AN 2 9914

Joseph Leopold Eybler: String Quartet Op.1, Nos 1-3

Release date September 19, 2006
Album code AN 2 9914
Periods Classical

Album information

Eybler Quartet

The Eybler Quartet came together in late 2004 to explore the works of the first century of the string quartet, with a healthy attention to lesser known composers such as their namesake, Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler. The group plays on instruments appropriate to the period of the music it performs. In its brief but busy existence, the Toronto-based ensemble has consistently garnered praise for their “glowing and committed,” “spirited,” and “lively and energizing” live performances.
Violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and violist Patrick G. Jordan, are all members of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Julia and Aisslinn are also members of I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble. ‘Cellist Margaret Gay is much in demand as both a modern and period instrument player.

The group brings a unique combination of talents and skills: years of collective experience as chamber musicians, technical prowess, experienced in period instrument performance, and an unquenchable passion for the repertoire. This world premiere recording of Eybler’s Opus 1 is also the premiere recording of the group.

A successful working career doesn’t guarantee a place in posterity. Such was the fate of Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler. His professional life, replete with official court positions, would have been conventionally regarded as more successful than Mozart’s, yet Eybler languishes today in obscurity. We are delighted to be part of an effort to reintroduce his charming and distinctive voice.

Eybler’s life (1765-1846) spanned virtually the whole of the Classical period; he crossed paths with most of the major figures of the day. He was a distant cousin of the Haydns, and like them was a choirboy at Vienna’s St. Stephan’s Cathedral. In a letter of recommendation from 1793, Johann Albrechtsberger (Beethoven’s teacher in later years) wrote that “…after Mozart, he (Eybler) is the greatest musical genius to be found in Vienna.” He knew the Baron van Swieten, the musical antiquarian who introduced Bach and Handel to the musical cognoscenti of Vienna ca. 1775-1800. Wolfgang Mozart engaged Eybler as vocal coach for the premiere of Così fan tutte, and the two remained very close friends until Mozart’s death in 1791. Constanza Mozart, seeking a completion of Mozart’s unfinished Requiem, turned first to Eybler; he finished the Sequenz but was overcome by awe for his departed friend’s genius, and left off having barely begun the Lacrimosa.

In 1792 Eybler was appointed Choirmaster at the Carmelite Church in Vienna, and two years later was promoted to the same position at the Scottish Monastery. In 1804 he was appointed Deputy Hofkapellmeister under Antonio Salieri, and in 1824, succeeded him as Hofkapellmeister to the Emperor. As Hofkapellmeister, he had the dubious distinction of rejecting Franz Schubert’s Mass in A flat when it was presented for performance in 1825. Eybler suffered a stroke in 1833, ironically while conducting Mozart’s Requiem.

The three quartets of Eybler’s Opus 1 were completed in April, 1787; they were the first works published by the Viennese house of Johann Traeg in 1794. The engraved parts, especially the first violin, are elegant but not free of errors. The plates were later sold to Artaria of Vienna and republished.

During the early 1780s, Eybler established a close epistolary relationship with Joseph Haydn, a constant champion of the younger composer’s works; Opus 1 is dedicated to Haydn. Eybler’s works show Haydn’s influence, especially in their formal inventiveness. The quartets also point to Eybler’s acquaintance with the works of his friend Mozart. Throughout, Eybler reveals his own voice as infectiously lyrical and harmonically adventurous.

Opus 1, no. 1, in D Major opens with a brief Adagio introduction to a sonata-form movement, which develops its chromatic first theme material, and forgoes a restatement of the same in the recapitulation. The Minuet and Trio is straightforward, opening with an echo of the second theme of the first movement. The slow movement is in binary form, lavishly demonstrating Eybler’s lyrical gift. The last movement is a theme and variations, employing the standard techniques of elaboration and including a minor key variation. Eybler cunningly re-introduces the chromatic first theme of the first movement in the Finale’s coda.

Opus 1, no. 2 in C Minor is a brooding sonata-form movement, which like the Opus 1, no. 1, avoids a literal recapitulation. The development of this movement begins with a restatement of the opening material in the distant key of G-flat major. The lyrical slow movement, muted in all the parts, deflects the intensity of the first movement. The C-minor Minuet is powerful, opening with strong imitative two-part writing; the Trio offers a very playful, major key respite. The C-minor last movement is in sonata form, based on dramatic material the development of which takes us on a harmonic adventure from G major, through F minor to D-flat major. Eybler again sidesteps the literal recapitulation, but makes his way back to C minor to close with the same dramatic power of the opening.

The first movement of Opus 1, no. 3 in B-flat Major departs from the conventional sonata form, offering instead a binary form. It begins with a brief introduction and features an interrupted cadence that shifts the movement to the relatively remote keys of D-flat major in the first section and G-flat major in the second. The coda reflects the material of the introduction as a bookend to the movement. The harmonically ambiguous opening of the movement sets the tone for the entire piece. The binary-form Adagio begins in G minor but ends us up in G major. The Minuet and Trio are resolutely in B-flat major, but the quartet’s tone of ambiguity is maintained in the second half of the Minuet by a section in 5/4 time. It is worth noting the similarity of texture and material in Eybler’s Trio to that of the Trio in Mozart’s quartet in D Minor, K. 421. Both feature the first violin playing an arpeggiated figure accompanied by pizzicato; the arpeggiated figure is reinforced by the viola at the octave at the end of both movements. The last movement, while true to the harmonic ambiguity of the piece as a whole, is in sonata form with a substantial development and a full, if cleverly disguised, recapitulation.

Finally, we must consider the place of Eybler’s Opus 1 in his greater output. They are early works, completed when the composer was a mere 22 years old. The designation Opus 1 is misleading, since three of Eybler’s keyboard sonatas were published in 1787, seven years before “Opus 1”. In her biographical sketch of Eybler accompanying the thematic catalogue of his works, Hildegard Herrmann has suggested that Eybler faced an existential crisis of needing to please the aristocracy at the expense of being able to express himself freely. While that may be an incisive observation concerning his entire output, and accepting that Eybler’s later work is more conventional, these quartets predate any of his official positions at court. Through their formal ingenuity and harmonic challenges, the quartets of Opus 1 offer us a more youthful and possibly less jaded Eybler.

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