Four Bagatelles on Romanian Folk Music Răzvan Metea (1978 – )
Răzvan Metea was born in Oradea, a city in western Romania close to the Hungarian border, where he graduated from high school. During his studies, he participated in competitions for piano interpretation, for which he received various awards. In 1996 he became a student at the Gheoghe Dima Academy of Music in Cluj Napoca, studying composition under Hans Peter Turk. Here he took part in the ‘J.S. Bach’ Academy festival, with tours in Poland, Russia, and Germany. In Luxembourg he took part in a workshop with his own composition based on onomatopoeia (1999), and he has had various other recitals of his compositions. In 2002 he graduated from the Academy, becoming a teacher there of counterpoint, harmony, and jazz improvisation. In 2011 he created Bigg Dimm a’Band, a “Big Band” whose aim is to give students the opportunity to study and perform beyond the classical repertoire, and which has performed in several national and international festivals. In 2013 he founded at the Music Academy a module of light music/jazz. Răzvan Metea has received national and international grants, and his compositions have been played at many festivals. He collaborates with several artists, and his work includes vocal works, as well as instrumental, chamber, and symphonic pieces, and opera.
The Four Bagatelles for string quartet are based on traditional Romanian folk music. They are musical jokes, true scherzi, with a lively and rhythmic character. Here, we can find the composer’s most commonly used methods – serial technique, ostinato, conspicuous rhythms and unconventional noises.
First ACMC Performance
Quartet in F minor op. 80 Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
Allegro vivace assai
Finale: Allegro molto
In contrast to the op. 44 quartets, which were the happy result of Mendelssohn’s honeymoon, the op. 80 quartet of nine years later was a response to the death of his beloved sister Fanny in May 1847. Its tragic, almost fierce, depth of feeling draws inspiration from Beethoven, and some have seen in its foreshadowings of Wagner, Mahler and Sibelius “a bridge between Beethoven and late Romanticism”.
The driven semiquavers and despairing falling phrases of the opening movement lead to an intense coda. Even the second movement scherzo is harsh and savage, in complete contrast to the usual Midsummer Night’s Dream skittishness. In the trio section, which reappears at the end of the movement, the viola and cello play a gloomy dance in octaves throughout. The core of the work is the heart-felt Adagio, where there is at last some relaxation of tension. Although the saltarello-like rhythms of the last movement might suggest happier times, here they become full of sorrow and despair, ending this remarkable work. Two months after its completion, Mendelssohn himself was dead.
Last ACMC Performance: the Wihan Quartet, October 2009
Quartet no. 4 in C Bartók (1881 – 1945)
Prestissimo con sordini
Non troppo lento
Bartók was a prophet hardly honoured in his own country. While his contribution to the collection of folksong, together with his life-long friend Kodály, was recognised by the authorities, he was considered very much an also-ran as a composer in comparison to the leader of musical life, Dohnányi. Abroad it was a different matter, for example his second quartet won the Philadelphia Music Prize in 1928. The growing Nazification of Hungary in the 1930s increased his problems with the regime, and in 1940 he finally moved to America. In spite of his reputation, and a growing number of commissions, he lived there in some privation, dying of leukaemia in 1945, ironically just as the newly liberated Hungary was preparing to welcome him back, finally recognising his greatness..
Although the six quartets of Béla Bartók have now rather fallen out of favour, it is worth remembering that in the 20th century they were thought by many to be as important for the genre as the late quartets of Beethoven had been a hundred years before. Indeed, Bartók used the medium for some of his most creative writing, returning to it throughout his life. The quartets cover a range of styles, from the romanticism of the first, the expressionism of the middle works, to the neo-classicism of the last. Certainly Bartók dramatically extended the range of sound that a single group of four instruments could produce.
The fourth quartet was written in 1928. Its five movements can be seen as a symmetrical arch, the thematic material of the first being related to the last movement, the second to the fourth, and all deriving from the heart of the work, the slow third movement. Although the structure is classical, and on the page there are clear bar lines, to the ear it sounds quite free – and definitely modern! There are marvellous effects: glissandi, numerous different pizzicato techniques, and fascinating timbres, all carefully annotated. One of the main rhythmic and melodic motifs can best be recognised as the ‘dum, dum, dum, diddleum’ first heard a few bars into the first movement, and restated in forceful octaves at its close. The second movement is a scherzo in all but name, flitting past at breakneck speed, mainly pianissimo, before sliding away into the distance. The slow movement is something that Bartók uses quite rarely, a long slow melody, here on the cello over sustained chords in the other instruments. The fourth movement is quiet in feeling, in pizzicato throughout. The last movement is strongly rhythmical with the feel of a wild Hungarian folk-dance. Its middle section begins more reflectively, before driving on to the final bars, which restate the main motif exactly as at the close of the first movement.
Last ACMC performance: the Endellion Quartet, October 1989