more light-hearted and secondly he elevated the form to one which embraced far greater musical sophistication than heretofore. It’s no exaggeration to say that the six quartets of Opus 33 represent a historical This seems to have been a conscious effort by Haydn because having written them he promptly advertised them in private subscription letters to potential patrons and purchasers as having been written in a "new and special way". I wonder how much of a stir these "new and special" quartets made amongst his subscribers. Certainly they had a massive impact on Mozart who was so taken with them that he sat down and wrote the masterly six quartets that he respectfully and lovingly dedicated to Haydn.

Haydn String Quartet in G Major, Op. 33, No. 5, "How do you Do?"

Despite the fact that it’s numbered Opus 33 number 5 I believe that this was probably the first in the series of six that Haydn composed, I have three reasons for this:

  1. In both the manuscript copies preserved in Melk Abbey and in the Artaria edition of Op 33, No 5 in G major appears first.
  2. Stylistically it "feels" earlier – the Vivace Assai with which it starts is much more lively and cheerful than the corresponding  movements in Quartets 1 – 4.
  3. The second movement – Largo Cantabile, in contrast to all the other movements is very dark, it’s as though having decided to break a few rules Haydn wanted to see how successfully he could mix and match musical  structures and moods.

The quartet starts pianissimo with a motif so brief that it’s more a fragment than anything else. This gallant cadence is the musical equivalent of the bow (or curtsy) with which well-mannered people greeted each other in Haydn’s. And it is this musical gesture that prompted its nineteenth-century English nickname nickname of "how do you do?". This little gesture is repeated twice more, firstly when it announces the recapitulation and, somewhat extended, as a coda with the resolution suggested at the start placed here. In between this motivic opening and the concluding coda is some very lively and complex musical writing in which Haydn gives us a sonata-form movement that’s almost symphonic in the way he uses double-stopping and pounding base notes to frame a second theme which in its second statement plunges daringly from G to E flat major before ending seemingly whimsically with the "How do you do?" cadence.

The second movement – Largo Cantabile, is in complete contrast it’s darkly severe and melancholy. It’s soulful rather gloomy with its delicate and increasingly ornate violin aria set to subdued accompaniment from the other players. The movement ends with a pizzicato cadence played in unison to bring the tragic mood to a somewhat forceful end.

The remainder of the quarter is a scherzo whose fast tempo drives what had been the minuet in the direction of something that Beethoven could have written. It’s a very upbeat piece of music that sets us up for a pleasing contrast with the sweet sounding trio. Haydn brings the quartet to a close with a set of three variations on a lilting siciliano tune that wends its way through a graceful and fluid series of charming permutations. Enjoy :-).


Haydn String Quartet in G Major, Op. 33, No. 5, "How do you Do?"

  1. 01 Haydn String Quartet op.33-5 - I.Vivace assai 5:38
  2. 02. Haydn String Quartet op.33-5 - II.Largo cantabile 3:51
  3. 03 Haydn String Quartet op.33-5 - III.Scherzo. Allegro 2:49
  4. 04 Haydn String Quartet op.33-5 - IV.Finale. Allegretto 4:00

Performers: Cuarteto Casals

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