Quartet in B flat op. 18 no. 6 Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Allegro con brio
Adagio ma non troppo)
La Malinconia: Adagio; Allegretto quasi allegro
If Beethoven had died at 35, like Mozart, the set of six quartets op. 18 would have been his only works for the medium. Dazzled as we are by his subsequent works, the opus 18s are perhaps rather unfairly neglected. Already they bear Beethoven’s individual stamp, and form a bridge between the classicism of Haydn and Mozart, and the searching of the late, great quartets. This sixth quartet of the set begins with a movement that sounds very like Haydn in its jolly opening theme, with its bouncing accompaniment. The development is built on the little turn in the theme, and then, after an abrupt break, on the rising scales that led to the second subject, before a more standard recapitulation. The slow movement again begins in graceful classical mood, but soon wanders into new pastures in a pianissimo unison passage, turning serenity into something much more intense. The scherzo is a surprise – a hard-driving movement, a “wild ride” with exhilarating cross-rhythms (where is the first beat in the bar?) contrasted with a capricious little trio. But the real experimentation comes in the last movement, which Beethoven headed La Melancholia (Melancholy) and which he directed to be played “with the greatest delicacy”. The harmonies shift, with the cello rising in semitone steps, until all dissolves into a cheerful German dance. The tension between the two ideas continues, until the dance triumphs in the final untroubled prestissimo.
Last ACMC Perfomance: the Roth String Quartet, November 1986
La Seda y el Metal (2011) Adrian Pop (1951 – )
Torso for string quartet
Adrian Pop was born in Cluj, Romania, in 1951. He won his first composition awards while still a student, and many other international distinctions have followed. He has had a long-term association with the Transylvania State Philharmonic, and was general director of the orchestra from 1991 to 1995. He currently teaches composition at the Music Academy in Cluj. He writes:
Silk and Metal is the title chosen by the exquisite Romanian translator Aurel Covaci for a selection of love poems by one of the most acclaimed authors of the genre, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The strong impression these made on me fuelled my inspiration for a juvenile cycle of five lieder in 1973, and then, almost 40 years later, for this quartet in which some of the thematic ideas of the lieder are reworked. The metaphors of “silk” and “metal” appear as a sublimation of the antagonism, but equally of the complementarity of the virile and the feminine; detached from the words denoting them and filtered through distance and reflection, they turn into a manner of interpreting the expressive contrasts of the primary musical states, as well as of the methods for their synthesis. Symbols of masculinity like combativeness, impetuosity, elaboration, or the demiurgic and spiritual effort are interwoven with the sweetness and warmth, the lyricism, the sensuality and the mystery of the feminine. The distance in time of this journey back to the work’s foundations invests the quartet with a note of introspective meditation.
First ACMC Performance
Transfiguration Dan Variu (1983 – )
Dan Variu writes: As the name implies, this piece revolves around the principle of continuous transformation. It tries to take the listener into an ever-changing dream world, aquatic and mysterious, where anything is possible. Although the idea behind this piece is very vast and divergent, musically speaking, it makes use of only a few motifs (based on augmented chords, major 7ths), concentrated in a clear modern style. It is written in ABA form. Firstly, a calm yet uncanny sound-scape, perpetually growing towards the climax in the second section, and then, the peaceful tranquility of the beginning returns, and gradually diminishes toward the end. This is a rather difficult piece dedicated to the Arcadia quartet, which emphasizes the collaboration of the members rather than their individual skills.
First ACMC Performance
Quartet no. 2 “Intimate Letters” Janáček (1854 – 1928)
Andante con moto – Allegro
Adagio – Vivace
Moderato – Adagio – Allegro
Allegro – Andante – Adagio
Janáček’s second quartet was written in three weeks in the last year of his life. Although he was in his seventies, it is an intense emotional outpouring with the original title of “Love Letters”, written for the much younger (and married) Kamilla Stösslova. It seems she did not reciprocate his feelings, but she was the inspiration for much of his later output, and both the string quartets are dedicated to her. In tribute, Janáček had first intended that the viola should be replaced by the viola d’amore, an instrument that he had revived for the operas Katya Kabanova and The Makropulos Case, both also closely connected with Stösslova.
About the only classical aspect that remains in the quartet is its four-movement form. Within the movements there are abrupt changes of time and rhythm, and an episodic construction. There are also constant references to the folk music of Janáček’s native Moravia, and amazing inventiveness in sound colour, almost ten years before the third and fourth quartets of Bartok. The first movement begins with a passionate declaration, followed by a lonely melody played by the viola sul ponticello (on the bridge), perhaps with the intention of recalling the tone colour of the viola d’amore. These two themes then recur, developed with two new themes. In the second movement, concerned with the “summer events at Luhacovice Spa”, a lyrical melody with an increasingly intense accompaniment is interrupted by a wild furiant in 5/8 time. The third movement is based on a gentle dance in 9/8 time, again with passionate interjections. The final movement begins with a further folk-like melody, which is contrasted with more reflective moments, and with a four-note motif intensified by persistent trills.
Last ACMC Performance: the Allegri Quartet, January 2000