Bach arr.Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Five Fugues K405
Fuga in C minor (after BWV 871)
Fuga in E Flat (after BWV 876)
Fuga in E (after BWV 878)
Fuga in D minor (after BWV 877)
Fuga in D (after BWV 874)
Baron van Swieten as ambassador to the Prussian court in Berlin had developed a passion for the music of the baroque, and had collected many works of Bach and Handel. On his return to Vienna he became an important patron of the arts, and at his house many composers of the period were exposed to this “early music”. Mozart wrote to his father in 1782: “Every Sunday at 12 o’clock I go to Baron van Swieten, and there we play nothing but Handel and Bach”. Mozart’s pupil Thomas Atwood, amongst others, recalled that Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier was always lying open on the pianoforte. It was from this volume that Mozart transcribed the five fugues we hear tonight. That the transcription is not completely mechanical suggests that they played an integral part in Mozart’s own development of fugal writing, and, from the articulation and bowing marks on the manuscript, that they were intended for performance. In fact the fugue in D minor is in D sharp minor in Bach’s original; perhaps the change of key was to profit from the resonance of the quartet’s open strings.
Van Swieten’s influence on musical life was far-reaching. He was later to commission Mozart to make an arrangement of Handel’s Messiah, a version that is occasionally used to this day, and he provided the libretti for Haydn for both the Creation and the Seasons, and was the dedicatee of Beethoven’s first Symphony.
First ACMC Performance
Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
Quartet in E Flat op. 44 no. 3
Scherzo: assai leggiero vivace
Adagio non troppo
Molto allegro con fuoco
Mendelssohn’s first two quartets were written before he was twenty, and burst with youthful inventiveness, while clearly showing the influence of Beethoven’s late quartets. In contrast, the three quartets op. 44 were written a decade later in 1837-38, as he was in the midst of a whirl of activity as a fully-established musician, much in demand and travelling constantly as conductor, performer and composer. If less innovative, they are technically brilliant and satisfying works. In form, they seem to look backwards to Mozart and Haydn, even in their deliberate presentation as a group of three, leading some commentators to label them “neo-classical”.
The E flat quartet (in fact the second to be composed) has an overall feeling of unity, in that the first and the last two movements are linked by the use of a semi-quaver arpeggio motif, heard from the very beginning. This motif is the driving force of the whole first movement, and permeates the development section. There follows a recapitulation, where this time the first subject is in the middle instruments, decorated by the first violin. The extensive coda, heralded by viola murmurings and pizzicati, rises to a triumphant conclusion. Mendelssohn did love his scherzi, and the movement in 6/8 time that follows is one of his best, suggesting hunting in mysterious woods. There is no trio section, but contrast is provided by a brief, light-hearted little fugue, begun by the viola, and, when it reappears, decorated with a chromatic counter-theme. The warm outpourings of the adagio, by turns gentle and tender, longing and mournful, become entwined with accompanying semi-quavers, and just before the gentle close the first violin quotes the unifying arpeggio figure. This is then transformed into the opening figure of the fiery finale, full of energy and exuberance, but also making more subtle allusions to the earlier movements.
Last ACMC Performance: the Kodaly Quartet, March 1971
Tea, coffee or juice, and biscuits are available at 50p
Quartet in D minor D 810
Andante con moto
Scherzo Allegro molto
In his youth Schubert wrote several quartets, undemanding cheerful pieces for performance in the family circle with his father and his brothers. In contrast, the string chamber works of his maturity, the D minor and G major quartets (1824 and 1826) and the double cello quintet (1828), contain some of his most intense and deeply felt music.
The D minor was written as Schubert was recovering from a severe illness. Its familiar title comes from the theme of the slow movement, drawn from his song “Death and the Maiden” written in 1817, and many have seen the whole work as depicting aspects of a struggle with Death. Certainly it is generally sombre and impassioned, and predominantly in the minor. The first movement’s driving opening introduces the pervasive triplet motif which recurs to dramatic effect particularly in the coda, first at a quickened pace and then, as if all energy fails, at the original tempo. The statement of the theme in the slow movement is hushed, sounding almost like a chorus of viols. The words of the song are those of Death himself, calming the fearful Maiden and promising her quiet sleep in his arms. The moods of the five variations change from melancholy musing to stormy intensity, with a gleam of autumnal sunshine in the major. The scherzo is marked by powerful syncopation, and the trio is in the major but still seems full of wistful yearning. The last movement has been described as a dance of death, a mad tarantella, which whirls to a prestissimo conclusion.
Last ACMC Performance: the Allegri Quartet, January 2000
ACMC wishes to dedicate this concert to the memory of Donald Hawksworth, our friend and a loyal member for many years.