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COLLECTION COMPLETTE  DES QUATUORS DE HAYDN  according to the Artaria (Vienna) classification

Recording the complete cycle of Haydn Quartets is an undertaking  that requires the complicity of time. In the enormous  corpus left by the composer, his evolution and imagination  make each quartet a unique work. Consequently, the project  was attempted without first being able to determine its  duration. It is exactly the kind of enterprise where one knows  when it begins but has no idea of when it will be completed. 

CLASSIFICATION 

In old age, Haydn apparently wrote to Artaria that the series  of his Quartets began with the six works that are now known  as Opus 9. Artaria, the firm with which Haydn had the most  dealings and to which he most often entrusted his works, was  preparing its Collection Complette des Quatuors, and asked  Haydn to oversee the revision. Relations between the composer  and publisher “even though they had sometimes been  strained, and although Haydn, preoccupied with his schillings,  had occasionally been unfaithful“ had lasted since 1780,  when Artaria’s princeps edition of the Opus 30 Piano Sonatas  was published. From this Opus 30 up to Opus 85, one may  restore a continuity “in spite of some repeats“ made up of  original editions, reprints and a few rare transcriptions. 

The usual classification of the Quartets follows the Pleyel edition.  Ignace Pleyel had been Haydn’s student but, in the view of  posterity, he appears to have been a savvy businessman, instrument  builder, music publisher and composer of a considerable  amount of Gebrauchsmusik (that his position as publisher  easily enabled him to make profitable). Pleyel had not brought  out a princeps editon of Haydn quartets, and his relations with  his master were not of a spiritual or affective nature. Pleyel,  not in the slightest troubled by the question of authenticity,  published apocryphal quartets and based his classification on  fanciful, irrational opus numbers. It is regrettable that this  edition is generally used rather than Artaria’s, the latter benefiting,  for the most part, from Haydn’s guarantee. 

Eliminating the quartet version of the Seven Last Words and  the youthful Fürnberg, Quartets that do not fall within the  standard four-movement form beginning with the Opus 9,  Artaria reduced the number of quartets from 83 to 58, all authentic,  all accepted by Haydn. Following the encyclopedic  spirit of the late 18th century, Artaria brought out the cycle in  14 volumes (Nos. 1 to 14, according to the chronological order  of composition), of 3 or 6 quartets each (except for No. 5, which  contains only the small isolated Quartet Opus 42). 

The present recording is meant as a tribute to a firm that published  most of Haydn’s and Mozart’s scores during their lifetimes,  as well as a number of compositions by Beethoven.  Although Artaria still exists, it had to give up all publishing  business in 1926 due to its no longer being able to compete  with enterprises that had become more powerful. We are therefore  pleased to salute here the action of a music publisher  that, to our eyes, remains one of the most strategic in history. 

INTERPRETATION 

The interpretation was entrusted to the FESTETICS QUARTET,  a choice resulting from resolutely accepted options in the  current state of interpretation. 

• There could be no question of proposing romantic interpretations,  for Haydn’s music is an intellectual construction,  and his mastery of harmony in fact a highly elaborate language  that excludes unchecked outpourings. The finesse of  the trait, the liveliness of the interventions and the refinement  of sonorities require an ensemble that has been nourished on  the culture of the Age of Enlightenment. The force of expression  comes from the firmness of the discourse, not from a  turning in on oneself. 

• For this reason, to our mind, an ensemble playing on period  instruments seemed indispensable for rendering full justice  to scores whose wealth of imagination seems to be the determining  element. The use of modern or modernised instruments  would exaggerate the line and weigh down the discourse,  which would consequently lose its rhetorical quality and  power of expression. 

• Haydn was born near the Hungarian border, and several  decades of his career took place on Hungarian soil. It is thus  legitimate that that country consider the composer of The  Creation as a native son. In addition, Haydn was quite interested  in Slavic and Hungarian folk themes, and it is in that  small, multicultural corner of Europe that the correct rhythm  of these folk-flavoured movements is perceived most naturally.  The Hungarian performers show a greater aptitude for  idiomatic expression than those who, even of equal quality,  come from other types of culture. 

• Trained at the same school and all residing in Budapest,  the members of the FESTECTICS QUARTET enjoy possibilities for  working together that are unknown to those international  groups formed according to the vagaries of encounters, coming  together for a few weeks out of the year to honour engagements.  Furthermore, the FESTETICS QUARTET profits from the  support of Lazlo Somfai, one of the greatest living Haydn  specialists. 

It thus seems that the FESTETICS QUARTET was predestined  to interpret Haydn under idiomatic, historical and expressive  conditions. I will add that the musicians’ instrumental  qualities are remarkable, that the middle parts are not relegated  to the background as is often the case “listen to the  viola’s counter melodies“ and that, by placing the second  violin to the right, on the same level as the first, the FESTETICS  QUARTET restores the original arrangement, accentuates  the clarity, restores balance and enlarges the sound space.

MICHEL BERNSTEIN  Translated by John Tyler Tuttle