alan little’s weblog

currently listening to …

30th May 2004 permanent link

… Haydn’s string quartet opus 64 number 5, “The Lark”, played by the Hungarian string quartet on a CD released by Tuxedo Music whose title is wrong.


Tuxedo Music is a Swiss label that specialises in reissuing historical recordings. Their website is remarkably hard to find, but a lot of their releases are available on emusic. I originally downloaded this Hungarian Quartet performance from there and (Music Industry take note) it was so good I listened to the mp3 a couple of times then went out and bought it on CD. The title of the CD is wrong, though - it’s entitled String Quartet no.82 and no.5, and it isn’t. The Lark isn’t Haydn’s fifth string quartet, and he didn’t write 82 of them either.

Haydn nomenclature is tricky. Haydn was amazingly prolific – he wrote over a hundred symphonies and sixty-odd string quartets, among other things. The symphonies are usually referred to by their symphony number, “Symphony Number 88” for example being one of the more popular ones. The string quartets are also sometimes referred to by their quartet numbers but not usually; it seems to be far more common to refer to them by the set they were published in, “Opus 64”, and then the number within the set, “Opus 64 number 5”. “Quartet number 5” means something else altogether (Opus 1 Number 5, in fact, and I think I read somewhere there is some doubt whether these early quartets are actually by Haydn at all). There’s also something called “Hoboken numbers” that seem to get quoted for Haydn quartets now and again. I’m not sure what these are – they look like they might have been an unsuccessful attempt to produce unique ids for Haydn’s works, similar to the "Kochel numbers” and “Deutsch numbers” that are used for works by Mozart and Schubert. The 82 in this CD title is a Hoboken number, not a quartet number. This is somewhat confusing to me, fair enough. I would hope it wouldn’t be to people who run classical record labels for a living, but clearly it is sometimes.

But what is actually supposed to be the point of writing a pedantic weblog posting about how the title of an obscure classical CD is wrong (inasmuch as there’s actually any point in writing anything in weblogs at all)? I’m glad you asked. This was actually intended as a follow up to a long response to Andy Baker about, among other things, why CD title isn’t a particularly useful or relevant thing to use in cataloging classical music. But the main piece isn’t ready, so now this is a prequel instead.

Metadata philosophy aside, the Hungarian Quartet were a damn fine string quartet. They're best known for their first complete recording of the Beethoven string quartets, which was made half a century ago and is still easily one of the best recommendations for a consistently good complete set. (Except that, almost unbelievably, it appears to be out of print. I certainly won’t be selling my copy). On this particular Haydn CD, “number 82” (Hob. 82, Opus 77 Number 2, String Quartet #67) isn’t, in my opinion, one of the most interesting pieces of music ever written; but The Lark is good, and the Hungarians’ performance of it is stunning. Recommended. Available on CD for 10 euros from my local record shop, or on mp3 from emusic for about 2 bucks.

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