Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

That Jokester Joseph Haydn!

3 Comments

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

The last post was kind of heavy, so I thought I’d lighten things up.  And what better way than with a joke?

In particular, Joseph Haydn’s string quartet Op. 33 No. 2, known as “The Joke.”

In this string quartet, Haydn plays with the listener’s expectations of what a string quartet “should” sound like, what the listener expects to hear.  And when we are surprised by what we hear, sometimes we laugh.  And sometimes we jump—this is, after all, the same man who wrote the “Surprise” Symphony (No. 94)You can hear the symphony’s famous second movement here (headphone/earbud listeners might want to pull them away from their ears before time stamp 0:40).

I found a great short TEDx talk by the St. Lawrence String Quartet on the last movement of “The Joke”  that provides a fun explanation of what Haydn is up to.  When the movement ends, you can’t help but chuckle.

They also have an extended discussion that includes other movements of the string quartet, and that video can be found here.

A funny point is brought out that involves the minuet (scherzo) movement.  This minuet had already showed signs of Haydn’s tinkering:  the “graceful” minuet had some starts and stops that would make it a little difficult to dance to.  Then, (in the trio section) Haydn put an interesting fingering notation over some notes.  Editors must have scratched their heads and said, “that can’t be right—play two successive notes on the same string with the same finger?!”  What you end up with, if you play it with Haydn’s fingering, is an effect that sounds like…well, a slide whistle.  It’s a funny sound, perhaps slightly inebriated-sounding, that seems to poke fun at the stately minuet.  You can hear a wonderful example of it here.

Ah, but enough explanations!  Let’s let Haydn do the talking.  Here is this wonderful string quartet in its entirety.  Enjoy!

_____

Image attribution: Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1757-circa 1805) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJoseph_Haydn.jpg

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3 thoughts on “That Jokester Joseph Haydn!

  1. Delightful and illuminating, especially the TedX presentation.

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  2. Superb, Chris- thanks! A truly great master, sometimes under-appreciated in the light of Mozart, but very much at the same level of inspiration, and in some ways more important for the development of genres and forms. The Casals Quartet performance is totally delightful- what a ham the first fiddle is! They really understand the Affekten (which can change on a dime, as in Mozart)- and act them out brilliantly, with a little appropriate mugging.

    Tom

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  3. Nice post! I think Haydn would have appreciated it–he once said “Since God has given me a cheerful heart, he will forgive me for serving him cheerfully.”

    As a thank you for the post, here is my most favourite of Haydn in a serious mood:

    Like

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