Bach, Haydn and Mozart walk into a bar…

Bach, Haydn and Mozart walk into a bar…

Well, they didn’t really walk into a bar, but imagine that meeting! While it never took place (as neither Mozart or Haydn met Bach – he died before they were born), their music all is interconnected.  Mozart was no stranger to the music of Bach- he had studied it as a child and transcribed some for the Well-Tempered Clavier for String quartet. You can watch some of them here: 


Mozart was also inspired by Haydn and in response to him Mozart composed his six "Haydn Quartets" from December 1782 to January 1785 (K. 387, 421, 428, 458, 464, 465). In these quartets, Mozart took what he had learned from his study of Bach, and from Haydn's breakthroughs, and continued the musical revolution at an even higher level.

Listen to the fugue-like finale from the first of his "Haydn Quartets" K. 387, the string quartet Mozart wrote in December 1782, while he was attending Baron van Swieten's salon, for a taste of Mozart's earliest attempt to learn from both of these masters and go further. The last three quartets embodied even more contrapuntal writing than the earlier ones. Listen especially to the first, second, and last movements of the fifth "Haydn Quartet," String Quartet in A Major, No. 18, K. 464, written in 1785, for Mozart's use of chromaticism and contrapuntal development. The last movement, which is based on a chromatically transformed version of the theme of the first movement, has been called the "contrapuntal ne plus ultra" of Mozart's Haydn quartets.
After hearing the last three of these quartets performed, Haydn said to Mozart's father Leopold, "Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste and, what it more, the most profound knowledge of composition." Haydn's earlier string quartets had also had an impact on the young Mozart. Before Op. 33, Haydn's string quartets with fugal finales had become a model for Mozart's early string quartets of 1772-73.

Ask any musician and they will tell you that the string quartet is the par excellence of chamber music. The great composers all wrote marvellous string quartets that are still played today, and they all owe a debt to Haydn, who made the string quartet what it is today. So, it is little wonder that Mozart dedicated four of his string quartets to Haydn, not only out of respect for him as a composer but also in dedication to his influence on the formation of the string quartet. It is reported that, in 1784, Mozart and Haydn actually played string quartets together in a "composers quartet," with Haydn playing first violin, and Mozart playing viola, together with two other musicians. 

Before Haydn completed his String Quartets, op. 33, the violin was given centre attention whole the other instruments acted in a supporting role. Now, that had been changed and the other instruments all played their individual lines. Alan M. Kriegsman writes: 

“All the instruments were able to participate in the thematic elaboration, and, furthermore, elaboration [that] was no longer confined only to development sections, but would permeate the whole texture of an opus… Mozart transplanted these principles to his own six new ‘children’ in tribute to Haydn …”

Another influence also appeared in these string quartets, particularly the hunt: counterpoint. Most famously ascribed to the music of JS Bach and the Baroque period (approx. 1600-1750), counterpoint ¬¬– meaning ‘against’ – was on the way out by the time Mozart was composing. However, the Dutch-born diplomat Gottfried van Swieten was a passionate amateur musician with a taste for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (who died when van Swieten was seventeen) and George Frederic Handel.

“Musicologist Alfred Einstein, in the chapter on counterpoint in his book on Mozart, stressed that it was the development section of Haydn's "Dialogue Quartets," Op. 33 String Quartets, which helped Mozart to take what he had learned from Bach's counterpoint, and make it into something new and Mozartian. Haydn's new works helped Mozart to learn to play with counterpoint and polyphony.”

After working as Austria's ambassador to Berlin, van Swieten moved to Vienna to take the post of Prefect of the Imperial Library, a position he was to hold until his death in 1803. While in Berlin he cultivated a group of like-minded music lovers and held soirees devoted to the performance of Baroque-era music. Mozart relished attending van Swieten's private apartment in the Imperial library every Sunday afternoon 'where nothing but Handel and Bach is performed', noted the ever-curious composer. Hence Mozart began to investigate the two men's compositional style with its reliance on so-called contrapuntal devices such as cannon and fugue – which can be heard in this string quartet. 

Why is called the Hunt?

From the lilting six-eight rhythm of its opening bars, it has become known as 'The Hunt' to distinguish it from the later quartet in the same key (K 589 of 1790). Generally, Mozart used [the key of] B flat to convey a mood of cheerful affection, which certainly pervades most of this lovely and very lovable work ... Haydn would have been proud to compose such masterly music.”

A galloping rhythm: in (6/8 time- i.e. count six to the bar in groups of 3: 123, 456), and to get the effect of the gallop think of rhythm that goes Long- short, Long-short. This has the feeling of a ‘gallop’ (imagine a horse leaping along).

In the second bar of the very first moment of the music we see this rhythm appear: 

Triadic harmonies: Triads, (chords) are the building block of Western harmony. If we pull music apart there is melody, harmony and rhythm (as the basic building blocks). A triad is constructed when three or more notes are played together. If we go to the piano and play middle C (located to the left of the two black notes. Then, skip a note, and play E; skip another note and play C and you have a triad!). 

The melody has a certain ring to it that makes it sound like a hunting horn, that would have been used in the 1700s (and earlier).  In fact, a whole book has been written on the topic of how certain musical phrases, rhythms and concepts suggest certain features, i.e. the hunt. 

A hunting horn circa 1700s

A hunting horn circa 1700s

Nicolas Lancret’s painting, Picnic After the Hunt depicting the social aspects of the Hunt game. After a long day of chasing and galloping around a festive celebration would often take place.

Nicolas Lancret’s painting, Picnic After the Hunt depicting the social aspects of the Hunt game. After a long day of chasing and galloping around a festive celebration would often take place.

Come and hear this wonderful music for yourself as Omega present an afternoon of delightful music sure to enrich the soul. Their next concert features Mozart’s String Quartet, “The Hunt”, alongside the little-known Suite for Clarinet in G Minor by Busoni, and two Australian works: Ian Munro’s Songs from the Bush, and the world-premiere of Cyrus Meurant’s Concertino for Clarinet and Strings. A celebration of iconic chamber works, rare gems and new music that has something for everyone!

Book before 30 April to receive a complimentary copy of Omega Ensemble's debut album recently recorded by ABC Classics. 

*One CD per booking. CD will be available for collection at the Box Office for eligible bookings.