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The six String Quartets, Op. 76 by Joseph Haydn were composed in 1797 or 1798 and dedicated to the Hungarian count Joseph Georg von Erdődy[n 1] (1754–1824). They form the last complete set of string quartets that Haydn composed. At the time of the commission, Haydn was employed at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy II and was composing the oratorio The Creation as well as Princess Maria Hermenegild Esterházy’s annual mass.

Although accounts left by visitors to the Esterházy estate indicate that the quartets were completed by 1797, an exclusivity agreement caused them not to be published until 1799.[1] Correspondence between Haydn and his Viennese publishers Artaria reveal confusion as regards their release: Haydn had promised Messrs. Longman Clementi & Co. in London the first publishing rights, but a lack of communication led him to worry that their publication in Vienna might also be, unintentionally, their first appearance in full. In the event, their publication in London and Vienna was almost simultaneous.[1]

The Op. 76 quartets are among Haydn’s most ambitious chamber works, deviating more than their predecessors from standard sonata form and each emphasizing their thematic continuity through the seamless and near-continual exchange of motifs between instruments.[2] In addition to not using the expected sonata form in some of the string quartet’s first movements, Haydn employs uncommon forms in other movements such as a cannon, a fantasy and an alternativo. He also plays with tempo markings, key signatures and many sections emphasizing the viola and cello. Charles Burney wrote to Haydn praising these innovations[3]:

…they are full of invention, fire, good taste, and new effects, and seem the production, not of a sublime genius who has written so much and so well already, but of one of highly-cultivated talents, who had expended none of his fire before.

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