Analysis of Haydn's "The Joke" 1st movement

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Report of Seminar in Theory and Analysis

About the 1st movement of Haydn’s “The Joke”

Student: Kong Kao
Advisor: Prof. Christian Utz

This string quartet is the second one in the “Russian” quartets (Opus 33) which were written by Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809) in 1781. The “Russian” quartets are done after the change of Haydn’s contract, which made him publish his own music without the permission of his employer. Charles Rosen agreed that the music is written in a completely new and special way.

In this report, we’ll focus on the 1st movement of “The Joke”.

The Exposition

The movement establishes its main key (E-flat major) in the opening 4 bars by a perfect authentic cadence. The opening 4 bars also show up as a period within which the previous 2 bars form the antecedence and the latter two forms the consequence. In these 4 bars we can find the basic figurations which are used all over the movement and I’ll label them as A and B (shown below). Though the B figures in the bar 2 and bar 4 are not exactly the same, the rhythm shows the similarity. So we can still say that the movement has all its material shown in just 2 bars of the opening.

Bar 4 and 5 expand the figure A in two ways. The 4th interval is broadened each time the figure occurs in Violin I (which I labeled as A2), and in the Violin II and the Viola the interval is decreased (labeled as A3). Though A3 would be considered as a note decorated by its down neighboring pitch, the rhythm of it make the listener feel the same swing of A, so I still relegate it as a variation of figure A.

The continuous 16th note on Violin I in bar 7 (which I labeled as A4) can be considered as a variation of A2 by deleting the last note of each 4-note group, so it’s still a variation of A, as shown below:
could be considered as

By stretching and use three variation of figure A, bar 5 to 8 could be considered as a contrasting period against bar 1 to 4. Though this period could be seen as the fragmentation of figure A, the half cadence at the end of it displays the impossibility of bar 1 to 8 to be a complete sentence. But as we listen to bar 9 to 12, which exactly repeats the opening 4 bars, we can easily figure out that bar 9 to 12 is the recapitulation of bar 1 to 4. Therefore, bar 1 to 12 is a small ternary within which bar 5 to 8 plays the role of “contrasting middle.”

Note that the exposition part of the small ternary, which I declared it to be a period, has only 4 bars. As we know that the standard antecedence of a period would have 4 bars and consequence 4 or 5 bars, what we have here in “The Joke” is smaller than that. But consider this: both the antecedence and the consequence end at the 3rd beat of the respective bar, instead of the 1st beat of the bars. These 2 non-ordinary phenomena make me suspect that maybe the metre should not be 4/4, but 2/4, in which way that each bar in the current version would be split into 2 bars, thus the period would have 8 bars and end at the 1st beat.

In many places of this piece, Joseph Haydn used the technique of overlapping to maintain the flow of the music. While comparing bar 4 and bar 12, which we thought to be exactly the same, we can find that on the Cello in bar 12 the figure B occurs exactly at the end of the figure B in Violin I. After Viola succeeds the figure again, figure B shows up continuously. In other words, Haydn use a period that consists of figure B to follow the small ternary, but the figure B has already occurred BEFORE the end of the small ternary. This overlapping technique may be the difference between the “Russian” quartets and Haydn’s earlier work Charles Rosen mentioned: A fluid form of phrasing, in which each motif emerges from the previous one without interruption. The following score shows only figure B in bar 12 to 15. Note that the PAC falls on the 3rd beat of bar 12, instead of the 1st time figure B occurs.

These bars also have the functionality to transpose from E-flat to its dominant key: B-flat. This is done at bar 15, after which figure B occurs only in Violin I. In other words, Haydn combined the end of the small ternary and the transposition together by using figure B occurs in different voices, and stayed stable for 2 bars (bar 15 and 16).

After 2 measures fulfilled by figure B, bar 17 and 18, which uses only the later half part of figure B, is the fragmentation of the previous 2 bars. The harmony succession also flows faster by the diminished rhythm in Violin II and Viola. Both the fragmentation in Violin I and the denser harmony form the intensity of the dominant harmony. This intensity is slightly held on bar 19 by the dotted quarter and goes on. In fact, bar 19 does not “release” the intensity but increases it. After introducing the new variation (the ornament “turn”) of a figure which would continue on bar 20, the cadence occurs finally on the 1st beat of bar 21. The occurrence of the ornament “turn” can also be considered the technique of overlapping which is mentioned before since the new element is shown BEFORE the cadence. Haydn used this technique to make the music flow without stopping. In fact, when I 1st time listen this piece, the feeling of the flow made me not noticing a PAC here!!

Bar 19, which could be considered just a linking part, has a special feature: The way it links bar 18 and the following materials is just like what links the antecedence and the consequence in the opening 4 bars. The melody in the beat 1 and 2 can be thought as a variation of: The up-going major 2nd melody inserted by a chromatic passing tone is the same at beat 3 and 4 in bar 2. If we oppositely think what’s in bar 2 is a variation of bar 19, then the “origin” of bar 2 and 3 could be: In this aspect, bar 3 and 4 can also be said “begin at figure A.” The characteristic of the consequence in bar 3 and 4 is much clear since the rhythm of it and the antecedence are exactly the same.

Bar 21 to bar 28 is an extension of the cadence, we’ll discuss later and compare it with the end of the recapitulation.

Bar29 to 32 could be considered as a codetta which forms the cadence in different registers each 2 bars. Haydn used only A2 here. Note that the last figure in Violin I is the same as the opening of the movement. Though in different keys, this intensifies the listener’s impression to the piece.

