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“An exhilaratingly fresh take.” —The Guardian (UK)

Exclusive New York engagement
Hagen Quartet
      Lukas Hagen, violin
      Rainer Schmidt, violin
      Veronika Hagen, viola
      Clemens Hagen, cello

BEETHOVEN:
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”
String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74, “Harp”
String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6

The concert is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

 

Join us for more Beethoven! This concert can be purchased as part of a 3-concert, 4-concert or 6-concert package.

 

The Hagen Quartet series is partially supported by an endowment gift from Joan L. and Dr. Julius H. Jacobson, II and by the Austrian Cultural Forum.

 

Y Beethoven? This is Why Beethoven, according to six young 92Y guest artists.

Report on Hagen Quartet’s debut at Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, Sep 24, 2011. Program included Schubert’s String Quintet with cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and quartets by Haydn and Brahms. Voiceover is in Norwegian but interviews with Hagen violinist Rainer Schmidt and Mr. Kirschbaum are in English. Mr. Schmidt’s comments include:

We understand each other very well. I think we have a very good relationship, each one of us with the other one, so we’re usually having a very good time together, and not much strife at all. That’s number one, and the second is that we always enjoy the music, discovering something new in the music, so for us it always stays fresh and never becomes stale. This job, we always love what we are doing, so that’s certainly important.

Hagen Quartet performing Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No 3: IV. Presto, from its latest recording, released this past June on Myrios Classics

Hagen Quartet at 2000 Salzurg “Mozartwoche,” performing Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 135: II. Vivace

Hagen Quartet at 2000 Salzurg “Mozartwoche,” performing Ravel’s String Quartet in F major: II. Assez vif: tres rythmé

Beethoven on 92YOnDemand: 92Y’s video and audio library offers brilliant performances from 92Y’s past including cellist Miklós Perenyi and pianist András Schiff performing the Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69.

Plus The Knights, Tokyo String Quartet, Zukerman ChamberPlayers, Inon Barnatan, Shai Wosner & more.

On the Blog

(Click the names below to expand info)

From BBC Music:


North American Live Choice”—Hagen Quartet’s cycle at 92Y named one of Top 20 Live Events in North America for November, 11/13. Here is an excerpt:

Austria’s Hagen Quartet has been playing Beethoven’s 16 string quartets throughout much of its 32-year history, and now it’s demonstrating the fruits of that accumulated experience.

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From 92Y:


Interview with Rainer Schmidt—A Q&A between 92Y and the Hagen Quartet’s second violinist. Here’s an excerpt:

200 years after their genesis, Beethoven’s quartets still hold tons of exciting questions for us. And over time we certainly have changed the way how to approach them—which question comes first …

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From Süddeutsche Zeitung.de:


Beyond words and stereotypes”—An interview with the Hagen Quartet members by Helmut Mauró (translation by Eriksen Translations Inc.) for Germany’s largest national subscription daily newspaper, 8/14/13. Here is an excerpt:

Veronika Hagen: We explore the character and the emotional world of each piece. In our concert cycle, we do not follow the order in which they were created; we follow other criteria. We may play a concert consisting of nothing but Beethoven’s F major quartets, which come from all the periods of his work.

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Reviews of Hagen Quartet’s latest Beethoven recording—Op. 18/3, 18/5, 135:


From From The Guardian:

“The playing is insightful, probing, masterly.”

From Der Spiegel (in German):

“It's been a long time since Beethoven sounded so outrageously fresh—a monumental achievement.”

From Classical Modern Music:

“The music comes alive fully, with orative power, like Laurence Olivier doing Shakespeare. Every particle is given due consideration for a whole that is ravishing. Ravishing.”

From schallplattenkritik.de (in German):

Winner of German Record Critics’ Award (Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik)

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Reviews of recent Hagen Quartet Beethoven concerts:


From The Spectator, Apr 13, 2013

Program included String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 (Nov 7); String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (Nov 10). An excerpt from the review:

Now that the Alban Berg Quartet is no more, the Hagen, along with the Takács, are the supreme performers of Beethoven. There is a high-born, almost patrician quality to their music-making, which has sometimes been mistaken for emotional detachment. But there was nothing detached about their performances of the first two Razumovsky quartets, which got this latest cycle off to such a bracing start. It was thrilling playing; so thrilling they may even have surprised themselves.

