These first quartets of Haydn seem to us sadly feeble in the present day; thero is not enough flesh to cover the skeleton, and the joints are terribly awkward; but there is the unmistakeable infant quartet, and certainly not more clumsy and unpromising than the human infant. The due proportions are all there too—in fact, there are 5 movements instead of 4, Haydn usually writing two minuets to these early works. In the course of his long life and incessant practice in symphonic composition, Haydn made vast progress, so that the later quartets (op. 71, etc.) begin to show, in the lower parts, some of the boldness which had before been only allowed to the 1st violin. 83 quartets of Haydn are catalogued and printed, while of the 93 of his contemporary Boccherini, scarcely one survives.
Mozart, with his splendid genius for polyphony as well as melody, at once opened up a new world. In the set of 6 dedicated to Haydn we notice, besides the development in form, the development of the idea, which it has only been given to Beethoven fully to carry out—the making each part of equal interest and importance. Theoretically, in a perfect quartet, whether vocal or instrumental, there should be no 'principal part.' The six quartets just spoken of were so far in advance of their time, as to be considered on all sides as 'hideous stuff.' In our time we find little that is startling in them, except perhaps the famous opening of No 6, which will always sound harsh from the false relations in the 2nd and 4th bars.
Mozart's 26 quartets all live, the 6 dedicated to Haydn, and the last 3 composed for the King of Prussia, being immortal.
It is not our province here to speak of the growth of the symphonic form as exhibited in the string quartet, this subject having been already discussed under Form, but rather to notice the extraordinary development of the art of part-writing, and the manner in which the most elaborate compositions have been constructed with such apparently inadequate materials. In these points the quartets of Beethoven so far eclipse all others that we might confine our attention exclusively to them. In the very first (op. 18, No. 1) the phrase
of the 1st movement is delivered so impartially to each of the four players, as though to see what each can make of it, that we feel them to be on an equality never before attained to. If the 1st violin has fine running passages, those of the 2nd violin and viola are not a whit inferior. Does the 1st violin sing a celestial adagio, the cello is not put off with mere bass notes to mark the time. All four participate equally in the merriment of the scherzo and the dash of the finale. This much strikes one in the earlier quartets, but later, when such writing as the following—selected at random—is frequent,
we find that we are no longer listening to four voices disposed so as to sound together harmoniously, but that we are being shown the outline,