Franz Joseph Haydn

String Quartet No. 46 in F minor ("Razor"), Op. 55/2, H. 3/61

    Description by James Reel

    It's said that Haydn traded the original manuscript of this work for a pair of razors, thus the quartet's nickname. There's something wrist- slashingly depressing about the Andante più tosto allegretto's opening bars, too, although the mood brightens ever so slightly as the theme drifts momentarily into A flat major before turning to the somber B flat minor for the theme's ending phrase. The subsidiary theme offers some F- major relief, but it is closely related to the bereft opening melody. What follows is not the expected sonata movement but a series of variations, alternating minor and major. The first decorates the themes with violin triplets, and the second variation is similarly ornamental. Next comes a highly contrapuntal treatment, and finally a trilling, sunny variation in the major mode. Gloom returns with the F minor Allegro, which is a sonata-form movement, although this music also contains its rays of light. The primary theme consists of two long notes followed by a series of falling, twisting figures; an answering phrase is full of dotted, almost galloping rhythms. The first violin plunges three and a half octaves to launch the development, which is devoted mainly to a contrapuntal treatment of the principal subject. Surprisingly, the clouds part again for the F-major recapitulation, as if Haydn just can't bear to end a movement tragically. Several unusual touches mark the Minuet. First, the viola has the dominant voice; second, Haydn presents the theme contrapuntally (quite a scholarly approach to the modest Minuet form). Nestled in the middle of all this major-mode material is a trio section that returns us to F minor for a very chromatic melody. The finale, Presto, is another sonata-form movement, its only important theme an assembly of appoggiaturas slipping up the scale chromatically. The key is now a cheery F major, and the movement progresses through a bright, concise development full of arresting, off-the-beat accents. At the end, the music dies away peacefully; again, Haydn not only avoids a cataclysmic denouement, he defies such a thing.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Andante piu tosto Allegretto
    2. Allegro
    3. Menuetto & Trio
    4. Finale. Presto

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2017
    Hyperion
    68160
    2014
    Tacet
    TACET 184BDA
    2012
    Decca
    2009
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4778116
    2009
    Brilliant Classics
    93889
    2009
    Brilliant Classics
    93871
    2009
    Haenssler
    98587
    2008
    Naxos
    8502400
    2004
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2002
    Arcana
    416
    2000
    Philips
    464 650-2PX21
    1999
    ASV
    236
    1998
    Hungaroton
    41001
    1997
    Supraphon
    3192
    1997
    London
    455261
    1995
    Hyperion
    66972
    1994
    Naxos
    8550397
    1994
    ASV
    906