I am now on the final stretch of that Brilliant Classics box of the complete string quartets by Joseph Haydn; and I feel that my aforementioned decision “to bite the bullet” with this purchase has been justified. This may have not been the most efficient or cost-effective way to compensate for the three CDs missing from the Haydn Edition collection; but there are other merits to be considered. I already mentioned that that quartet box is more chronological, except that the string quartet version of Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (Hoboken III/50–56) is saved for the final CD in the collection (somewhat in the role of an appendix or supplement). More important, however, may be the amount of attention that went into the booklet available on the accompanying CD-ROM.
I happen to like having my “music documents” in PDF on a CD-ROM. It is not just that my eyes keep having more and more trouble with the fine print in the booklets as I get older. The fact is that I like those documents to be “research-friendly;” so having them in a form that I can feed to a search tool is a great asset. This was really not an issue in the Haydn Edition collection, since the CD-ROM offered a relatively feeble essay (in five languages), along with the texts of the songs and oratorios. The quartet box, on the other hand, provides a PDF of a 41-page booklet written entirely by Professor Hubert Buchberger (in German and translated into English by Richard Evidon), who is also first violin of the Buchberger Quartet, the performing ensemble. This extended essay begins with a “personal note” in which Buchberger outlines, in six key points, his approach to performance. He then comes up with imaginative headings for each group of quartets, thus justifying why it makes sense to discuss them as a group for any reason other than honoring chronology. Finally, he explicitly identifies which published editions were used for which quartets, along with a few remarks justifying why he made the selections he did. The only real surprise was that H. C. Robbins Landon is never mentioned in this booklet, while Charles Rosen gets two citations (one for Opus 33 and one for Opus 50 … let’s hear it for search engines!). Also, as may be guessed from that parenthesis, Buchberger does not use Hoboken numbers, perhaps because he has not forgiven Anthony van Hoboken for his failure to catalog what is now called Opus 1, Number 0 correctly.
Writing as one who continues to live by the motto, “Never enough Haydn,” this quartet box is a major asset, not only for its completeness but also for the scholarship behind it, evident through both performance and the text document included.