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Analysis of Haydn String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74, no. 3 Mvt II

Last Updated: December 26, 2010 / by Michael Kinney

In the following I will discuss Haydn's string quartet in G minor.  In order to gain a more complete understanding of the piece, we will begin by discussing its phrase structure and overall ternary form.  Once these aspects are understood, we will look more deeply into what is happening within the phrases.  Through the analysis of Haydn's use of chromaticism, modulation, and motive, we will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the similarities, contrasts, and colors that that are developed within each section and phrase of the piece.

To begin, let us look at measures 1-22.  We will refer to this as the A section of the piece.  Through looking at this section simply in terms of its cadence structure, we can conclude that it is a rounded binary.  The first phrase (m.1-10) begins on the tonic (E major) and cadences on B major which has been tonicized.  This first cadence occurs in measure 10 where B major is tonicized very briefly.  We notice the tonicization through the use of the leading tone (A sharp) found in measure 9.  We also notice, however, that at the end of measure 10 the A becomes natural sending us quickly back to the original key of E major.  This first phrase is a bit longer than a familiar four or eight-bar phrase.  It seems that the phrase should end at measure eight when the (f) G chord is struck.  Instead the phrase is extended by two bars following this G chord which bring us to its final cadence point.  We will mention this G chord again later in the analysis. 

The second phrase (m.11-14) is also lead into by an A natural and ends with a half cadence on beat one of measure 14.  The half cadence is a V (B major) in the original key of E major.  The final phrase (m.15-22) of section A cadences on the original tonic in measure 22.  We notice that its first four bars are a repeat of the first four bars of the first phrase, but in this phrase they are transposed up one octave.  This, along with its stronger dynamic markings, gives the final phrase of this section more strength to move towards its cadence.  In addition, this phrase does not have the loud G chord in its 8th measure that is present in the first phrase.  It also doesn't have the two bar phrase extension that brings us to a cadence point.  It is instead an 8 bar phrase with smoother and quicker movement to the cadential point.

The second section (B) of the piece (m.23-37) consists of two phrases.  The first phrase (m.23-30) cadences in a new key on the downbeat of measure 30.  This phrase modulates from the key of E minor to C major.  The modulation begins with the use of an A minor on the first beat of measure 24.  This is the common chord used in the modulation to C major.  It is a predominant to both E minor and C major.  Next, we see the modulating dominant (G) which is V in the new key (C).   This modulating dominant occurs in measure 26 on beat 3.  Another interesting feature of this phrase is the use of the German 6th chord on beat 3 of measure 28.  This is followed by the tonic chord with the fifth in the bass, then the cadential dominant, and finally the final tonic chord of C major.  The use of the German sixth chord allows the bass line to descend chromatically from A flat to G and finally to the tonic C.  The next phrase (m.31-37) of this section cadences on B which is V of the original key of the piece.  Just like the first section of the piece, this section uses an A sharp to briefly tonicize the B.  We then notice an A natural on beat 4 which leads us back into the original key and into the final A section.

The last section (m.38-59; section A') is almost the same as the first section of the piece.  It is a rounded binary in form just as the first section is.  It does not have the repeats of the phrases found in the first section but its phrases are similar in length, cadence structure, and harmony.  The first cadence occurs in measure 47 ending on the briefly tonicized B major.  The next cadence is a half cadence in the original key on beat 1 of measure 51.  The final cadence of this section occurs in measure 59 on the tonic of the original key of E major.  We do have four bars that proceed this phrase that serve as an extension of the ending.  In this ending phrase, we come to the V (B major) on measure 62 and finish by repeating the tonic chord (E) starting on beat one of measure 63 and ending on the final measure of the piece.

Now that we have looked at the phrase structure of this piece, we can understand it in terms of three sections.  Since the third section is an ornamented first section, we will understand this piece as ABA' in form.  With this said, we may now begin looking into the ways in which Haydn ornaments the motives in the last A section of the piece.  Through the various manipulations of motive, Haydn is able to make the A' section distinctly different than the original A section.

In the first A section, the basic rhythmic motive is a half note followed by either eighth or quarter notes on beats 2 and 3.  (We will refer to this as motive a.)  This motive is seen in many parts of the piece.  In the first A section Haydn often follows motive a with a dotted half note.  In the last A section, however, these dotted half notes are ornamented with various lines played most often by the soprano voice.  In addition, motive a is also manipulated with 32nd note triplets and various other grace notes.  The effect that is achieved through these manipulations is a better sense of motion and intensity.  Instead of simply holding out the chords and waiting for the next part of each phrase to begin, the A' section fills in these sustained sounds with lines that carry us directly to the next idea.  The feeling of waiting between measures is therefore lessened in the A' section and is perhaps due to the influence of the B section which does not have such moments of pause.  By having the soprano voice fill in the spaces with lines that carry us from one idea to the next, the feeling of waiting is much therefore much less dramatic in the second A section. 

