Quartet in D op. 18 no. 3 Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Andante con moto
The six quartets op.18 were written in Vienna between 1798 and 1800. We think of them now as belonging to Beethoven’s “first period”, but it is worth remembering that if he, like Mozart, had died at 35, these would be his only works for the medium, and although they do not bear comparison with the great late quartets, they are fascinating in their own right. The third quartet was probably the first to be composed, and so the first of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets. It is the most lyrical, and the least intense, of the set, and although Beethoven had studied with Haydn when he first came to Vienna, it owes perhaps more to Mozart in its ease and grace. Indeed it has been described as “the most perfect achievement within Beethoven’s capacity in the old quartet style”.
The opening melody in the first violin soars upwards by a seventh, and then drifts gently down, and lends itself to passing between the instruments. After a relatively brief and straightforward development section, the recapitulation is first suggested pianissimo by the second violin, before the first violin reasserts its authority. Although marked to be played “with movement”, the slow movement is long – longer than any of Mozart’s and most of Haydn’s. It is built on a honeyed tune, heard first in the second violin. Towards its conclusion, sextuplets rise to a fortissimo climax, before the music dies away, in quiet sighs, to the close. The next movement is a scherzo (or a minuet? Beethoven doesn’t say, only marking it allegro). It begins with the conventional two short, repeated sections, but there is a spicing of strong off-beats. The minor-key middle section which follows is then coaxed back to the major, and here Beethoven shows his individuality, as the return to the first section is not exactly the same as before, but in part an octave higher. But the best movement is undoubtedly the finale, its opening 6/8 moto perpetuo set out by the first violin alone, its tune unusually phrased so as to turn the ordinary into something quite intriguing. It is in strict sonata form, but this is hardly noticeable, as everyone gets to share in the constant good humour, energy and gaiety, as it whirls past.
Last ACMC Performance: the Lindsay Quartet October 1986
Visions at Sea Roukens (1982 – )
Joey Roukens was born in Schiedam in the Netherlands, and studied composition at the Rotterdam Conservatory, as well as psychology at Leiden University. His works have been performed by major ensembles and soloists in the Netherlands and abroad, such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia, Tokyo Sinfonietta, and the Rubens Quartet. He writes on his web-page:
“I am a composer who is not ashamed of using triads, tonal harmonies, simple textures, rhythms based on a regular pulse, and references to popular culture, stealing from the musical heritage of the past and the odd trivial turn. My music is eclectic and often exhibits great variety, fast change, contrasts, vitality, energy and a directness of expression. My musical language draws on a multitude of influences, ranging from early 20th century music (Stravinsky, Mahler, Ives, Sibelius, Debussy) to minimalism (Adams, Reich) to certain kinds of pop, jazz and even non-western music. However, I am not interested in simply mixing style quotations into one endless, fragmented grab-bag of music (which is the danger of such an eclectic approach). Rather, with each piece I am aiming for a coherent and organic musical whole that somehow reflects the enormous diversity of styles and genres that are all part of the musical air we breathe today…. Listeners often note that my music doesn’t sound like “modern music” (to their surprise, pleasure or disappointment…). Apparently, these listeners tend to mistake “modern music” for modernist music.”
“Visions at Sea” was commissioned by the National Maritime Museum of Amsterdam, and written for the Rubens Quartet in 2011, and the Quartet will tell us more about it. First ACMC Performance
Quartet in A minor op. 51 no. 2 Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Allegro non troppo
Quasi Menuetto: Moderato – Allegretto vivace
Finale: Allegro non assai
Brahms made several early attempts at the quartet form, all subsequently destroyed. Perhaps he was constrained by his reverence for the great works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, as he once remarked of Beethoven: “You don’t know what it means to the likes of us, to hear his footsteps behind us.” It was not until 1873 that he was satisfied enough to allow publication of the two op. 51.
The first movement of the A minor quartet is in impeccable sonata form, with a first subject said to be based on the personal motto of his friend the great violinist Joaquim, “Frei aber einsam”, F A E. The second subject is a lovely murmured duet for the two violins, with Brahms’ typical accompaniment of triple against duple time – a contrast which is in fact characteristic of the whole work. The gentle slow movement in A major is interrupted by a strikingly dramatic section with a canon between first violin and cello, against impassioned tremulo on the other instruments. The third movement is an ingenious combination of a slower minuet in 3/4 with a faster scherzo in 2/4 time. The finale is a syncopated and exciting gypsy rondo, which winds down in a reflective tranquillo section, before the exhilarating coda.
Last Club Performance: the Dominant Quartet – March 2007