Analysis of Haydn’s String Quartet

8 August 2016

Analysis of Haydn’s String Quartet: Op. 76, No. 4, in B-flat Major “Sunrise” Haydn composed his Op. 74 quartets in the later years of his life between 1796 and 1797 and it was the last of his completed string quartets. The set of quartets were dedicated to the Hungarian Count Joseph Erdody and were published in 1799. It was said that this selection of quartets was one of his “most ambitious chamber works” with his attempt of “emphasizing thematic continuity, seamlessly and continually passing motifs from one instrument to another” 1.

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The fourth of these quartets is nicknamed “Sunrise”. This is due to the exquisite rising theme heard in the first violin part at the beginning of the first movement from bar one to bar four as seen in Figure 1. This movement is written in sonata form, which was very common during this era of music. The recapitulation runs from the beginning and ends in bar sixty-eight. The development then occurs and lasts from bar sixty-nine till bar 105. There is then a three bar transitional phrase back to the recapitulation from bar 105 to bar 107.

Bar 108 is the beginning of the recapitulation and lasts till the rest of the movement. Although it could be said from bar 175 to the end could form a small coda. The exposition is full of many different motifs, although many of these motifs are very similar or could in fact be put together to form a longer motif. The first motif to appear in the exposition would be the melody in the first violin part that starts on the last crotchet beat of bar one. The main motif within this melody would be bar three with the dotted crotched followed by the five quavers as seen as motif ‘x’ in Figure 1.

Another motif that could be identified within this melody, which is only ever so slightly different to the first motif mentioned, would be bar two. The only difference between this motif and the earlier mentioned motif is the added grace note after the dotted crotchet and quaver as you can see in Figure 1. One of the main reasons why I believe both these motifs should be identified as both these motifs appear later on in the movement. The next motif that occurs in this movement would be from bar five to bar six, which is labelled as ‘z’ in Figure 1.

This is formed up of three crotchets with a crotchet rest between each of the notes. Bars seven to twelve is a repetition of the first six bars but as a dominant response and therefore has all the same motifs as before. In bar fourteen the viola part plays the motif ‘x’ for two bars, before the first violin plays the second motif for the next six bars starting from bar sixteen. This then leads us in to a new section, which is more aggressive and lively in its nature. In Figure 2 we can see the new section start in bar twenty-two and there are two very important points/motifs to be observed. The first one would be the bracketed four semiquavers phrase in the first violin part. This is because if you were to compare this to motif ‘y’ in Figure 1 they are actually the same notes and Haydn uses rhythmic diminution and turned them from quavers to semiquavers. A similar observation can be made with the highlighted phrase in the second violin and viola part in Figure 2. This is due to the fact you can compare these phrase to motif ‘z’ in Figure 1.

Once again rhythmic diminution has occurred and the note values have halved in length in addition to the disappearance of the rests between the notes. This shows that even though Haydn as started a new section he was still trying to connect it with the previous section. The section continues with the combination of the semiquaver and quaver motifs. It is also important to point out that from bar twenty to bar thirty-four there is a nonstop continuation of semiquavers which are passed about between each part.

This then brings us to another new section within the exposition, which is very similar to the first section. As you can see in Figure 3 the cello part is now playing the sunrise theme and this time is formed up of motif ‘x’. All the parts in bars forty-four and forty-five then play motif ‘x’ before it changes and develops slightly in bar forty-six. Instead of the dotted crotchet followed by a quaver phrase, it has now been modified to become a quaver then a crotchet followed by a quaver as seen in Figure 4. Haydn most likely did this to emphasise the forzando he wrote on the first quaver of the bar. Bar sixty shows the introduction of one last new motif in the exposition. It is first heard in all the parts halfway through bar sixty and is made up of four quavers with a quaver rest between each of the notes. Sometimes this motif starts on the beat or off the beat and in some occasions during this movement both the on the beat and off the beat motifs are played together creating the sense that continuous quavers are being played, this first occurs at bar sixty, another example of when this occurs can be seen later in the development.

This concludes all of the motifs that appear in the exposition. The development starts very similarly to the exposition with the first violin part once again playing the sunrise theme with the only differences being the distribution of the motifs ‘x’ and ‘y’ (The opening sunrise theme of the exposition was in the order of motif ‘y-x-x’ then ‘x-x-y’ compared to the opening sunrise theme of the development which is ‘y-y-x’ then ‘x-x-x-x’) and the fact the second melodic phrase of the sunrise theme is one bar longer.

The development then continues again similarly to the exposition with the combined use of the rhythmically diminished motif ‘z’ and the continuous semiquavers. Bar ninety-one displays the reintroduction of the four quaver motif that first appeared in bar sixty. It also appears in bar 100, which can be observed in Figure 5. Figure 5 also shows us another motif that has appeared which first appears in bar ninety-eight in the second violin and viola parts. This motif is formed up of five quavers followed by a quavers rest and another quaver.

