Posted in Listening for Part 5: The Classical Era

String Quartets

In this post I will list the string quartets I’ve listened to, including Classical, Romantic, as well as modern and contemporary string quartets. All the compositions I’ve listened to are linked to my post for Research Point 5.2 here.

Classical string quartets

Franz Xaver RichterSix String Quartets Op. 5 (c.1756)

This is the earliest set of string quartets I could find. Interestingly, I found that Richter comes from the school of Mannheim composers, who led a change of musical style in Europe and influenced the Classical style developed in Vienna. I realized that I actually didn’t know anything about the Mannheim school and so this seems to be an area of music history that I’d like to update in the future, especially since I found multiple contributions and innovations by these composers. At any rate, all six quartets are in three movements, contrasting the later four-movement structure of the genre. Although quite polyphonic, Op. 5 quartets clearly follow the melodic-harmonic idioms of the Classic period. For example, in the finales of quartets No. 1 and 2, the fugal episodes are embedded within a sonata structure. In terms of instrumentation, I think there is a variety of writing for all four string instruments with each given concerto-like passages, though there are also moments of duets in the sharing of the melodic material. However, I was really surprised to see in the score that the role of cello and viola were at times reversed. In these moments, in a peculiar way, cello acts as a solo instrument in the tenor register, while viola provides a bass line. Regardless, I found the outer, more spirited movements very invigorating, while the slower movements sound more like operatic arias. Although these aren’t considered as masterpieces, I believe Richter’s quartets hold a historical importance, which show the musical foundations from which Haydn and Mozart built their own string quartets on, but nonetheless, I also find them well-written and interesting in their own right. Since I haven’t previously researched into the Mannheim school, looking at the score, I am aware that I was unable to really distinguish more specific stylistic cues in relation to the Viennese School. As such, I’d like to carry out some future investigations in this area in order to move towards considering the Classical era with more specificity, rather than maintain this generic perspective I have on the epoch.

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Posted in Listening for Part 5: The Classical Era


This is a list of sonatas I’ve listened to. Before I start, I will mention that I have analysed most of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s sonatas a few years ago when I studied musical form in an extensive way. For now, I have decided to include sonatas I haven’t listened to and previously encountered.

Haydn – Sonatas No. 50 and 52

Although I have studied classicism, as I noted above, Mozart and Beethoven were the main course due to how syllabus is structured. As such, I have actually never listened to Haydn’s music other than just in passing, which is a shame since it was his model that the two have followed. I was really surprised to see his output in the genre, which is around 60 in number. Reading about them, I found that they range from being ‘popularist’ to ‘experimental’. While I plan to listen to more examples, for now I have chosen the famous No. 50 in C major and 52 in E flat major, which were the only two not written for his students, but for the virtuoso pianist Therese Jansen during his second visit to London.

The first movement in No. 50 is the mono-thematic sonata form, which I have mentioned regarding the Emperor quartet in the arrangement exercise. Having studied the multi-thematic sonata as the ordinary form, I find the mono-thematic type that Haydn preferred as a real refreshment and would like to spend more time analyzing these examples and even composed my own in the future.

On the other hand, although No. 52 is also mono-thematic, what really surprised me was its use of French Overture as the primary subject with dotted notes and march-like momentum. Similarly, the second subject is based on the topical connotation of ‘music box’ register, which I read signified the meaning of distance. This relates to the point I made about Haydn’s use of musical topoi established by previous traditions and how it is important to consider them when analyzing his works, which I believe to be more than pure absolute, abstract music. I hope to research this more in the future.

What is also important to consider is that these two sonatas were written for a different instrument – the English pianos, which were capable of many things that the pianos in Vienna couldn’t achieve at the time. In this sense, the practical possibilities of the instrument allowed Haydn to experiment with different sonorities and more distant keys, exploiting the available timbral and dynamic options. As such, I believe these two sonatas are a good example of concreteness of Haydn’s compositions, which both draw on, expand and defy the established tradition – all in the name of practicality.