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“They have the ability to find the individual sound-world that each work occupies and bring it to life . . .” —American Record Guide

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

BEETHOVEN:
String Quartet in G major, Op. 18, No. 2
String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4  
String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131

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

After living in Vienna for the better part of a decade, Beethoven felt ready to take on chamber music’s most demanding format, the string quartet. Even for a confident personality like Beethoven’s, the thought of composing in the genre that had been defined by Austria’s great practitioners of the art—Mozart and Haydn—must have given him some anxious moments. His many sketchbooks would suggest as much, filled as they are with voluminous evidence of his two-year struggle to conquer the form.

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 assignment. 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 Prince Franz Josef Maximilian von Lobkowitz.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in G major, Op. 18, No. 2

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
String Quartet in G major, Op. 18, No. 2
Composed in 1798–1800, 22 minutes

The String Quartet in G major rests securely on the shoulders of Beethoven’s predecessors, Mozart and Haydn. While he and Haydn had not gotten on well as student and teacher, Beethoven could not help but acknowledge the older composer’s contributions to music. As for Mozart, Beethoven openly revered him and his work as models to be studied and emulated. As he diligently went about creating his own voice, Beethoven left clear traces in his first six string quartets of the origins of his structures.

Like the other five of the Op. 18 quartets, No. 2 cleaves to the four-movement form common to that era. Its gracious opening has earned for it an unusual nickname: the “Komplimentier-Quartett,” a difficult to translate phrase that describes the bowing and scraping ceremony with which people in polite 18th-century society greeted each other. The swirling curve of the first violin’s opening flourish, the elegant responses by the partners, the repetition of the violin’s greeting—all of which, suggested a 19th-century writer, constituted “Compliments” in a musical form. Even without knowledge of that nickname, the listener cannot help but be amused by Beethoven’s witty little two-measure phrases and the manner in which he develops them throughout the first movement.

The contrasting slow movement, Adagio cantabile, opens elegantly with three-measure phrases. The first violin takes the lead in transforming the mood into a lively Allegro; the movement closes with a return to the gentle Adagio cantabile.

The third movement, although labeled “Scherzo,” has somewhat of a minuet feel to it, as the tempo suggests three beats to a measure instead of one. Beethoven closes the Quartet with a fourth movement filled with élan and good humor.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4
Composed in 1798–1800, 22 minutes

Beethoven used the key of C minor for some of his strongest statements—the “Pathétique” Piano Sonata and the Fifth Symphony, to name two well-known examples—so it stands to reason that he would choose this C-minor quartet to stand in first place in his second volume of Op. 18 quartets, published in October 1801.

Although C minor can call up an aura of tragedy, the mood of this Quartet is more passionate than foreboding. The first movement Allegro (“ma non tanto,” says Beethoven) has the first violin exploring the full extent of its range. The movement describes restless agitation through syncopated rhythmic figures in the inner voices. The C-minor turbulence of the Allegro movement is followed, not by a slow movement, but by a gentle Scherzo in C major. This turn of events leads to another surprise, a restless Minuet, which, Beethoven instructs, must be played even faster upon its return after the Trio. The final movement, Allegro, is cast in a clear rondo form. A coda forms after the third iteration of the main theme, and the voices charge headlong into a breathtaking Prestissimo conclusion.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131
Composed in 1825–26, 36 minutes

For the composer Robert Schumann, Beethoven’s Op. 131 represented “the outermost limits that human art and imagination have yet reached,” and he declared that “for [its] greatness, no words can be found.” Schumann’s words would seem like so much hyperbole were it not for the generations of musicians who have since then agreed with his assessment. Beethoven himself admitted that of all his 16 quartets this was his favorite.

