Joseph Haydn

Emperor Quartet

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 25–30 Minutes
Genre: Quartet
Time of Creation: 1797
World Premiere: Unknown (First Publication 1799)

Table of Contents

Haydn's Emperor Quartet in 5 Sentences

Many people know Haydn’s Emperor Quartet, but don’t know that they know it 😊 In fact, the melody of the second movement is today’s German national anthem (you can read how this came about below in the “Questions and Answers”). The Emperor Quartet is to be counted among Haydn’s late works: It is one of the six string quartets Haydn composed after his two trips to London. These had been extremely successful (more on this in the presentation of Haydn’s 104th Symphony).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Haydn's Emperor Quartet

Highlight 1: first movement – smallest building blocks

Haydn opens his Emperor Quartet with a brief gesture consisting of just five notes, but underlying all the developments of the first movement:

Highlight 2: second movement – variations on the anthem

The second movement is, of course, the most famous movement of the Emperor Quartet. To this day, the German national anthem is sung to its melody. Haydn writes four variations on it here:

Highlight 3: third movement – a balance

After the art of variation in the second movement, the third movement creates a happy, upbeat balance….

Highlight 4: fourth movement – from somberly to bright

…whereupon the fourth movement begins very somberly. As the movement progresses, however, the musical events brighten and Haydn ends his Emperor Quartet with radiant brilliance:

3 Questions and Answers about Haydn's Emperor Quartet

Question 1: To whom did Haydn dedicate his Emperor Quartet?

Haydn dedicated his Emperor Quartet to the Hungarian Count Erdödy.

Question 2: How did it come about that the second movement of the Emperor Quartet became the German national anthem?

Joseph Haydn had been commissioned by the Habsburg Emperor Franz II to compose a melody for a national anthem. The result in 1797 was the melody that is still sung today as the German national anthem. At the very beginning, the melody had a different text (“Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser”); only later did August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben write the text of the “Lied der Deutschen” (“Song of the Germans”) on it. In his Emperor Quartet, Haydn then wrote several variations on the melody in the second movement.

Question 3: Did Haydn use models for the "Emperor's melody"?

The Emperor Melody has similarities to an earlier work by Mozart (“Exsultate, jubilate”). However, it is not known whether these similarities were intended by Haydn.

2 Recommended Recordings of Haydn's Emperor Quartet

Recording 1: Attacca Quartet (live, 2013)

The Attacca Quartet is known for its technically posh interpretations, and this recording of Haydn’s Emperor Quartet is no different:

Recording 2: Calidore Quartet (live, 2013)

Of equal quality is the Calidore Quartet’s performance:

1 Quote about Haydn's Emperor Quartet

A few days ago I was again with Haydn. On this occasion, he played for me on the piano, violin quartets that a Count Erdödi ordered from him for 100 ducats and that may only be printed after a certain number of years.

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