Quartet in C op. 20 no. 2 Haydn (1732 – 1809)
Fuga a quattro soggetti
The six quartets op. 20, composed in 1771, are known collectively as the Sun Quartets, from the sunburst engraved on their cover page, but were indeed the sunrise of Haydn’s unique and great development of the string quartet. They also foreshadow many of the effects which Beethoven was later to use: the contrasts between unison and polyphonic passages; free-form, deeply expressive slow movements; and even fugal last movements. One brilliant innovation, right at the start of the first movement of the second quartet, is the liberation of the cello from a basso continuo role, as it states the theme in a singing tenor, and throughout the quartet enriches the texture. The darkly imaginative “operatic-scene-without-words” of the adagio in C minor leads directly to the hesitant, syncopated minuet, whose wistful trio is also in the minor. The final fugue with four subjects is a masterpiece of concentrated discussion between the instruments, marked sempre sotto voce, until the triumphant forte conclusion.
Last ACMC Performance: the Elias Quartet, November 2011
Quartet no. 1 (2014) Joseph Phibbs (1974 – )
Andante e dolce
Andante (Canto I) – Con forza
Duo 1 (Violin II and Cello): Tranquillo
Duo 2 (Violin I and Viola): In the style of a folk melody
Andante (Canto II) – Più mosso – Duo 3 (Violin I and Violin II)
Duo 4 (Viola and Cello): Adagio – Grave (Canto III)
This work, lasting around 23 minutes, comprises five main movements, the first being perhaps the most simple: soft, widely-spaced chords support a series of melodic phrases in the first violin which grow in intensity as the movement unfolds, with all four instruments coming to the fore during the coda. The second movement opens with the first of three versions of a lamenting melody (or canto) in the viola, before a fast and abrasive scherzo begins, the middle section contrasting with more lyrical passages. A slow duo for violin and cello follows, giving way to a lively pizzicato third movement. A second duo, for viola and violin, features a folk-like melody, before the fourth movement (opening with a soft reprise of the viola canto) presents an agitated fugato which builds in intensity before dovetailing into a frenetic duo for two violins. The fourth duo, for viola and cello, follows: a soft, funereal chorale forming the final reprise of the viola’s canto. The last movement, a vocalise, recalls the opening movement by way of its simple chordal accompaniment, each instrument now assigned a melodic phrase. The work’s structure as a whole could be seen as interweaving three layers: five main movements; four duos, each drawing on a different combination of players; and three short cantos, each of which presents the same viola melody in a different guise. It was commissioned for the Piatti Quartet with funds generously granted by the Britten-Pears Foundation, RVW Trust, and a private benefactor.
First ACMC Performance
La Oración del Torero op. 34 Turina (1882 – 1949)
Joaquin Turina was born in Seville, but studied with D’Indy in Paris, where he got to know both Debussy and Ravel. However, he is best known for the Andalusian influence in his music, including this brief, one-movement quartet, the Toreador’s Prayer, published in 1926 and written originally for a quartet of lutes. According to Turina himself, the piece was inspired by the image of a bullfighter praying alone in the moments before he enters the arena. The gentle opening builds to a loud march, before calming to a glowing, quiet end.
Last ACMC Performance: the Denis East Quartet, January 1960
Quartet in C minor op. 51 no. 1 Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Romanze – poco adagio
Allegretto molto moderato e comodo
Brahms is reputed to have sketched and discarded a score of quartets before allowing the publication in 1873 of the two which comprise op. 51. These had a long gestation period – he had probably begun work on them in 1863, writing to his publisher in 1869: “I am sorry, but I must ask you to be patient… It took Mozart a lot of trouble to compose six lovely quartets, so I will try my hardest to turn out a couple fairly well done”.
The first movement of the C minor quartet is full of a sense of urgency, dominated by a rising dotted theme. The dark-toned Romanze is built on a similar rhythm to very different effect, with the spot-light falling on the cello. The whimsical Allegretto takes the place of a scherzo. It is in duple time, with a contrasting trio section in triple time and in the major key. The stormy last movement, built again on a dotted theme very reminiscent of the first movement, brings the quartet to a powerful climax.
Last ACMC Performance: the Auer Quartet, October 2000