The New Esterházy Quartet

NEQ1“Haydn & His Students VI.” Lisa Weiss & Kati Kyme, violins; Anthony Martin, viola; and William Skeen, violoncello, perform Joseph Eybler’s Quartet in c minor, Op. 1, No. 2; Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in G, Op. 64, No. 4; and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in Eb, Op. 127.

Friday, November 29
Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street (at Spruce), Berkeley
Saturday, November 30
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street at Franklin, San Francisco
Sunday, December 1
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 555 Waverley Street at Hamilton, Palo Alto.

The Program

Strange the fate of the well-trained, well-behaved, and well-regarded Joseph Eybler who is nearly forgotten today! Befriended by Haydn and Mozart, trained by Albrechtsberger, and carrying glowing recommendations from all three (“after Mozart he is the greatest genius that Vienna now has” wrote his teacher), Eybler rose to the highest position at court, succeeding Salieri himself as Hofkapellmeister. And now? Is his obscurity deserved? Judge for yourself after hearing his dramatic Quartet in C minor, dedicated to Haydn as “public testimony of the unalloyed esteem and personal veneration which I profess towards you.”

In the early part of 1790 Haydn was a lonely man at Esterháza, writing to his Viennese friend and confidante Maria Anna von Genzinger “Well, here I sit in my wilderness—forsaken—like a poor waif—almost without any human society—melancholy—full of the memories of past glorious days—yes! past, alas!—and who knows when those days shall return again?” Little did he suspect that on the following New Year’s Day he would land at Dover, freed of his 30 years of obligations to the Esterházy family, to conquer England by the force of his music and his humane personality. Among the stacks of manuscripts he brought with him were the Quartets of Op. 64. Already in February of 1791 a concert bill announces as part of the evening’s entertainment a Quartetto to be led by Johann Salomon, just one day after their first publication in faraway Vienna. Because Salomon had rushed Haydn out of Vienna in December, it can’t be said that these quartets were written specifically for London, but that is where they were first heard. A strange footnote: Haydn’s autograph and the earliest Viennese and London publications disagree on the order of the six quartets of Op. 64. In all three sources the only quartet that occupies the same position in numerical order is our #4.

After more than a dozen years of difficulties, including increasing deafness, conflicts with and around his nephew Karl, and the disappointment of his last great love affair, Beethoven returned again to writing string quartets. It could be said they were the primary focus of his last years. The first of these “Late Quartets” took shape over 3 years, from 1822 to 1825. Op. 127 is in the key of his Eroica Symphony, but if you are listening for heroics in this music, you will be disappointed within half a dozen bars. The initial Maestoso (majestic) dissolves quickly into a genial, songful Allegro marked teneramente, sempre piano e dolce (tenderly, always quiet and sweet), a feminine response, to use the language of the time, to the stout-hearted masculine opening. Many more dissolutions, transformations, epiphanies, and revelations of hidden unities follow, so by the end the listener whom the performance sweeps up seems to feel that s/he has experienced a lifetime of adventure within the span of its four movements, rather like Blake’s “infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.”

Notes on a Forgotten Composer:

A young Viennese composer by the name of Joseph Eybler has composed 3 pianoforte Sonatas, not at all badly written, and has asked me to recommend them to you for engraving and publication. The young man is very promising, plays the pianoforte well, and know a great deal about composition… (Haydn, in a letter to the publisher Artaria & Co. in Vienna, 1787)

… I have found the bearer of this, Herr Joseph Eybler, to be a worthy pupil of his famous master Albrechtsberger, a well-grounded composer, equally skilled in chamber music and the church style, fully experienced in the art of song, also an accomplished organ and clavier player, in short a young musician such, one can only regret, as so seldom has his equal. (from Mozart’s recommendation certificate, 1790)

He [Eybler] possesses not only all the musical and theoretical knowledge necessary to pass with distinction the most difficult examination of any musical judge; but as a practical musician he is a highly respectable pianoforte player and violinist, and as such can win the approval of any connoisseur… (from Haydn’s recommendation certificate, 1790)

I declare as an honest man that Herr Joseph Eybler, first not only knows the two above-mentioned things [church music and organ playing] but also the vocal art and violin playing to a polished degree; secondly, that in composition he is my best pupil; thirdly, that after Mozart he is the greatest genius that Vienna now has; fourthly, I can vouch for his good conduct in the whole world. (from Albrechtsberger’s recommendation certificate, 1790)

  • Eybler was engaged by Mozart as vocal coach for Cosi fan Tutte in 1789.
  • He conducted Mozart’s Requiem at a memorial service for Haydn in June of 1809.
  • In 1824 he succeeded Salieri as the chief of court music for the Austrian emperor.

