Explore The Music
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HAYDN: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Born Rohrau, Lower Austria, March 31, 1732; died Vienna, May 31, 1809
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3
Composed in 1793; 20 minutes
One of Haydn’s early biographers, Georg August Griesinger, tells how the composer first tried his hand at writing string quartets around 1750. At the time, Haydn was employed as a music teacher to the children of Baron Carl Joseph Fürnberg in Vienna. Though he disliked the job, it did have its perks. Griesinger reports that the baron “had an estate in Weinzierl, several stages from Vienna; from time to time he invited his parish priest, his estate manager, and Albrechtsberger (a brother of the well-known contrapuntist) in order to have a little music. Fürnberg asked Haydn to compose something that could be played by these four friends of the art. Haydn, who was then 18, accepted the proposal, and so originated his first quartet, which, immediately upon its appearance, received such uncommon applause as to encourage him to continue in this genre.”
Over the next five decades, Haydn went on to write a total of 68 quartets, as well as a number of quartet arrangements. In the process, he virtually created the genre of the string quartet, which would occupy a central place in 19th-century European music and musical life. Unburdened by financial worries for the most part, and blessed with a sanguine disposition, Haydn composed with equal aplomb for amateurs and professional-caliber musicians alike. The three Op. 74 quartets, written in Vienna in 1793, may owe some of their extraverted exuberance to Haydn’s protracted visit to London following the death of his beloved patron Prince Nicholas Esterházy in 1790. The fact that the Op. 74 Quartets (together with the Op. 71 triptych) were published more or less simultaneously in London and Vienna suggests that Haydn wrote them with an eye and ear to the cosmopolitan taste of the British musical public.
The opening Allegro of the G-minor Quartet plays on vivid contrasts of mood and tonality. A gruffly jovial eight-bar introduction, set off by a dramatic pause, gives way to the crisply rising arpeggios and undulating passagework of the main theme. This, in turn, leads to a lilting, mazurka-like second theme. Haydn ingeniously mixes and matches these germinal ideas, traversing a wide swathe of harmonic territory before cadencing resoundingly in G major. The serene and richly expressive Largo assai unexpectedly veers off into E major; its two-part question-and-answer theme permeates the entire movement, inflected with florid embellishments and searching chromatic harmonies.
The third movement is at once suave and bumptious: smooth legato lines alternate with bouncing 8th notes in both the Menuet and its minor-key Trio section. The Finale, with its agitated syncopations and stabbing accents, takes off at a brisk gallop—this passage may be the source of the work’s unofficial nickname, the “Rider” Quartet. But the darkly urgent atmosphere is soon dispelled by a perky tune in sunny B-flat major, and from then on it’s hard to take Haydn’s Sturm und Drang too seriously. At the very end of the quartet, these disparate elements come together in a joyful synthesis, and Haydn leaves us with a bright G-major chord ringing in our ears.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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AUERBACH: String Quartet No. 6, "Farewell"
(US premiere, 92Y co-commission)
Visual and written commentary by Lera Auerbach
Tonight the Tokyo String Quartet gives the US premiere of Lera Auerbach’s String Quartet No. 6, “Farewell,” co-commissioned by 92nd Street Y.
Ms. Auerbach created the above painting on this work and the Tokyo String Quartet. She has also provided the following notes.
When I was young I enjoyed writing program notes for my music—I felt it was a way for me to protect it from possible misunderstanding—one last service that a composer could do for his child before it’s fully on its own.
I no longer like writing about my music. What I realize is that you can’t protect your “child” and should just let it be without any attempts to explain or defend it. Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing to do. The music is out there on its own. Whether you like it or not, it’s no longer under your control, and frankly, it never was. Revealing the umbilical chord that still ties you, as a composer, to your work only does your music disservice.
Any work of art—a poem, a painting, a symphony, at its best—is much larger then its creator; or at least its co-creator—the one with a pen in hand; the one, who, for better or worse, claims authenticity to its title.
Akhmatova wrote—“Who knows, from what dust the poem is born...” (To be more accurate, she used a stronger word—instead of “dust” she wrote, “trash,” or “waste.”) No one knows this, except the Poet. No one should know. Let shadows remain shadows; the dirty dishes should stay in the kitchen and not to spoil the feast.
