Guitar Quartet in G Major Opus 3, No. 5 by Franz Josef Haydn
Guitar Quartet in G Major Opus 3, No. 5 by Franz Josef Haydn

Guitar Quartet in G Major Opus 3, No. 5 by Franz Josef Haydn

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Guitar Quartet in G Major Opus 3, No. 5 by Franz Josef Haydn

"The music of friends."

The Opus 3 string quartets by Haydn are considered by many to be the first true string quartets and that in writing them he firmly established the genre as both a compositional form and a group of instrumentalists.

His prior collections of Divertmenti a Quattro, were also scored for four string players, but were structured more like late baroque dance suites then the well-known quartets of the classical era. With this early collection Haydn also established the tradition of composing string quartets in groups of six and this G major quartet is number 5 in the set.

In arranging a string quartet for guitarists it is worth keeping in mind the essential differences between the two groups. These differences fall into two categories, the first consideration is the pitch range and note sustainability of the group as a whole, and the second is individual range of the instruments themselves.

The pitch and dynamic range of the instruments in a string quartet is far greater than a guitars and the ability of a bowed stringed instrument to crescendo from Pianissimo to Triple Forte is only equaled by the human voice. Guitars cannot compete with viols in this regard and choosing a quartet that relies too heavily on extreme pitch range and sustainability will certainly yield mediocre results.

Secondly, guitars typically have the same range and therefore can play any one of the four parts with equal ability. One can work this flexibility into the arrangement (as I did in the third movements Menuetto and Trio) or the players can simply trade parts, playing musical chairs as it were, giving everyone a chance to take the lead.

Much of this quartet was written to be played staccato with the opening and closing movements being Presto and Scherzando. This effectively addresses this sustain issue. In playing the parts I've found that the chief challenge is in fact muting unwanted sustain to create clean lines. The slow second movement is the hit single "Serenade". In fact it was this highly memorable theme with its pizzicato accompaniment that sparked my interest in the quartet in the first place.

The overall pitch range of this early quartet is slightly greater than that of a guitar and transposing it to accommodate the top line without any re-writing brings the entire work into range. There are no re-writes in the top three lines and only a very small number of changes to the bass line. The bottom part is in drop D tuning to keep nearly all of the original line intact.

The end result is a highly listenable, and readable, longer work by Haydn that is excellent for guitar quartet recital programs or casuals.