This motif is first heard in bar sixty and sixty-two, but it is not until bar ninety-eight where it stands out and further develops. The first variation of this motif can be seen in Figure 5 in bar ninety-nine in the first violin part. The first of the five quavers has been removed and the last of the five quavers has been delayed by a quaver rest in front of it, which in itself delays the next quaver. This means the last two quavers of the motif is on off beats. The next variation of the motif is in bar 104 in both the second violin part and the viola part.

Similar to the first violin variation the first of the five quavers has been removed but the rest of the motif is without any change. This is the last motif before returning back to the recapitulation. As expected the recapitulation has the reinstatement of the sunrise theme, which therefore includes the reintroduction of motif ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’. There does not seem to be any new motifs that appear in this section as expected due to the fact this section is very close to a repetition of the exposition. The movement finishes with the four quaver motif and motif ‘z’ as seen in Figure 6.

The movement as a whole is written in the key of B flat major. The exposition starts of with a strong tonic chord pedal held by the second violin, viola and cello part with the first violin playing the sunrise melody as seen in Figure 1. Bar seven is the same textually as bar one but the second violin, viola and cello part are now holding a dominant seventh chord whilst the first violin plays the sunrise melody. The opening twelve bars of the movement forms the presentation for the sentence set up with bars one to bar six forming up the basic idea with bar seven to bar twelve creating the dominant response.

Bar thirteen to bar twenty-two shows an increase in harmonic rhythm during the continuation phrase and shows at least a change in harmonic structure every bar which leads to the cadential passage that ends on the first beat of bar twenty-two. It could be argued that the opening phrase is a period with bar one to bar four forming up the basic idea and bar five and bar six forming up the contrasting idea but due to the lack of ornamentation when the basic idea is repeated it is more likely it is a sentence.

It may also be important to mention the marking Haydn wrote at the beginning of this piece ‘Allegro con spirito’. Up until bar twenty-one Haydn seems to contradict himself to what he has written and it is not until bar twenty-two where this marking starts to make sense with the bundle of semiquavers and staccato quavers. In bar twenty-seven it is important to note that the key has now shifted to the relative minor, G minor, which is emphasised by the F sharp that is played in the first violin part.

It then leads in to C major in bar thirty-two before returning to the dominant of the tonic, F major at bar thirty-seven. Bar thirty-seven has the F major chord held by the First and second violin and viola with the cello playing the sunrise theme. Similarly to the opening bar forty has a C major seventh held by the first and second violin and viola which is the dominant seventh of F major. There is then a change in mode at bar forty-four where it changes from F major to F minor. It continues in F minor until bar fifty where it returns to the dominant of F, C major.

The exposition then returns back to F major and finishes in the dominant of the tonic key. The dominant starts with a D minor chord, which is the relative minor of F major, held by the second violin, viola and cello whilst the first violin plays the sunrise theme. The next chord to be held by the lower parts at bar seventy-five is not the dominant of the first phrase as we have heard before but is in fact an F sharp diminished chord, which is the first indicator that the piece is starting to develop and explore other unusual keys.

The F sharp diminished chord resolves up to a G minor chord in bar eighty where the bundle of semiquavers and staccato quavers phrases appears again. It remains in G minor for the next few bars before modulating to E flat major in bar eighty-six. This only last for two bars before modulating once again to F minor for one bar and modulates in the next bar to F sharp diminished before returning once again to G minor in bar ninety. The development remains in this key until the subtle retransition, which suits the movement in general, where it ends up with a dominant seventh chord in the tonic, B flat major.

The recapitulation starts as the same as the opening of the exposition with a tonic chord held by the lower parts with the first violin playing the sunrise theme. Likewise the next four bar phrase has the lower parts suspending a dominant seventh chord with the first violin part playing the sunrise theme. After another brief encounter with the energetic and boisterous phrase the sunrise theme returns again in bar 142 in the cello part with the upper parts holding a tonic chord. Four bars later the sunrise theme is passed on to the viola with the other parts holding a dominant seventh chord.

Another four bars later and this time the sunrise theme is passed on to the second violin with the rest of the parts holding a D diminished chord and it is not until bar 162 where the tonic is suitably established again. The tonic is continued through the piece until the fermata bar is reached at bar 174 where all the parts hold a B flat seventh chord. This is then followed by a E flat major chord which goes in to an E diminished seventh chord in bar 177 followed by an F dominant seventh in bar 179 before establishing the tonic one last time in bar 181.

To emphasise that the movement is in B flat major all of the parts play a progression of B flat major tonic chords in the last three bars. After listening to and analysing this quartet it is no wonder that music historian Charles Burney praised them as “full of invention, fire, good taste and new effects”. This is probably thanks to the fact Haydn had now returned to Vienna from England and was liberated from his previous job and was therefore was able to write what he wanted to the way he wanted to leading to the creation of this quartet.

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