The string quartets of Ignaz Pleyel occupy a central place in his prolific musical output. Pleyel’s interest in the medium is unsurprising given that he studied with Joseph Haydn for several years in the 1770s. What is more surprising in a composer routinely dismissed as derivative and largely content to ape the style of his teacher is that Haydn’s influence on his approach to quartet composition was rather less marked than one might expect. Pleyel, clearly, was not convinced that Haydn had all the answers and this doubt manifested itself very early in his career.
The ghostly presence of Haydn can be heard throughout all these splendid works but there are passages too that seem to look forward to the quartets of Beethoven. They are a remarkable achievement for a young composer and it is one of the cruel quirks of fate that works of such vitality and imagination could be forgotten for so long.
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