Let music connect directly to the listener regardless of the composer’s own attempts to interpret its essence. Jorge Luis Borges wrote “A man sets himself in the task of portraying the world. Over the years he fills a given surface with images of provinces and kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fish, rooms, instruments, heavenly bodies, horses, and people. Shortly before he dies he discovers that this patient labyrinth of lines is a drawing of his own face.”
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Born Chelyabinsk, Russia, October 21, 1973
String Quartet No. 6, “Farewell” (US premiere, 92Y co-commission)
Composed in 2012; 20 minutes
A “farewell” quartet for a celebrated ensemble bidding farewell to the concert stage after more than four decades of superlative performances: what could be more fitting? And who better qualified to write such a valedictory work than the multitalented Russian-American Lera Auerbach, a charismatic composer-pianist in the grand Romantic tradition who speaks the eclectic musical Esperanto of our day?
Although the Tokyo Quartet is most closely identified with the Classical and Romantic repertoire, they have made occasional forays into the modern era, notably in their revelatory performances of the six Bartók quartets. In 2006, they gave the world premiere of Auerbach’s String Quartet No. 2, titled “Primera Luz” (“First Light”). The 39-year-old composer—who has also won accolades for her poetry, prose and paintings—describes that work as an attempt to retrieve “the lost harmony of the primordial light” and with it the “forgotten melody” of childhood “that is still alive somewhere within—a simple yet longing sound from the past.” (Auerbach has a penchant for evocative titles: her Fifth Quartet, which had its premiere in September 2011 in Dresden, where she was composer in residence of the Staatskapelle, takes its name, “Songs of Alkanost,” from the Circe-like bird-woman of Russian folklore.)
Auerbach’s musical language combines the harmonic and textural richness of Liszt and Debussy with a strong admixture of Russian mysticism, from Alexander Scriabin to Sofia Gubaidulina by way of Shostakovich. The sense of drama and reverie that pervades her music is enhanced by its sharply limned gestures, vivid atmospheric effects and pulsating rhythms. This inherently dramatic quality explains why works for the stage figure so prominently in her extensive catalogue, including her opera Gogol, first produced at Vienna’s Teater an der Wien in 2011. Choreographers have found her work especially attractive; this season alone will see the premieres of three evening-length ballets in Hamburg, Nuremberg and Munich.
Investing musical gestures with dramatic—or at any rate extramusical—significance comes naturally to Auerbach. Take the lengthy Prologue of the “Farewell” Quartet, the first of the work’s two movements. It opens with an apocalyptic barrage of slashing dissonances that pummel the senses, as if hell were figuratively breaking loose. This raw energy is soon refined into a brisk, crisply rhythmic display of imitative polyphony, which in turn dissolves into music of a rhapsodic, questioning character (at one point the first violinist is instructed to play a sequence of high repeated notes “doubtfully”). The rest of the movement is intermittently dreamlike and mysterious, with glissandos, harmonics, tremolos and other special effects. The quartet ends with a short Epilogue, marked by gently swaying rhythms and spectral timbres that hint vaguely at consolation.
In passing directly from prologue to epilogue, with no connective musical storyline, Auerbach seems to suggest that the present exists only as memory and premonition—and, by extension, that a farewell is simply another form of greeting. Beneath the dissonant commotion of our daily lives, the “forgotten melody” plays on, linking past and future in a timeless continuum. Meanwhile, the composer, as Auerbach writes in one of her poems, “gathers sounds / in the darkness, like a blind-man / picking the wild flowers / guided only by their fragrance.”
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BARTÓK: String Quartet No. 4
Born Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary, March 25, 1881; died New York, September 26, 1945
String Quartet No. 4
Composed in 1928; 23 minutes
Bartók was born in Transylvania in 1881 and died in New York City 64 years later. In a manner of speaking, he was exiled twice—first from his homeland and later from his time. Although Bartók’s music is rooted in Middle European folk traditions and late 19th-century impressionism, it was forged in the harsh crucible of the early 20th century. The six string quartets he composed between 1908-39 chart a course from the colorfully impassioned romanticism of his early period to the bleak pessimism of his late works. Befitting their status as modern classics, the quartets have been subjected to microscopic analysis touching on every aspect of the composer’s musical language, from the finest points of pitch structure to large-scale formal organization. For the average listener, however, the most immediately striking aspect of Bartók’s highly distinctive sound world may well be his prodigious inventiveness in the rhythmic sphere and the captivating sonorities he coaxes from the four instruments.
