> Joseph Haydn or Romanus Hoffstetter [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1815)
Romanus HOFFSTETTER (1742-1815)

String Quartet in G, Op. 3, No. 3
String Quartet in B flat, Op. 3, No. 4
String Quartet in F, Op. 3 , No. 5, "Serenade Quartet"
String Quartet in A, Op. 3, No. 6
Kodály Quartet
Recorded June 2000, Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary
NAXOS 8.555704 [56.35]


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Haydn lovers will need no encouragement from me to investigate this issue. Naxos have put us in their debt, as they have with so many other projects, with their recorded survey of Haydn by the Kodály Quartet. I canít pretend to have heard every disc, but of the issues I know there is not one which is less than excellent, and the majority would be worth buying even at full price. The playing is consistently fine, lacking nothing in divertimento spirit in the early works, nor in that life-enhancing mixture of substance and lightness of touch which is the mature Haydn. They do not disappoint here.

There is an important matter to be taken into account, though, in respect of this disc, which is that there is considerable doubt as to whether these quartets are actually the work of Haydn. The situation, briefly outlined, is as follows. After 1765 Haydn kept a running catalogue of his works; absolutely essential, I should have thought, with such a prolific composer. These quartets do not feature in that catalogue, but on the other hand they are to be found in a comprehensive catalogue prepared under the composerís direct supervision in 1805 as well as in a complete catalogue of his quartets which was published by Pleyel three years earlier. There would seem to be documentary evidence, however, that Haydn may not have had the opportunity to examine and therefore be able truly to verify the authenticity of these works prior to their inclusion in these catalogues. A further complication is that the earliest copies still in existence are of printed editions published in Paris in 1777. Even the absence of any manuscript is unusual for this composer, but furthermore there is a suggestion that traces remain on these printed copies of an attribution to Romanus Hoffstetter, thus allowing for the possibility that the Parisian publisher substituted the name of Haydn, a better sales bet, for that of the true composer, a priest and musician about whom relatively little is known. Scholars who have examined the present quartets alongside the few existing works of Hoffstetter have come to conclusion that although he would seem to have been capable of composing them, if they are truly from his pen, they undoubtedly represent his best work. Others have also noted that these quartets contain elements of style which are both typical and atypical of Haydnís work of the period.

The question of authenticity is therefore a complex matter, and even the greatest authorities on the music of Haydn and of the music of this period in general have published conflicting opinions on it. And of course, given this uncertainty, we should not be surprised that the dates of composition are unknown.

In the face of this musicological conundrum I have nothing of my own to offer, except to say that had I not known of the difficulty I would have accepted these quartets without question as examples of Haydnís early string quartet style. They are charming works, tuneful, jolly, and with one or two of those musical surprises to which the composer treated us more and more as he matured. The slow movement of the F major quartet is a most beautiful violin melody accompanied by the other strings pizzicato and which gives the work its name. It is also one of those tunes which, maddeningly, one finds one already knows without having the slightest idea of why or where or when.

Whoever wrote these works the Kodály Quartet devote their remarkable and familiar skills to them and the disc is beautifully recorded. The booklet notes are by Allan Badley. I am indebted to him for the above information and my attempt to summarise his essay seems clumsy by the side of his clarity and eloquence. Altogether an hour of delightful music, beautifully played, and well worth a place in any chamber music collection.

William Hedley


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