Haydn – Largo

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Haydn’s Opus 76 set of six string quartets are exceptional even by Haydn’s standards.

Now, I should say we have very few arrangements from the string quartet repertoire in our library. And there is a good reason for this. To put it simply: string quartets are string quartets, and viola quartets are viola quartets. There are similarities, but there are also significant differences. There is something written along these lines to be read elsewhere on this website.

But this work has something unique and special that sets it apart.

To begin with you will notice the key of F sharp major (6 sharps). I know of no other work by Haydn in this key, and it is a clear indication of Haydn’s artistic intent regarding the unusual character of this work. Also, it arranges well for viola quartet, as the original violin part is not too high, nor the cello too low, so there is very little meddling with the tessitura.

As is the nature of a viola ensemble, it is particularly appropriate that all the instruments share the melodic interest, thereby introducing an important element of dialogue, rather than being dominated by the 1st player. And finally, and possibly most importantly, the extraordinary bitter-sweet nature of this work suits the viola timbre perfectly.

Whatever was going on in Haydn’s mind when he created this masterpiece can only be imagined. But this work, of all his chamber works, stands out for its heart-aching beauty and simplicity. 7mins. M