That I gave it [Mozart’s unfinished Requiem] to Eybler to finish occurred because I was then (I don’t remember why) annoyed with Süssmayr, and Mozart himself though highly of Eybler… (Constanze Mozart to M. Stadler, 1827)

In 1810 he was commissioned by the emperor to compose the massive oratorio Die vier letzten Dinge, the text of which Joseph Sonnleithner had originally written for Haydn. Die vier letzten Dinge, though remarkably successful when first presented, is now largely forgotten, and probably rightly so, since its innate musical value only doubtfully justifies the great efforts necessary to perform it. (from the Grove Music online article, 2013)

Changing Views of Beethoven’s Quartet in Eb, Op. 127:

…incomprehensible, incoherent, vague, over-extended series of fantasias—chaos, from which flashes of genius emerged from time to time like lightning bolts from a black thunder cloud. (Viennese critic, 1825)

…contains only the ruins of the youthful beauty and manly nobility of his genius, that these are often buried deep under arid rubble.”  (Ludwig Rellstab, 1825)

I have many thanks to give to you, worthy Monsieur de Beethoven, for the precious parcel with the sublime quartet which I have just received. I have already played it several times and I find in it all the genius of the master, and when the playing of it has become more perfect, the pleasure will be all the greater. (Prince Nicholas Galitzin, 1825—Galitzin commissioned Opp. 127, 132, & 131 from St. Petersburg)

This quartet is one of the last works of the recently deceased famous composer van Beethoven, and for this reason alone a noteworthy appearance. But this can also be seen in another light. The judgments of these last works of the master are very different and often contradict themselves. Some say one could find nothing more beautiful and magnificent than the above quartet, and that it is as good as any thing musical art has to offer; however, others say: No, it is completely vague, entirely chaotic; there are also no clear thoughts to be extracted; in every measure there are sins against the generally accepted rules; the composer—deaf in any case—must have been crazy when he brought this work to life. (Viennese critic, 1828)

But not for Beethoven’s sake, but rather for their own sake should players and listeners approach these works [Opp. 127 and 132] with the calm modest knowledge that they will not at first comprehend them in their entirety, that for every misunderstood section only their incapacity bears the guilt, and Beethoven could not have compromised for their sake without sacrifice. Whoever approaches these last revelations with this sense is worthy and able to examine them and, sooner or later, understand them. (Viennese critic, 1828)

Unfortunately Beethoven lost the most invaluable treasure of the musician, his hearing! Becoming gloomy and bleak, he withdrew more and more from the outer world, heard no more music, he only saw, and the longer it continued, the more the memory of the true charm of music paled for him, the more would the result become apparent in his works from then on….the ideas appeared very clear on paper and pleased the eye, but in performance would often seem a wild jumble, and as such his last works appear in many places to me, however often I hear them. (Viennese critic, 1829)

It is the glorious prerogative of this art [Op. 127] that it makes all things new for the gratification of a divine instinct; to a man of literal and prosaic character the mind may seem lawless in these workings, but it observes higher laws that those it transgresses—the laws of the immortal intellect… (program notes for the first ever Beethoven Quartet Cycle, London, 1845)

Everything that used to be called eccentric, confused, linked to the excesses of a disorderly, unbalanced imagination resulting from the composer’s deafness, was actually only the product of the work’s originality which remained inaccessible to the uninitiated listener. (London critic, 1846)

What can one say about the force and tenderness in the first movement of the quartet in E flat, Op. 127, the elevation of the adagio, with its wonderful variations, or the elemental freakishness of the scherzo, that is not far better conveyed by studying the work itself ? Here more than ever the player has the advantage: he can interpret thoughts that he would not, perhaps could not, put into words. But he must dig deep to discover them, and must labour to conquer their great technical difficulty, for Beethoven is here more than ever relentless in his demands. (violist and composer Rebecca Clarke, 1927)

…of all Beethoven’s works his crowning monument to lyricism. (Joseph Kerman, 1967)