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“They draw us into Beethoven's emotional world through the sheer beauty of the playing and the way each detail is particularized.” —Gramophone

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

BEETHOVEN:
String Quartet in D major, Op. 18, No. 3
String Quartet in A major, Op. 18, No. 5
String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 127

The concert is approximately 1 hour and 40 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 The New York Times:


All Beethoven, All the Time, in a String Quartet Survey”—A rave review of the Hagen Quartet’s first concert in its Beethoven cycle at 92Y by James R. Oestreich in The New York Times, Nov 8, 2013. Here is an excerpt:

It is hard to know what to admire most in the quartet’s playing. It is almost impeccable, despite the many risks being taken: tempos nudged ahead, dynamics pushed, pauses extended to the breaking point. The focus and unanimity are astounding.

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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

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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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Concert Introduction

Following the successes of his earliest published chamber music—the Op. 3 String Trio, a String Quintet, and the three String Trios, Op. 9—Beethoven felt ready to take on chamber music’s most daunting genre, the string quartet. In his late teens, still making his way as a young professional musician in Bonn, Beethoven had dreamed of studying with Mozart, whom he revered. By the time he was ready to make the move to Vienna, his idol had died. It is understandable, then, that Beethoven should have sought out Joseph Haydn for lessons in composition—after all, Mozart had revered Haydn, who was still very much alive and active in Vienna. But the magic of that relationship eluded Beethoven. After very few lessons, he and Haydn parted company.

Still, Beethoven was now living in, and breathing the very air of, Mozart’s and Haydn’s musical territory. His early compositions reveal the debt he owed those Austrian masters, and as he undertook to write his first string quartets, he worked in their shadows.

Through the course of more than two years, while securing his reputation as a highly regarded virtuoso pianist, and securing the confidence and support of important patrons of music, Beethoven worked assiduously at his self-imposed task. The many music sketchbooks from those years give ample evidence of the diligence with which he approached his work. By the end of the year 1800 he was able to offer six carefully polished string quartets for publication, and in 1801 they appeared in two volumes with the imprint of T. Mollo et Comp., Vienna, Op, 18, and with a dedication to the prominent young music patron Prince Franz Josef Maximilian von Lobkowitz.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in D major, Op. 18, No. 3

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
String Quartet in D major, Op. 18, No. 3
Composed in 1798–1800, 24 minutes

Hagen Quartet
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in D major, Op. 18, No. 3 – IV. Presto
(Myrios Classics)

The D-major String Quartet was the first of the set to be composed, but Beethoven cleverly arranged the six quartets in a publication order that would offer the most attractive package to the huge market for string quartets in early 19th-century Europe. He calculated—correctly, as it turned out—that the publication of his first six string quartets would secure his reputation as a young composer to regard with respect. He knew that composing impressive quartets was only part of the project; he wanted their presentation to be equally impressive. Therefore, he chose the lively quartets in F major and G major to open the first volume of Op. 18, which appeared in June 1801. Because of the D-major Quartet’s rousing finale, Beethoven chose it to close the volume and assigned it “Op. 18, No. 3.”

Op. 18, No. 3 is a lyrical work that stands directly on the shoulders of its Classical predecessors. Already in the opening movement the first violin predicts the character of the Quartet through its arioso lines. A second theme introduces a hint of unease, but the movement concludes with grace in a short coda. The second violin presents the lovely main theme of the Andante cantabile, a gentle and gracious movement in B-flat major. Returning with a snap to D major for the third movement, Beethoven creates a lively Scherzo movement that flirts with minor keys in the Trio before concluding in the tonic key of D major. The Quartet concludes with a Presto movement of wild, dancing energy that spins itself into the flick of a hand in farewell.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in A major, Op. 18, No. 5

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in A major, Op. 18, No. 5
Composed in 1798–1800, 26 minutes

Many analysts have delineated the ways in which Mozart’s Quartet in A major, K. 464, served as Beethoven’s model for this Op. 18 Quartet in the same key. A great admirer of Mozart, Beethoven studied his scores, no doubt always regretful that he had just missed the opportunity to study with the great composer. (Mozart had died in Vienna in 1791, only months before Beethoven moved there from Bonn.) The pianist and composer Carl Czerny once wrote, “Beethoven saw at my house the score of six quartets by Mozart dedicated to Haydn. He opened the Fifth in A and said: ‘That’s what I call a work! In it Mozart was telling the world: Look what I could create if the time were right!’”

