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It has been said that the first “flowering” of the string quartet
occurred with the issue of Franz Joseph Haydn’s
“Opus 9 Quartets,” which were probably composed around
1769. Of course, prior to that time, there were numerous
pieces written for the configuration of two violins, viola
and cello. These include 10 Haydn “Divertimenti,” without
specific composition issue dates, which were written between
the years of 1758 and 1762. Before Haydn, there were other
composers, such as Ignaz Holzbauer (1711-1783) and
Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715-1777), who wrote
divertimenti for this configuration, and it should also be noted
that Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) wrote the first of more
than 90 essays in this form, around 1761. For that matter,
a reference to the “Quattro Sonate a Quattro” by
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) should be included in
this survey.

Despite the aforementioned examples, I believe the
contention that Haydn (1732-1809) was the first composer
to fully realize the potential of this arrangement of instruments,
raising it to the high art form which has continued to this
day. Along the way, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
made some mighty fine contributions of his own. As with his
symphonies, these pieces were influenced by Haydn’s works
and in turn, inspired further Haydn compositions in the form.
The reciprocation between these two composers was the
result of the ultimate mutual admiration society!

Therefore, the sobriquet, “Father of the String Quartet,” is
somewhat justifiably bestowed upon Haydn, who has also
received the same moniker in reference to the symphony.
His importance and influence in these genres, not to
mention his keyboard trios and keyboard sonatas,
was huge.

This is all a preamble to the completion of my recent
listening project of the 21-CD set of Haydn’s
“Complete String Quartets,” released under
the Philips label and recorded between 1994 and 1999
by the Angeles String Quartet. I realized that I’d
embarked upon another listening odyssey, but I felt it had
to be done, given the historical and musical importance of
the project. It was fascinating to hear all of these works in
a chronological fashion, which made it easier to chart
Haydn’s progress as a composer. The 68 “Quartets” virtually
spanned his entire career, from the later 1750’s to the
early 1800’s. I realize that you don’t have to hear all of
them in this manner to appreciate Haydn’s genius, but
for me, it was the best route to leaving
“no musical stone unturned” in the oeuvre.

The members of the talented Angeles String Quartet
included first violinist Kathleen Lenski, second
violinist Steven Miller who was replaced in 1998
by Sarah Parkins, violist Brian Dembow, and cellist
Stephen Erdody. Their performances were fine ones
and were not overly miked, providing a sense of
ambience. As I haven’t heard other integral sets,
I recognize that I’m not in a position to play
the comparison game. I’ll leave that to others.
Sadly, shortly after the release of this project, the
group elected to disband, and apparently performed
their last live concert during May 2002.

For me, this was a highly worthwhile listening endeavor
which I believed was essential for anyone seeking to come
to grips with the “Classical Style.” But I’d advise you to take
your time with it and not attempt to cram too many CDs
into one day of listening. The last thing you want to
experience from this music or any music for that matter,
is listener fatigue.