String Quartet in C Major, Op.30 No.2
“Wölfl’s string quartets are very accomplished as to style and technique, as one might expect from someone who was a very accomplished musician and who had studied with some of the best teachers of the time.”—–The Chamber Music Journal.
In fact, when you hear Wölfl’s string quartets it is hard to understand how he has flown under the radar for so long a time. In our opinion they are in a league with those of Haydn and the best of Wranitzky and Krommer. Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812, the name is often spelled Woelfl) was born in Salzburg. He studied violin, piano and composition there with Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang’s father) and Michael Haydn (Joseph’s brother). In 1790, he moved to Vienna where it is thought he briefly studied with Wolfgang Mozart. Wölfl became a virtuoso pianist and was sometimes considered to be Beethoven’s equal. It was on Wolfgang’s recommendation the Wölfl was able to procure a position with Count Michal Casimir Oginski as a piano teacher in Warsaw. During the political upheavals in Poland he returned to Vienna and then began a career as a touring concert pianist, eventually settling in Paris (1801-1805) and then London where he spent the rest of his life. Wölfl wrote operas, ballets, symphonies, works for piano, songs and quite a lot of chamber music, including some 25 string quartets, 3 string quintets, 15 standard piano trios and several others for various instrumental combinations with piano. In addition to this, he wrote dozens of sonatas and other works for violin and piano, flute and piano and harp and piano.
Op.30 No.2 is the second of a set of three which date from 1805. The opening movement, Allegro, begins with a stately theme which is developed by means of running triplets in all of the voices, the first violin and cello in particular. It should be noted that the handling of the cello throughout the work is superior to all but the Op.76 quartets of Haydn. The treatment is very Viennese and the music could easily be mistaken for that of Haydn and this is in no way to imply any imitation. The second movement, a very Haydnesque Minuetto in the galant style, is particularly noteworthy for its, for the time, remarkable harmonic innovation, There are faint echoes of a similar movement in Mozart’s last symphony, The Jupiter. In the lyrical Adagio which follows, there is a very stylized treatment which is reserved and contemplative while curiously at the same time creating a sense of tension and drama. The brilliant finale, Allegro, again very Viennese-sounding is a bright and exciting romp.
We have reprinted the 1805 edition but have added rehearsal letters. This quartet makes an excellent program choice as a substitute for the inevitable Haydn or Mozart and will certainly be welcomed by audiences. Amateurs will certainly enjoy the work which presents no special technical problems.