“THE FINE BALANCE BETWEEN UNITY AND INFINITE VARIETY”: HAYDN’S STRING QUARTETS, FIRST COLLECTED EDITION IN FOUR VOLUMES WITH SIGNIFICANT CORRESPONDENCE CONCERNING PUBLICATION
HAYDN, Joseph. Collection complette des Quatuors D’Haydn, Dédiée au Premier Consul Bonaparte. Paris: Pleyel, . Four volumes. Folio, contemporary half green morocco, marbled boards; small brass harp inset in front cover of Volume I. $5000.
First collected edition, early issue, of Haydn’s complete string quartets, beautifully engraved and bound in handsome contemporary morocco and boards. Haydn was particularly pleased with what he called this “exceptionally beautiful edition of the quartets.”
Haydn won his first fame with his string quartets, and continued to return to the form throughout his life. By the end of his life he was regarded as the greatest composer in this medium. “After the experimentalism of opp. 9, 17 and 20, Haydn achieved in his op. 33 quartets, written as he declared ‘in a new and special way,’ a clarity of structure and balance of texture of which he rarely lost sight in later works… In the late 1780s Haydn finally returned to quartet composition on a more regular basis… The fine balance between unity and infinite variety is one of the most typical features of Haydn’s late quartets… The two series of ‘Tost’ Quartets (opp. 54-5 and op. 64) carry the Classical quartet to a peak. They reveal a Haydn free of official restraints and obligations, composing simply con amore… In op. 76 a new experimentalism appears, with features anticipating Beethoven” (New Grove, 18: 278; 8: 355). Of this edition, Haydn wrote to Pleyel: “I am much obliged to you for the exceptionally beautiful edition of the Quartets… because of their beautiful engravings, the paper—and the fact that they are so correct—as well as their general appearance, you will be remembered for them forever” (Robbins Landon, 238). According to Haydn’s letters to Pleyel in 1801, this edition was to include only 80 quartets. However, nos. 81 and 82 were issued as part of the first edition, certainly by 1805 when Elssler completed his famous thematic catalogue, the Haydn-Verzeichnis. (Pleyel’s edition formed the basis for Elssler’s catalogue of the string quartets.) A revised issue of 1806 added the unfinished Op. 103, thereby arriving at the canonical figure of 83 quartets, including the spurious Op. 3, composed by Roman Hoffstetter. This copy is an early issue, with nos. 81 and 82, but not no. 83, Op. 103. Dedicated to Napoleon as First Consul. With subscription list, fine engraved frontispiece portrait, title pages and fully engraved music text. This copy is bound with a single manuscript leaf, written on both sides, sent by the publisher Pleyel, concerning this collected edition of the quartets. It outlines the statements Haydn must make in order to secure Pleyel’s right to include certain of the quartets (Opp. 50 and 7) in this edition. For example, Haydn must declare that he never ceded Op. 50 to the publisher Sieber; furthermore, this declaration must be witnessed and confirmed by a foreign minister–one who is not at war with France. The document articulates additional matters, such as the commissioning of a portrait of the composer to adorn this collection. Haydn received a similar letter around the same time (1801) from Sieber, asking him to attest to Sieber’s right to print a different group of quartets (Robbins Landon, V: 58). Hoboken, Gruppe III, I: 359-60. Hirsch III, 273. See New Grove, 8: 347. Bookplates.
Engraved music text exceptionally bright and clean. A fine and beautiful set in contemporary binding.