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Slow Movement from Haydn’s ‘Emperor’ Quartet Essay

The slow movement from Haydn’s ‘Emperor’ Quartet is said to be one of Haydn’s greatest works. He uses a simple yet classic melody throughout his piece that is the underlying feature of this movement. The melody is in the form AABCC but the movement itself is in the style of theme and variations. The music in the movement is played sweetly (dolce) and is in cut time.

The Introduction to Haydn’s Emperor Quartet is in GM and has the violin 1 playing the melody. The cello and the Viola have similar rhythmic parts that are playing important harmonies to the violin 1 part. The second violin is harmonizing the melody.

Variation 1 is a duet between the two violins where the cello and the viola do not play. Violin 2 has the melody throughout the variation. Violin 1 is playing sets of semiquavers which give the different harmonies in this variation. Most of the notes in the violin 1 part are in intervals of 3rds and 5ths or are in scale order. This variation is always soft (sempre piano).

In the next variation the bass instrument of the quartet has the melody (the cello). The violin 1 plays on the off beats for most of the variation with groups of semiquavers filled in as a small counter melody. Violin 2 is harmonizing between the melody and the violin 1 part. The viola is playing long notes every so often emphasizing the melody. Variation 2 is quite heavy and dense in harmonies and instruments in contrast to the first variation which was quite light.

In variation 3 the viola has the melody. Throughout this variation there are mostly three instruments playing at one time. The instrument that do not have the melody come in and out though the piece. Violin 1 comes in with the viola at the beginning and has a similar line to its part in variation 2. Violin 2 comes in at bar 3 with syncopated notes and then goes into a small melody of its own. The cello do not come in till about halfway through the variation where it plays a simple harmonic rhythm.

Variation 4 is similar to the introduction in that the violin 1 has the melody again but Haydn has made it different by changing the other parts. Also in bar 5 the melody moves an octave higher to what it was in the introduction. The other three parts have similar rhythmic lines. The start of the variation has mostly crotchets and minims but in bar 10 Haydn has made use of quavers till the end of the piece. The cello changes clef in bars 7 to 14 to an alto clef then back to a bass clef. The three parts having the similar rhythmic lines helps creates a thick texture of harmonies. The ending bars draw a closure to the movement with the long cadence ending softly.


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