From The Guardian, Jan 31, 2013

Program included String Quartet in A minor, Op 132 (Nov 10); String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (Nov 10). An excerpt from the review:

The Hagen's approach also says something about their development. For years, theirs has been the very model of a well-engineered, central European sound. Increasingly, though, the Hagens have become greater risk takers, too. There's a more impulsive quality to their playing, epitomised by the almost freewheeling style of first violinist Lukas Hagen…. It also showed an openness to new styles in quartet playing, which promises anything but a stock cycle when the Hagens return in April.

From Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb 29, 2012

Program included Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1 (Nov 7); Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso” (Nov 9); Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74, “Harp” (Nov 9). An excerpt from the review:

It was a marvelous evening of music-making marked by scrupulous attention to phrasing, texture and balance. And something else kept ears wide open: the performances surprised through the players' elastic sense of line and fierce intensity.

From Boston Classical Review, Feb 27, 2012

Program included Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso” (Nov 9); plus Haydn’s Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33, No. 2 “The Joke”; Mozart’s Quartet in D major, K. 575. An excerpt from the review:

Even in this rather hard-edged music [from Beethoven’s “Serioso” Quartet], it was evident that the four players—consisting of siblings Lukas Hagen, first violin; Veronika Hagen, viola; and Clemens Hagen, cello; with Rainer Schmidt, second violin—had achieved a rare combination of matched and blended tone with transparent, persuasive voicing. Their sound was not big and room-filling but seductive, enticing the listener to lean closer and savor every detail of the music.

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Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

BEETHOVEN: The Sixteen String Quartets

BEETHOVEN: The Sixteen String Quartets

by Sandra Hyslop

With this set of six concerts at 92nd Street Y, the Hagen Quartet continues a practice set in motion by the renowned Budapest Quartet 75 years ago. In 1938 92Y invited its audiences to New York City’s first-ever hearing of all 16 Beethoven string quartets played in a cycle. It would also be the Budapest’s first-ever performance of the entire set. “If you are a musician,” read the Y’s 1938 advertisement, “you will appreciate the importance of this announcement—if not, just ask any real musician and you will be convinced.” In 2013 92Y presents the Hagen Quartet’s six Beethoven concerts—its first-ever in New York City—with undiminished enthusiasm and appreciation for “the importance of this announcement.”

* * * * * *

When the 22-year-old Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 from Bonn, intending to study composition with Joseph Haydn, he arrived as a good professional violinist, violist and organist—and a knock-out pianist. His virtuosity at the piano keyboard opened doors in Vienna society, and he found his way into the circles of Vienna’s social and musical elite. His engaging, if rough-edged, personality and his love of social interaction made him a popular guest—especially when he dazzled the assembled company with his pianism. That Beethoven and Haydn failed to develop a good working relationship mattered little in the long run. Beethoven was ready to prove himself as a composer without significant further instruction; he took full advantage of all that Vienna offered, creating a life for himself as an independent professional.

Beginning in 1798, when he began to write his first quartets, and continuing to the final months of his life, Beethoven repeatedly stretched the concept of “string quartet.” Like his 32 piano sonatas, which similarly engaged his creative energies from early to late in life, Beethoven’s 16 string quartets represent a road map of his growth as a musician. They lead the way in tracing his journey toward the deepest realms of the composer’s art.

The concept “Early-Middle-Late Beethoven” arose as a scholarly categorization of his music in general and has come to designate three specific groupings of string quartets— those composed in 1798–1800, 1806–1810, and 1824–1826. The three periods of success are shadowed by Beethoven’s growing deafness, which was already painfully evident to him in 1798, and which isolated him increasingly from the world.

