Haydn and Schubert
Two string quartets
Irma Niskanen, violin
Hannu Vasara, violin
Laura Kajander, viola
Lea Pekkala, cello
”Schöne Welt, wo bist du?” (Beautiful world, where are you?) With these words Friedrich von Schiller’s poem The Gods of Greece begin. Based on this poem Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed his lied Strophe aus Schillers Die Götter Griechenlands, which got an additional name Rosamunde. The quartet is often described as intimate, melancholic and nostalgic. But which lost time does it mourn, and what kind of a lost world does it try to keep alive through the memory of music?
At the turn of the 19th century, Vienna with its 225 000 inhabitants was the largest and fastest growing centre in the German-speaking Europe. The old, hierarchical and stiff structures were creaking under the pressure of the new, political and commercial demands. During this turning point music (and being a musician!) functioned as a social glue. Music was always and in every situation politically correct and approved – the old nobilities being almost without exception talented musicians and supporters of music themselves. The amount of noble people, wannabe-nobles and later on bourgeoisie amateur musicians grew in the 1770s and onwards, and it brought an unprecedented appreciation and demand towards small scaled and half-public music that could be performed at home. The symbiosis between the audience and the performers was almost perfect. The blooming period of chamber music lasted for half a century, during which the first professional string quartets were developed. The Rosamunde quartet was born at the end of this period. Schubert dedicated his pieces to Ignaz Schuppanzigh who played them at their premier nights. Schuppanzigh was the most prominent quartet player and also Beethoven’s repository violinist. On the order of Prince Lichnowski and Lord Razumovski, Schuppanzighi gathered Vienna’s most commendable players and created ”Europe’s finest string quartets”. And the concept wasn’t about some individual concerts, the groups were on duty for the aristocracy with salaries, pensions and other benefits.
The old noble family of Habsburg is also connected to another quartet performed during this concert. In 1797, Lord Erdödy ordered a string quartet from the father of it all, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). Many hold the opinion that from this order the crown jewel of Haydn’s chamber music production, opus 76, emerged. According to the contract with Erdödy, the lord got to keep the special rights to the piece for two years, and the piece was publicly published in 1799, ten years before the death of the composer.
During the same time and in the same city, the under 30-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven composes his first quartets (op. 18). In the outskirts of Wien, Franz Schubert is still a toddler who begins his first violin lessons a couple years later. In the centre of the Habsburg empire the chamber music blooms and this is celebrated by both amateur and professional players, as well as publishers and instrument builders. The golden age has however already started to descend, and Schubert never really gets the chance to experience the culture to which he was born. The premiere of Rosamunde, performed by the Schuppanzigh quartet remains the only quartet which public performance the composer got to experience during his life.
Duration: 1 h (no intermission)