The A' section is also different from the original A section in the way Haydn treats the second phrase.  In the original A section this is the four bar phrase found in measures 11-14.  In the A' section the phrase is found in measures 48-51.  The phrase begins with the same motive a in the soprano voice in both A and A' sections.  What happens next though is quite different.  Instead of motive a again we get 2 measures of a pianissimo 32nd note field of sound played by all the voices.  This idea of a constant sound or pulse may be influenced by the constant pulse shared by each of the voices in the B section (m. 35-36).  Though the pulse may be felt less in this phrase of the A' section since it is made up of 32nd notes and not the 8th notes found in the B section, it is still clear that the sound created in these two parts are similar to one another.     

Though the B section influences the last A section, it is also inherently different in character.  As was briefly mentioned earlier, both the first and second A sections have the feeling of starting and stopping, even though the feeling is lessened a bit in the last A section.  This idea of slowing down and speeding up is something that is inherent to the A section but is more or less abandoned in the B section.  The first phrase of the A section is a continual starting and stopping motion which climaxes with the G chord found in measure 8 on beat 1.  Dynamically this chord is one of the most dramatic moments occurring in the piece.  The power of this chord signals an ending to the start-stop motion that is presented in m. 1-7 (or m.38-44).  This moment is so powerful that it seems like it should even be an open sounding ending of the phrase.  Instead it is followed by a the two bar phrase extension and finally the cadence in measure 10.  The B section, which does not have a moment like this, consequentially sounds much more free flowing and constant than the A section.  This is also due to the continual 8th note patterns being kept by at least one of the voices.  Unlike the A section, there are not definite starts and stops at any point in the B section.  Instead, the B section continually moves forward with its strongest motion occurring at the end of the second phrase when all voices except for the soprano voice begin keeping the 8th note pulse.  This eventually leads us smoothly to the cadence ending the phrase.

Though Haydn's use of chromaticism was discussed earlier when explaining the tonicization of B major in sections A and A', he also uses chromaticism in the second phrase of sections A and A'.  I have found this section particularly frustrating because I have trouble understanding exactly what chords are being tonicized so it's difficult to identify their harmonic functions.  When looking at the bass line, I see a chromatic motive in measures 11 and 12.  In terms of the chords over this bass line, I see a

G# major followed by a C# min in measure 11.  In measure 12 I see a G major followed by an F#7.  I can understand the F#7 as a V/V since it is followed by a B7 which is V in the original key of E major.  I cannot, however, figure out what the function of the G# major, C# minor, and G major are.  I think perhaps in measure 11 C# minor is being tonicized and therefore the G# major is serving as its dominant chord.  Then perhaps the G is just used as a passing chord to the F#7 which leads us to B and finally to tonic E.  We see the G is used before as the powerful climax to the starting and stopping motion found in the first phrase of the A sections.  In this case the G is followed by a B major sound and not an F# 7 sound.  Further, the G in measure 11 is much softer dynamically than the G played in measure 8.  This phrase is one of the softest points of the piece each time it is played and seems very unrelated to the phrases that surround it.  It tends to possess the more soothing quality like that of the B section rather than the abrupt, start-stop quality that much of the A section has.  In this regard, it may be a sort of foreshadowing to the sounds that are to follow in the B section.   

To conclude, Haydn's string quartet is complicated in some respects because of its use of chromaticism and odd phrase lengths.  We have discussed the piece's phrase structure and how they contribute to the piece's overall form.  We have seen how Haydn makes this ABA form interesting by making various changes to the second A section.  We have also noticed how some of these changes are influenced by the freer flowing sound inherent to the B section.  Further, we looked at how Haydn manipulates the main motive introduced in the first A section.  We have discussed how it is ornamented in the last A section which gives the last A section less of a start-stop feeling than the first A section.  We discussed how this may have been influenced by the freer flowing B section which is contrasted from the A section.  However, by allowing the B section to influence and change the last A section slightly, the piece is given a more complete feel.  It is able to move from section to section more smoothly by providing moments of both similarity and contrast between the sections.

About the Author: Michael Kinney

I have played piano since I was 5 years old. I started in classical and then quickly moved to blues and jazz. I studied at the collegiate level and have played professionally since I was 16. My favorite piano players (if I had to pick 3) include Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock). I own several keyboards but always prefer to play on a Steinway if one is available! I live to perform as much as I like to teach.

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