String Quartet No.30

Joseph Haydn

String Quartet No.30 in Eb major

Hob. III/38, Op. 33/2 • “Russian Quartets”

About this work

The joke of the quartet's title doesn't come until the last movement. The beginning is good-natured enough; it's an Allegro moderato cantabile based on a bumptious violin tune over a steady oom-pah accompaniment, with the subsidiary themes based directly on the same rhythmic figure. The main point of interest in the development is a little flight of fancy for the first violin, a few measures of busy solo passagework that could almost pass for a cadenza had this section not been introduced with standard accompaniment in the exposition. Next comes a Scherzando in 3/4 time, really a standard minuet whose theme derives vaguely from the same rhythmic figure underlying the first movement. It also contains a slightly comic, nattering little figure that may give this movement its joke-like (scherzando) heading. Either that, or the fact that Haydn keeps the tune in the tonic, his refusal to modulate making the subject's repeats intentionally monotonous and therefore humorous. The trio section contains a charming, slightly rustic dance tune. The slow movement is a Largo sostenuto. The stately melody rises from the cello to the top of the ensemble and undergoes a mild transformation in combination with a second, hesitant chordal theme. Otherwise, the subjects are varied only through subtle expressive details; at one point, Haydn places a different directive over twelve out of eighteen consecutive notes. The Presto, a rondo finale, is based entirely on a quick, silly little repeated-note tune of four giddy two-bar clauses. After a couple of variations the music pulls up short for a brief, bleak Adagio passage, whereupon the inane theme starts up again. But now in the coda-here comes the joke-the tune is split into its four tiny components, with a two-bar rest after each one. And just when the melody seems finally to have spurted its final section, Haydn inserts a four-measure rest, suggesting that the work is over, but then has the quartet blurt out the tune's first clause again-taking the audience by surprise, and leaving the movement hanging in mid-air with an unfinished phrase.