1801: Early quartets. The success of Beethoven’s first major publication for string ensemble, a set of three String Trios published in 1798, alerted Vienna’s music lovers that the phenomenal pianist had emerged as an equally remarkable composer. Even as music connoisseurs were awakening to that fact, Beethoven was beginning work on the ne plus ultra of chamber music, the string quartet. In 1801Beethoven issued six String Quartets, published as Op. 18. These new quartets found immediate success and secured his reputation not only with the public, but also with Vienna’s fine professional musicians. For the next 25 years, Beethoven was the most prominent musical force in the city.

In the wake of the Op. 18 Quartets, Beethoven composed piano sonatas, symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and his opera Fidelio, any one of which would have secured his eminent position. In spite of his growing deafness, he possessed the exquisite inner hearing of a powerful musical mind, a faculty amply demonstrated as he fearlessly produced works that set him apart in conception, style and execution from all his contemporaries.

1806–1810: Middle quartets. The Vienna correspondent of the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the most important music journal of its day, reported early in 1807 that “three new, very long, and difficult Beethoven quartets…are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. They are profoundly thought through and admirably worked out, but not to be grasped by all.” Indeed, Beethoven’s new music proved bewildering to musicians and audiences. One violinist, the Italian Felix Radicati, asked the composer if he seriously considered the three Op. 59 quartets to be real music. Oh, said Beethoven, this music is “not for you, but for a later age.” Undeterred by the puzzled reception accorded his string quartets, Beethoven published two further gems, Op. 74 and Op. 95, in 1809 and 1810.

1824–1826: Late quartets. After that, Beethoven left the genre alone for a full 12 years. In the summer of 1822, once again thinking in string quartet terms, he produced some sketches that he soon put aside—temporarily. A commission for string quartets offered him by an amateur cellist from St. Petersburg, Prince Nicholas Galitzin, then living in Vienna, got Beethoven’s full attention. In 1825 he composed three quartets for Galitzin—published as Opp. 127, 130, and 132. Two more followed—the quartets of Op. 131 and Op. 135—and shortly before he died, Beethoven composed a new final movement for the Op. 130 quartet.

Beethoven was a trained violist and violinist; but by all accounts, he was a careless performer—lax in practice habits and apparently indifferent to playing accurately or in tune. His inner ears, however, remained acute for his entire lifetime, and he had a superior sense of how the four instruments of a string quartet could be challenged. If such a thing were possible, Beethoven might have played a string quartet as one instrument as well as he played a piano.

Already in the 18th century, the metaphor of string-quartet-as-conversation was widely known and accepted. No one knew better than Beethoven how to structure such a conversation, not merely as a polite agreement among voices (such as a simple canon or a fugue), or one person expressing an opinion and the others amiably following along (such as a melody with supporting accompaniment), but also as an exchange of ideas—exploratory, challenging and discursive. The voices might be heated, calm, elevated or hushed, but they are always vibrantly engaged. It was this vibrancy and engagement that increasingly characterized Beethoven’s quartets, and he was by no means finished with the medium when he died, in March 1827, at age 57.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”
Composed 1810, 21 minutes

Composed in 1810, the F-minor String Quartet, which Beethoven himself called “Quartett(o) Serioso,” was dedicated to the composer’s good friend Nikolaus Zmeskall, a capable amateur cellist and an official of the Hungarian Chancellery in Vienna. There is a certain irony in his being the dedicatee of the Quartet subtitled “Serioso,” since the relationship between Beethoven and Zmeskall was characterized by a great deal of good-natured bantering and exchanges of humorous notes and letters. Their warm friendship began soon after Beethoven moved to Vienna, and one of the composer’s last letters was written to Zmeskall.

Complex and bold in spirit, the “Serioso” is nevertheless shorter by far than any other string quartet of the middle period. Widely admired for the compactness of its form, and the scope of its emotions, the “Quartett(o) Serioso” points directly toward the late quartets, which Beethoven would write in the years 1824–1826.

