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Haydn’s Sun & Mendelssohn’s Stars

19 February 2023

In the Utzon Room | Classical Music

String quartets by Haydn, Bach & Mendelssohn, performed by a premier ensemble on instruments of the period in an intimate setting. Hear the music brand new, as it was first made.

Dark, Dazzling & Lovelorn String Quartets

The stock image of a cheerful sun that decorated the first edition of Haydn’s 6 Quartets Opus 20 earned them a nickname that proved apt. Not due to their composer’s consistently cloudless disposition, but because of their central and epoch-making place in the string quartet universe.  

The sixth, in A major, skirts the deep melancholy of some of its sister quartets, but beautiful shadows still flit across its bright face, which seems, like this concert, to look forward to the expressiveness of romanticism and backward to the intricacies of the baroque. In its genial-sounding finale - a rigorous three-subject fugue replete with inversions and retrogrades, no less- Joe gives the finger to those critics who were writing him off as a lightweight, and perhaps, indirectly, to Enlightenment guru Rousseau, who regarded counterpoint as a “barbaric invention”.  

Haydn never encountered J S Bach’s mighty Art of Fugue, but a decade on from this quartet, at a Viennese salon for early-Early-Music-nerds, he probably heard his friend Mozart’s string arrangements of fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier. He would have marvelled at the intricate clockwork of Bach’s final statement on the subject as performed here by quartet.

Beethoven worshipped such contrapuntal tapestries and paid them homage in his final quartets. As baffling as these were to the public, another musical prodigy, Felix Mendelssohn, not only “got them”, but, aged only 18, used the formidable A minor Op. 132 as a model for his first, in the same key.  

Fugue and counterpoint are embedded in this miraculously mature work, which also brims with compelling, passionate melodies. It seems to sing like an opera without words, and is haunted by a questioning musical motif (“Is it true?”) from an early song, for which Mendelssohn also wrote the lyrics:

 Is it true?

That you always wait for me by the vine-draped wall? 

And that with the moonlight and the little stars you consult about me also?

Three brilliant minds generate musical energy to keep the dark at bay in this richly satisfying programme.

Presented by The Australian Haydn Ensemble

AHE STRING QUARTET

Skye McIntosh, violin

Matthew Greco, violin

Karina Schmitz, viola

Daniel Yeadon, cello

ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE

Under the direction of Artistic Director Skye McIntosh, the Australian Haydn Ensemble, are one of Australia’s leading historically informed orchestras and chamber music groups. The ensemble brings together world-class musicians who excel in both research and performance on period instruments.

These are instruments that were made and played at the time the music was composed by Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart. It can also mean an instrument that is made by a master instrument maker of more modern times, based on older instruments (perhaps now unplayable) as well as scholarship and research. The sound they make is uniquely beautiful, and often different to modern instruments.

AHE’s repertoire is principally music of the early classical era and the late baroque period (such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, C.P.E. Bach and others).

The Ensemble's name pays tribute to the great Joseph Haydn, known as 'Papa Haydn', who was a central figure of the late 18th century, also often known as the “Father of the String Quartet”.

AHE’s performances bring audiences as close as possible to the music the composers heard when they created these marvellous and enduring works.

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