Joseph Haydn was as prolific as any eighteenth century composer, his fecundity a matter, in good part, of the nature of his employment and the length of his life. Born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau, the son of a wheelwright, he was recruited to the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna at the age of eight, later earning a living as best he could as a musician in the capital and making useful acquaintances through his association with Metastasio, the Court Poet, and the composer Nicola Porpora.
In 1759, after some eight years of teaching and free-lance performance, whether as violinist or keyboard-player, Haydn found greater security in a position in the household of Count Morzin as director of music, wintering in Vienna and spending the summer on the Court's estate in Bohemia, where an orchestra was available. In 1760 Haydn married the eldest daughter of a wigmaker, a match that was to bring him no great solace, and by the following year he had entered the service of Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy as deputy to the old Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had much fault to find with his young colleague. In 1762 Prince Paul Anton died and was succeeded by his brother Prince Nikolaus, who concerned himself with the building of the great palace of Esterhaza. In 1766 Werner died, and Haydn assumed the full duties of Kapellmeister, spending the larger part of the year at Esterhaza and part of the winter at Eisenstadt, where his first years of service to the Esterhazy family had passed.
Haydn's responsibilities at Esterhaza were manifold. As Kapellmeister he was in full charge of the musicians employed by the Prince, writing music of all kinds, and directing performances both instrumental and operatic. This busy if isolated career came to an end with the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790. From then onwards Haydn had greater freedom, while continuing to enjoy the title and emoluments of his position as Kapellmeister to the Prince�s successors.
Haydn's release from his immediate responsibilities allowed him, in 1791, to accept an invitation to visit London, where he provided music for the concerts organised by Johann Peter Salomon. His considerable success led to a second visit in 1794. The following year, at the request of the new Prince Esterhazy, who had succeeded his elder brother in 1794, he resumed some of his earlier duties as Kapellmeister, now in Eisenstadt and in Vienna, where he took up his own residence until his death in 1809.
Haydn was to write some 83 string quartets over a period of forty years. The form itself is closely associated with that of the classical symphony as it developed from the middle of the eighteenth century in Mannheim and elsewhere in south Germany, Austria and Bohemia, emerging from its origins in the Baroque sonata.
The set of six quartets that Haydn dedicated to Count Erd�dy was completed in 1797 and published two years later. The second, Opus 76 No.2, in the key of D minor, earned its nickname of Quinten or Fifths from the widely spaced descending intervals announced by the first violin in the opening bars, a motif that is to re-appear. The second movement opens in D major and includes a modulating central section and an embellished return of the first theme. This is followed by a movement sometimes known as the Hexenmenuett or Witches' Minuet, in which the two lower strings imitate the two upper, contrasted with the ostinato of its D major Trio. The D minor principal theme of the last movement returns softly in the key of D major and leads forward to a more rapid conclusion in the same key.
The Quartet in C major, Opus 76, No.3, has become known as the Kaiserquartett or Emperor Quartet because of the theme, Haydn's own Emperor's Hymn, used as the subject of variations in the second movement. The beginning of the quartet has a strongly contrapuntal element and provides music of sufficient proportion to sustain the famous theme and its four variations, in which the instruments take turns to play the melody itself. The Minuet and Trio provide a moment of relaxation before the C minor drama of the finale, with its rapid triplet rhythm, leading to a conclusion in C major.
The fourth quartet of Opus 76, the Quartet in B Flat major, is generally known as The Sunrise, for no better reason than the suggestion of dawn as the first violin emerges from the sustained harmony of the other instruments in the first bars of the work, a process later to be inverted, as the cello descends, from a harmony provided by the higher instruments of the quartet. The intensity of the slow movement, in which the first violin adds its own element of drama, is followed by rapid Minuet and a strongly felt Trio. The final rondo, with its varied episodes, and evidence of the imaginative humour that is so often a feature of Haydn's music, ends in impressive unanimity.