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Haydn's 'Unfinished' Quartet Finished

Published: 6 November 2013

Southampton's Professor William Drabkin's new completion of an unfinished Haydn string quartet is to receive its premiere in London on 8 December.

A few years before his death, Joseph Haydn, who had in effect invented the string quartet in the 1750s and spent the next four decades developing it into one of the supreme musical art-forms, sent his publishers a fragmentary work for quartet which age and infirmity had prevented him from completing. ‘Gone is all my strength: I am old and weak’, he wrote, quoting the text on his visiting-card (right).

In 1806 the two completed movements of the quartet were published; and it is in this form that the work (known as Opus 103) has retained a modest place in the repertory.

About 10 years ago, sketches for the first movement came to light. These aroused the attention of Prof. William Drabkin, who has used them to completed Op. 103 in the standard four-movement quartet form.

‘Having taught Tonal Composition here for many years’, Drabkin says, ‘I have always been intrigued by fragments of music by the great Classical composers, and several years ago I completed an Oboe Concerto by Mozart, which was first performed at the Turner Sims Concert Hall in 2007. But for Haydn’s Opus 103, there were no sketches for the two unwritten movements, which are needed at the beginning and end of the work.

Then in 2001, at a Haydn conference in Austria, I heard a paper about the late quartets and caught a glimpse of some newly discovered sketches for the first movement of Op. 103. Two years later, they were printed in an appendix to a new edition of the late Haydn quartets. It was a challenge to write a substantial movement from only eight bars of surviving music, but from the other 67 Haydn quartets – as well as the chamber music of Haydn's contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven – I was able to work out the “boundaries” of the problem and, eventually, arrive at a solution.

For the last movement, however, I was completely on my own. And, not wishing to encroach too far into Haydn’s world myself, I used a contemporary solo violin work for the main theme, but created a space in which the theme printed on Haydn’s visiting-card can make a guest appearance.’

The complete Opus 103 is given its first performance by the renowned Allegri Quartet at King's Place, London on December 8, in a concert featuring the last pieces of string chamber music by Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms:

Drabkin’s completion will also be published – in score and parts – by the Music Haven (London) later this month.

'Gone is all my strength: I am old and weak'
Haydn's Visiting Card
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