Notes on the “Quinten”

by Rachel Segal, FSQ violinist

One of my favorite days of the year is when we get together to decide on repertoire for the coming season. Last Spring at that meeting I immediately put in a request for this Haydn Quartet, wishing to revisit a staple of my young musical life. I was first introduced to this piece at about age twelve in my chamber music program at Temple Music Prep. Like most young musicians, I wanted to play the bigger romantic works and was bummed to be put in the annual Haydn Quinten group. I later had the opportunity to dive deep into it at Taos School of Music during two weeks of constant chamber music bliss. Revisiting it as a professional has been wonderful. What I know now is that this was the perfect piece for an aspiring musician as it shows a complete and elegant mastery of the DNA of classical harmony. One should expect no less from “Papa Haydn.”

The Op.76 no.2 quartet has been nicknamed the “Quinten” because of the four-note descending motive of perfect fifths that permeates the first movement. In musical terms, a “fifth” is the distance between two notes, five notes apart from one another. Another recurring theme in this piece is the juxtaposition of D Major and d minor (the saddest of all keys), which Haydn moves between with ease and grace throughout the entire piece. The two most basic harmonic elements in classical music are fifths and and the Major/minor relationship. The instruments of the string quartet are tuned in fifths; the “circle of fifths” is how we learn about keys; parallel Major/minor keys are built from the same starting pitch. While the fifths permeate the first movement, the Major/minor relationship is most prominent in the Minuet. This movement has been called the “Witches Minuet,” which we think is perfect for Halloween. It features the quartet in perfect canon, beginning with the violins in octaves, followed by the viola and cello. The two pairs seem to be arguing the same point back and forth, an example of the very human nature of Haydn’s quartet writing.

At the age of 65, with all of his Symphonies behind him, Haydn chose to come back to these most basic building blocks of music and create a tour-de-force quartet. It has been a joy to rediscover this piece with my colleagues and friends.

Public Performances

September 20, 2020 – 4:00 PM

In Search of America

The Fairmount String Quartet performs:

Haydn – String Quartet, Op. 77, #2
Dvorak – String Quartet, Op. 96, “The American”
Marquez – Danzon #2

The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martins Lane, Phila., PA 19118
Click here for more information and tickets:

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.