Beethoven completed the composition on May 20, 1826, in Vienna, ten months before his death. It was published posthumously in Mainz on June 1827 by Schott’s Sons, and received its first public performance in Vienna in 1835 by the Leopold Jansa Quartet. However, among the several private performances of the work before that time was a notable one on November 14, 1828. The mortally ill Franz Schubert had asked to hear this Quartet, which was performed at his bedside five days before his death. Schubert idolized Beethoven, and the violinist Karl Holz, one of Beethoven’s close friends, reported of the occasion that “the King of Harmony had sent the King of Song a friendly bidding to the crossing.”

Except for his severe illnesses, which ended his life at age 57, the most sorrowful moments of Beethoven’s final years were occupied by his worries over his nephew Karl (1806–1858). Having failed in his heartfelt intentions to marry and have a family of his own, Beethoven fixated on young Karl; upon the death of his brother in 1815, Beethoven determined to rescue the nine-year-old child from Karl’s mother, whom he considered unfit to raise the boy. Years of lawsuits and other public quarrels finally resulted in Beethoven’s gaining legal custody. By then, all parties to the warfare were exhausted, most particularly Karl.

As a young man, in July 1826 Karl van Beethoven attempted suicide. The distraught Beethoven turned to his old friend Stephan von Breuning for advice. With von Breuning’s assistance, Karl received a military commission, and as soon as he had recovered from his self-inflicted head wounds, he joined a unit commanded by the Lieutenant-Marshall Baron Joseph von Stutterheim. Thus it was that the newly completed C-sharp-minor String Quartet, which Beethoven had intended to dedicate to his friend Johann Nepomuk Wolfmayer, was published as Op. 131 with the composer’s grateful dedication to von Stutterheim.

With the String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Beethoven leads us into a new world. This is a grand work in seven movements, which flow from one to the next, attacca. His transitions are subtle and seamless. Conceived as one, nearly continuous piece, the String Quartet, Op. 131, slips inexorably from one section to the next. The two outer movements, like two magnetic bookends, enclose and unite the five inner sections, sustaining the whole over 40 minutes of suspended time. As a guide to Beethoven’s balanced pacing and structure, it is interesting to observe the approximate performance times of the movements:

I:       7 minutes
II:      3 minutes
III:     1 minute
IV:     14 minutes
V:      5½ minutes
VI:     2 minutes
VII:    7 minutes

The Quartet begins with an expansive Adagio—not a slow introduction, but a full slow movement—and with a fugue. Had anyone ever begun a string quartet with a fugue? And such a fugue: Beethoven assembled within it all the thematic material that he would use in the rest of the Quartet.

Fugues and fugal materials Beethoven had written aplenty, but opening his new String Quartet with this slow, plaintive fugue theme was ground-breaking. The Adagio tempo indication is modified by the alla breve sign, with which Beethoven confirms the music’s natural forward motion. The half-step intervals of the serene fugue theme will reappear throughout the Quartet, providing one of its principal unifying elements.

At the conclusion of the first movement, on C sharp, Beethoven begins the second movement by moving swiftly and lightly a half step higher, to a D. The movement is a light, gentle scherzo, with occasional humorous outbursts.

The third movement lasts less than a minute and serves as a bridge, with dramatic cadences and a first violin flourish, to the Quartet’s fourth movement and centerpiece, a theme and six variations. The theme, based on half steps, is the kernel of an increasingly elaborate set of variations. They culminate in what appears at first the seventh variation, but is, instead, a coda that leads through many mock endings before it finally finds its effortless conclusion.

The Presto movement is a wild Scherzo with two iterations of a Trio. The exceedingly quick interplay of voices is hair-raising for players and audience.

Instead of a lengthy slow movement, Beethoven creates a brief, poignantly sublime Adagio that acts as a connection to the final Allegro. The C-sharp minor Quartet closes with a seventh movement of great drama. The half-step motifs are now rapid, and alternately defiant and wistful. At the conclusion, the jagged themes and rhythms give way to a short Poco adagio, followed closely by emphatic closing chords. The fact that these are C-sharp major chords does not, in this case, indicate “happy ending,” but more plausibly, triumph in the face of life’s challenges.

© 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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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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