Turning 40 in December 1810, Beethoven had already experienced many of life’s trials. He had endured the dangers and chaos of the Napoleonic occupations of Vienna; he had failed in repeated attempts to forge an enduring relationship that might lead to marriage; and his connections with his brothers had become increasingly strained. The anger, sorrow, perplexity and despair perpetuated by his deafness only compounded his frustrations. In May 180 he had written to his old Bonn friend Franz Wegeler, “If I had not read somewhere that no one should quit life voluntarily while he could still do something worthwhile, I would have been dead long ago….Oh, life is so beautiful, but for me it is poisoned forever.”

A composer’s personal anguish may or may not show up in the music, but if he chooses to name his composition the “Quartetto Serioso,” one must take him at his word. By this time, Beethoven had acquired the musical means by which he could explore and express such deep emotions. Forging ahead of, and away from, the Classical restraints under which he had heretofore worked, Beethoven loosened traditional quartet structure, which gave him the means to loosen his classical reserve.

In the opening bars of the “Serioso” Quartet, Beethoven storms onto the stage. He assigns the four players an aggressive unison flourish—an F-minor scale fragment—then hurls wide-ranging slurred figures among the instruments, changes keys, comes to complete stops, starts up again, whispers, shouts and settles into a sweet motive, which is repeatedly interrupted by rude outbursts. The calm of the second movement’s opening, therefore, comes as soothing balm. It proceeds at a relaxed tempo and with a quiet mood, but unexpected harmonic expeditions suggest an underlying nervousness.

Like the first movement, the Allegro assai vivace ma serioso bursts forth dramatically. Again, Beethoven explores a vast harmonic territory. In short order, he moves quickly through a succession of keys, with only temporary lyrical asides to relieve the angularity of the effect. An affecting Larghetto introduces the lively finale. An air of quiet anguish hangs over it; a brisk coda in the home key of F major brings the Quartet to a quick close.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74, “Harp”

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74, “Harp”
Composed 1809, 30 minutes

In early 1809 Beethoven received an offer to leave Vienna for employment at the court in Kassel. Several of Vienna’s distinguished music supporters rallied to keep Beethoven in their city. On March 1, 1809, Archduke Rudolf (brother of the Austrian Emperor), Prince Ferdinand Johann Kinsky, and Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz signed a remarkable document granting the composer the financial means to be freed up for “the invention of works of magnitude.” Beethoven agreed to remain in Vienna, and, in exchange, the three patrons guaranteed him an annual income-for-life of 4,000 florins. The String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74, finished in the months following, is dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz (to whom Beethoven had dedicated his very first string quartets, Op. 18).

The summer of 1809 proved miserable for Vienna and its inhabitants. In July, Beethoven wrote to his publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, “normally I should now be having a change of scene and air,” but Napoleon’s second occupation of Vienna had begun, and the city was locked down. “What a destructive, disorderly life I see and hear around me, nothing but drums, cannons and human misery in every form…” Beethoven wrote that he had not been able to summon a coherent musical thought since the beginning of May, when the Imperial Court had left the city. Yet, the turmoil Beethoven describes is absent from the E-flat major String Quartet, which he composed at that time.

The first movement opens with a serene statement in E-flat, Poco adagio. A persistent movement toward D-flat and punctuation by dramatic chords hint of some restlessness, but the confident E-flat opening chords of the Allegro create assurance of a positive mood. Beethoven’s use of pizzicato figures in this movement prompted the Quartet’s nickname “Harp,” even though the plucked passages are a relatively insignificant feature of the whole. More remarkable is the movement’s virtuosic writing for the first violin.

The surface of the second movement, a sweetly voiced Adagio, is ruffled occasionally by fleeting minor moments. The movement’s magical lyricism is shared by all the instruments. Was it Beethoven’s recent and intense occupation with his opera Fidelio that had heightened his skill in creating and developing melodic materials? In any case, this movement serves as a testimony to the composer’s ear, and heart, for beautiful melodies.

The third movement, by contrast, bursts forth energetically in C minor. Rhythmic speed and intensity, with brilliant dynamic contrasts, characterize this Scherzo and the Trio, a contrapuntal section in C major, in rapid 6/4 measure. Both the Scherzo and the Trio are repeated, and the aggressive forward propulsion sets up an expectation of a monumental final movement.