The latter quality, in particular, is much in evidence in the Third and Fourth Quartets, written in 1927 and 1928, respectively. Bartók had recently heard a performance of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and fallen under the spell of its richly coloristic atmosphere. At the same time, he was searching for new formal structures with which to present his innovative musical ideas. He had long been interested in organic musical processes, whereby the various movements of a work were unified by the recurring use of short rhythmic, melodic or harmonic motifs. This concept underpins the Fourth Quartet, for which Bartók devised a variant of the arch, or bridge, design that he had employed in a number of earlier works. Its five movements are related both structurally and thematically, as the composer pointed out in a preface to the published score:
“The slow movement is the nucleus of the piece; the other movements are, as it were, arranged in layers around it. The fourth movement is a free variation of the second one, and the first and fifth movements have the same thematic material. Metaphorically speaking, the third movement is the kernel, movements I and V are the outer shell, and movements II and IV are, as it were, the inner shell.” (That Bartók—or perhaps his publisher—felt compelled to offer such an outline as a guide to performers says something about how challenging the quartet was perceived to be at the time.)
Although structural analysis provides a convenient framework for playing and listening to the Fourth Quartet, it doesn’t tell us much about the inner life of this powerfully expressive music. For instance, Bartók’s observation that the first movement is in tripartite sonata form, with a traditional exposition, development and recapitulation, hardly begins to describe the multifarious activity of the emphatic, rising and falling (and vice versa) six-note motif that binds the heterogeneous musical fabric together. Nor does it do justice to the strangeness of Bartók’s swooping glissandos and shuddering tremolos, the amorphous skittering of the second movement, the impassioned, rhapsodic declamations of the third movement, the slithering, metallic pizzicatos of the fourth movement or the sheer visceral impact of the finale’s stomping dance rhythms.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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Tokyo String Quartet
Regarded as one of the supreme chamber ensembles of the world, the Tokyo String Quartet—Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola) and Clive Greensmith (cello)—has announced that the 2012-2013 season will be its last. For more than 43 seasons, the Quartet has a built a devoted international following across the globe.
In September, the Quartet gave its final performances in Woodstock, Houston, Buffalo and Syracuse—cities that have presented the ensemble since its early days. In New York, the Quartet concludes its residency at 92Y, which it began in 2003, and where it has been favorite guest since 1977, Other US performances include San Francisco, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Portland and Philadelphia. In Canada, the Quartet completes its Bartók cycle for Music Toronto in the second of a two-year series. The quartet also appears in Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary and Montreal.
For their final season in Europe, the Tokyo Quartet tours such cities as Vienna, Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Warsaw and Moscow. This past September, Nippon Music Foundation hosted the Quartet in Encounter with Stradivari 2012, featuring 10 Stradivarius instruments in concert. Its “Farewell Tour” in Japan will occur in May 2013, followed by a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Deeply committed to coaching young string quartets, the four members have served on the faculty of the Yale School of Music as quartet-in-residence since 1976. They will also continue their tradition of conducting master classes across the US, at the Conservatoire de Paris and at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. The Quartet’s final US concert will at the Music Shed at Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival on July 6, 2013.
The Tokyo String Quartet has released more than 40 landmark recordings for multiple labels and is now an exclusive artist for Harmonia Mundi. For its final season, the label is releasing two CDs: a disc of Brahms’ piano and clarinet quintets with pianist Jon Nakamatsu and clarinetist Jon Manasse was released in November; and a recording of works by Czech composers Dvořák and Smetana is due out this spring.
The Quartet performs on the “Paganini Quartet,” a group of renowned Stradivarius instruments named for legendary virtuoso Niccolo Paganini, who acquired and played them during the 19th century. The instruments have been on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation since 1995, when they were purchased from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Officially formed in 1969 at The Juilliard School of Music, the Tokyo String Quartet traces its origins to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where the founding members were profoundly influenced by Professor Hideo Saito. Its website is tokyoquartet.com
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