Although outwardly simple in form, the first movement offers an abundance of materials that Beethoven develops through unexpected key changes, silences, variety of texture and color, and the exploration of dynamic levels. Like Mozart, Beethoven puts a Minuet in second place, with the two violins introducing the sweet theme in an unaccompanied duet. A bit of harmonic disturbance roughens the waters, but after a brief Trio, the unruffled Minuet closes the movement. In the third movement Beethoven once again hints at his devotion to Mozart’s A-major Quartet by casting it, like Mozart’s, in a theme and variations format. Beethoven’s third movement sets forth five variations on his theme (Mozart composed six variations on his), and both composers close the movement with a coda. In Beethoven’s case, the movement builds to a tremendous climax and then disappears with a quiet conclusion. A whirlwind Allegro movement completes Beethoven’s A-major Quartet, with great harmonic activity and a big, witty coda.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 127

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 127

Hagen Quartet
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 127 – I. Maestoso—Allegro
(Deutsche Grammophon)

After publication of his String Quartet No. 11, Op. 95, Beethoven left the genre alone for a full 12 years. In the summer of 1822 he once again began thinking in string quartet terms and proposed to one of his publishers, C. F. Peters, that he might develop some new quartet sketches. For whatever reasons—perhaps because of greater interest in the Missa solemnis then in progress—the publisher declined, and Beethoven put his string quartet sketches aside.

A few months later, in November, Beethoven was contacted by an amateur cellist from St. Petersburg. During a residency in Vienna, Prince Nicholas Galitzin (born in 1795) had formed his own quartet of string players, who explored works of the great local composers—Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven among them. Galitzin offered Beethoven a commission for “one, two or three” new string quartets.

Although he already had substantial sketches for a new quartet, Beethoven’s attention was focused not only on the Missa solemnis but also the new Symphony No. 9. Finally, in 1824, after the successful public performances of those two works (Galatzin became an important subscriber of the Missa solemnis), Beethoven turned his full attention to the string quartet commission. He eventually completed three quartets for Galitzin: No. 12 in E-flat major (Op. 127, completed in February 1825), No. 15 in A minor (Op. 132, July 1825), and No. 13 in B-flat major (Op. 130, November 1825). Schott’s Sons, the Mainz publisher, issued the score for the E-flat major Quartet in 1826.

The first performance of Op. 127 did not go well. In a letter to his nephew Carl, Beethoven blamed his old friend and colleague Ignaz Schuppanzigh: “The Quartet was a failure the first time that Schuppanzigh played it, for he, being so very stout, wants more time than formerly before he can grasp anything, and many other circumstances were the cause of its not succeeding. This was also predicted by me, for although Schuppanzigh and two others draw their pension from Princes, his Quartet is no longer what it was when all were constantly playing together. On the other hand, it has been performed six times by other artists in the best possible manner, and received with greatest applause….”

It is true that Schuppanzigh had become portly. However, in this letter to his nephew, Beethoven failed to mention to Carl that he, Beethoven, had not finished copying out the parts until the last minute, a handicap equally as responsible for a rocky performance as Schuppanzigh’s corpulence. Subsequent performances—although received positively by Beethoven’s most loyal supporters—fared badly with a wider audience. One reviewer wrote that the Quartet was “incomprehensible, incoherent, vague, over-extended series of fantasias—chaos, from which flashes of genius emerged from time to time like lightning bolts from a black thundercloud.”

The three outer movements are in E-flat major, a key that Beethoven turned to for grand statements. (Think of the Eroica Symphony). The first movement fulfills its Maestoso heading, with a majestic introduction followed by a classic sonata-allegro main body. The extraordinary second movement—Adagio ma non troppo e molto cantabile—is a classic theme and six variations. The third movement comprises a complex scherzo and a trio. The Quartet concludes with a brisk Finale in sonata-allegro format. The pastorale character of the entire Quartet is consecrated by the main theme of the magnificent Adagio movement, bringing echoes of the Missa solemnis, which Beethoven had just completed.

© 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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Details & Ordering


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IN THE NEWS 
 

  • The New York Times gives a rave review of Hagen Quartet’s opening concert of its 92Y Beethoven cycle. (Click the On the Blog tab above to read the review.)
  • BBC Music magazine names Hagen Quartet’s Beethoven cycle at 92Y a Top 20 Live Event in North America for November. (Click the On the Blog tab above for details.)

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