The Development

After repeating the whole exposition part, the music goes into a transition which transposes the dominant key (B-flat major) into A-flat major. The way Haydn used to transpose to a major 2nd below key is by the technique of “falling fifth”. viio/IV and V7/IV are used to transpose into the subdominant key, respectively in bar 33 and 34. Part of the antecedence of the opening period then occur almost the same as bar 1, but at the end of bar 35 shows up again in Viola. The “sub-phrases” (an idea which begins at figure A) overlap each other and occur in Cello and Violin I again. Check the following reduced score which retain only the theme. Haydn also used this part to transpose from A-flat major into f minor.

While astonished by the absence of the “sub-phrase” on bar 39, the music goes into E-flat major while the idea appears again. After just saying only part of the antecedence, the music finally frees the listener from the expectation of hearing the theme completely in the home key. Note the appearance of the home key stands for the “median return” in the development part.

As expected, the median return would not maintain too long. The theme is interrupted on bar 42 by figure A3 in Violin II and Viola. There seems to be a new “minor-2nd down” element in Violin I, but we can consider it as the inversion of A3.

From bar 42 to bar 49, we can find A3 and its inversion almost everywhere. In fact, we can still relegate the eighth notes followed by a quarter into A3, too, just like how we link the relationship between bar 2 and bar 19. I’m still thinking that the ornament “turn” in the Violins is also a variation of A3. In this aspect, bar 42 to 49 consists of A3 only.

So, bar 35 to 41 repeats the “sub-phrase”, and bar 42 to 49 repeats A3. We can say that Haydn used his material “densely” here in the development part since in each bar group there are only one material and the material’s variation. If you see group of figure A in bar 51 and 52 as A4 broken into different voices, you’ll find out that bar 49 to 52 consists of only A4.

To end the development part, Haydn used long-lost figure B in bar 54 to 56. Note that figure B hasn’t occurred in the development part until bar 54, except in bar 42. In fact, the occurrence of B in bar 42 is easily ignored by the listener since it’s already dissolved into the satisfaction of the appearance of the antecedence. So we can say that figure B occurs here for the 1st time in the development part, but in an incomplete form just like bar 17 and 18.

Unlike extended cadence in the exposition part, Haydn directly used a fast melody in Violin I following the group of figure B in bar 56. The music suddenly stops on bar 58 in a half cadence. Both the harmony and the time make the listener shocked for a silence which sustains a dotted quarter.

The theme appears at the time we are expecting the recapitulation part, but in a wrong key (c minor) instead of the home key (E-flat major). The false recapitulation releases the tension of the half cadence in bar 58 and makes the real recapitulation shows up in a smoother way. Note that Haydn used diminution on the rhythm in bar 61 and 62 to “slow down” the flow without changing the speed. Also note that c minor and E-flat major are related keys, which means that transposition can be done by enharmonically diminished seventh chord.

The Recapitulation

After ushered by the half cadence at the end of the false recapitulation in bar 62, the music goes into real recapitulation. The recapitulation is like the exposition except some features.

The small ternary in the exposition part does not show up completely in the recapitulation part. Bar 70 extends A4 in Violin II again and followed by a group of figure B. The group of figure B does not play the role of transposition here, so the “cross-voice occurrence” is not used, neither. (That is, figure B only shows up in Violin I here.) The linkage and the easily-ignored cadence appear in the recapitulation part just like in the exposition part, except the key.

The fortissimo in bar 79 appears like bar 22, but in a shocking harmony which contains D-flat. Even we would not expect a transposition in the recapitulation part, the pitch D-flat, which is not within the scale of E-flat major, strongly imply the music to transpose. We don’t know that the pitch D-flat is just used to form the harmony V7/IV, which leads to IV, until the music reaches V7 in bar 82. So I would say that Haydn played a joke here about the tonality.

Bars 80 to bar 86 have the same functionality as bars 23 to 28. But Haydn used material denser here than in the exposition. The 3rd and 4th beat of bar 84, and the 1st 2 beats of bar 85 form a sequence, which does not occur in the exposition. Note that the group of A4 in bar 70, which repeats Violin I of bar 69, can also be considered as an extension and intensified density in the recapitulation.

The codetta seems not the same, but we can still find some relationship by inversing figure A. We can say that the recapitulation varies from the exposition more and more as time goes by.


The following table shows the model of this movement.

Bar no.



Exposition – Start with a small ternary followed by a long cadence


Exposition of the small ternary

Basic idea A and B occur

PAC in Eb


Contrasting middle of the small ternary

Three variations of A occur

HC in Eb


Recapitulation of the small ternary

PAC in Eb


Group of B

Modulation to V(Bb)


Fragmentation of B

V of Bb



PAC in Bb


Extension of the Cadence

PAC in Bb



PAC in Bb

Development – Use same material densely





Chaos with new figures

Ab=> f =>Eb


Getting stable by the theme (octave higher)



Fragmentation of A3 and its variations

Eb=>Gb=> f


Variations of A2

f => c


Fragmentation of B4

V of c


Like bar 25~28 without returning the tonic chord

HC in c

Recapitulation – Vary from the exposition more and more as time goes


False recapitulation / Modulation

c => Eb


Same as the opening small ternary, but without the recap.



Like bar 15~32, but with other features


Charles Rosen - The classical style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
William Drabkin - A reader's guide to Haydn's early string quartets
W. Dean Sutcliffe - Haydn: String quartets, Op.50
Christoph Wolff & Robert Riggs - The string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven

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