Joseph Haydn was an extremely prolific composer, this is the 32nd of his 68 string quartets. He is known as the "Father of the String Quartet" as well as his other title, "Father of the Symphony." They were often released in sets. Before Haydn popularized the genre, the string trio (violins and continuo) was the most prominant instrumental genre. This is one of his most popular quartet works along with Op. 33, No. 2 "The Joke". Haydn had a deal with the Esterhazy family that he could sell his pieces to whoever he liked, and these quartets are probably a result of this freedom.
Haydn developed the string quartet from a 5 movement work into 4 movements. The first in sonata form, second was a slow movement, third was typically a minuet and trio, and last was in rondo or sonata form. It was around the time of the Opus 33 quartets that Haydn decided to replace the minuet and trio with a scherzo movement. He was a practical joker and toyed with his audience in several of his works leaving them guessing when the piece was over.
- Allegro moderato
- Scherzo: Allegretto
- Adagio ma non troppo
- Finale: Rondo - presto
As the title implies "The Bird" has characteristics that make the strings sound like chirping birds. This is exemplified by the addition of grace notes to the bird song. He writes short staccato notes as well to provide the image of pecking at the ground. Haydn's string quartets are rather focused on the upper string parts with the bottom as providers of harmony. Typical of the classical era, his melodies are short and charming.
Ludwig van Beethoven was also a master of the string quartet. A good example of an early Beethoven quartet is Op. 18, No. 4. Like Haydn, he uses mostly the upper strings for melody and provides harmony through the cello and viola, although there are moments when he features the lower strings as soloists. Overall, the importance between the parts seems to be more even. One has to keep in mind that Beethoven wanted to study with Mozart, but didn't have the chance so he was understandably upset. Instead, he studied with Haydn.
I have played both Haydn and Beethoven quartets and have to say that they are quite different. Haydn demands more clarity while Beethoven requires more emotion. They both have their challenges, but I find Beethoven to be much more fun to perform. There are some things in his writing that are devastatingly difficult on the technical and musical sides. Haydn is pretty simple in comparison so it is much easier to develop a relationship to a new group of players by working on his music. His music, alongside Mozart's are probably the best to understand how people play.
Craig Wright and Bryan Simms. "Music in Western Civilization." (Schirmer, Boston, 2010). pp. 433-435
James Webster and Georg Feder. "Haydn, Joseph." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 28, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/44593pg7 .
Cliff Eisen, et al. "String quartet." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 28, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/40899 .
Haydn video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKymercIbo4
Beethoven video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZGv6fiaJAE