Instead, Beethoven slips slyly into a charming little E-flat major theme, to which he appends six light-hearted variations. Beethoven marked the odd-numbered variations “sempre forte,” and the even-numbered ones “sempre piano e dolce.” The Quartet closes with a buoyant coda of alternating duple and triple figures passed among the four instruments, and a cheerful wave of the hand in a simple farewell cadence.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6
Composed in 1798–1800, 24 minutes

Composing and preparing to publish his first six string quartets, Beethoven was mindful—he calculated knowingly—that the presentation of the scores would be crucial in building his reputation as a composer to be reckoned with. He and the publisher, T. Mollo et Comp. of Vienna, carefully arranged to publish the works not in the order of their composition, but in the order most likely to catch and hold the audience’s attention and admiration.

The Op. 18 quartets were issued in two albums; the first installment, Op. 18, Nos. 1-3 in June 1801, the second installment, Nos. 4-6 in October of that year. He reserved this Quartet in B-flat major—which was the fifth quartet he composed—to be published as the final work in the set, as it is particularly strong and idiosyncratic.

The Quartet opens with a cheery theme and development that would not have been out of place in the previous century’s quartet repertoire. To this Classical atmosphere Beethoven contributes his own touches—including a pregnant silence, unexpected harmonies and amusing exchanges among the instruments.

The second movement, adagio ma non troppo, begins with a simple violin solo that soon turns dark and profoundly expressive. The mood is broken by the explosion of the Scherzo movement with its jokey syncopations. The brief Trio is followed by a repetition of the jaunty Scherzo.

The striking La Malinconia (Beethoven’s own title for the opening of the fourth movement) comes as a total surprise. He had already provided a “slow movement,” the Adagio ma non troppo, whose strength and intensity commanded second place in the work. Then, just as one expects a quick Finale to follow the Scherzo, Beethoven shocks the listener into serious and profound introspection with the melancholy material. This section must be treated “with the greatest possible delicacy,” he instructed. In spite of the appearance of a quick German dance, the movement returns repeatedly to the desperate musings of the Adagio. Beethoven eventually finds his way to a dancing conclusion, but he leaves the listener shaken.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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Artist Bio

Hagen Quartet

Praised for their unique, finely nuanced timbre and the engaging immediacy of their ensemble sound, the Hagen Quartet was founded in 1981 by four Hagen siblings: violinists Lukas and Angelika (whose chair has been filled by Rainer Schmidt since 1987), violist Veronika and cellist Clemens in Salzburg.

Thirty years later, the Quartet has been celebrating its anniversary with extensive touring of the first presentation of the complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets in its history. From August 2012 through December 2013, the Quartet is performing this pinnacle of musical composition in the major music centers of the world, including Paris, London, Vienna, Salzburg and Tokyo. The Quartet will perform it for the first time in North America on November 7-17, 2013 at 92nd Street Y.

Among other highlights of its 30th anniversary, in October 2011, the Hagen Quartet was recognized with the prestigious Echo Klassik Award for Ensemble of the Year, and in 2012, it was named Honorary Member of Vienna’s Konzerthaus. The Quartet also released two acclaimed new recordings to celebrate its anniversary, both on Myrios Classics: a disc of string quartets by Beethoven, Mozart and Webern; and a pairing of Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor with Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, featuring clarinetist Jörg Widmann. In June, Myrios will release an all-Beethoven disc representing the opposite ends of his quartet-composing career: Op. 18, Nos. 3 and 5 (1798-1800), and Op. 135 (1826).

The Hagen Quartet’s concert repertoire and discography embrace the history of the string quartet, from its pre-Haydn beginnings to György Kurtág. The Hagen Quartet also works closely with composers of its own generation, whether by reviving existing works or by commissioning and premiering new pieces. Collaborations with other artists, such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Maurizio Pollini, Mitsuko Uchida, Sabine Meyer, Krystian Zimerman and Heinrich Schiff, are also important to the Quartet. As teachers and mentors at the Salzburg Mozarteum and the Hochschule in Basel, as well as in international master classes, the quartet’s members pass on their experience to younger colleagues.

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