String Quartet Op. 33, No. 2 (The Joke)
, Hob. III. 38, Presto (fourth movement)
Franz Joseph Haydn
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Tracks 1-6
The concept of the quartet as a violin player with three other people is one that I, a 'cellist, resist. As a young student in quartet lessons with my siblings I would stare out the window for long lengths of time as we played through the easy bass lines of the classical
repertoire. As a music teacher I have heard many aspiring first violin players mangle their high-pitched arpeggios while their colleagues bleat out the old I-V-I with dry faces. Such is the fate of much music written not to praise the universe or question the unfairness fate but simply to be enjoyed by those who can play and appreciate a joke.
Hearing the joke some two hundred and fifty years after its first telling one encounters more elegance than wit. The silences are no longer strange to us and the repetitions no longer absurd. But the level of craft and the gentle touch we hear in this rondo are too infrequent in our modern days. With a nostalgia for an evening we never witnessed we overlook the crudeness of our history and aspire to contain an artistic motion in our lives.
There are times when the supporting players are stuck with long sustain pitches while violin 1 veers off to either glory or discomfort. I like long notes. Always have. They stand in the background, odd and slow, as a piece of music to themselves.