Fri, 18 Sep 2020 19:30
Online at the NCEM

Katya Apekisheva, Simon Blendis,
Charlotte Scott, Matthew Jones,
Jon Thorne, Tim Lowe

PLAY AGAIN Event 1

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95, ‘Serioso’

Herbert Howells - Fantasy String Quartet, Op. 25

Interval

Robert Schumann - Piano Quintet in E Flat Major, Op. 44

Time

18 Sep, 19:30

About The Event

The string quartet in F minor, Op. 95 is the shortest and most enigmatic of Beethoven’s quartets. It is basically an experimental piece in which he tries out techniques that he would draw on later, notably in the ‘late’ string quartets; shorter developments, uses of silences, metric ambiguity, sudden unrelated outbursts and much more tonal freedom. The quartet medium had become his laboratory and here taken to an extreme. It was not a commissioned  work (in 1809 he had been given a salary by a consortium of local aristocrats) but welled up from his deeper consciousness; a harbinger of what was to come 14 years later. It is indeed serious; hard-bitten, with a rough humour to it, terse and with flashes of intense tenderness. Mendelssohn said it was the most characteristic thing Beethoven ever wrote.

 

Beethoven kept the piece under wraps for four years fearing that it would be misunderstood. It was Beethoven himself who labelled the quartet ‘Serioso’. In May 1814 he allowed it to be performed in Vienna by the Schupanzigh Quartet and eventually in 1816 it was published as his Op. 95. Beethoven wrote to Sir George Smart, an influential English musician/conductor and concert promoter saying,  “…the quartet is written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public.” 

 

In the F minor string quartet we find Beethoven touching base with the cosmos - what he called ‘the firmament’ - with music that is light years ahead of its time. It shows that his mind was racing ahead and although often described as the last of his middle period quartets in reality is more connected to the ‘late’ quartets, nearly fifteen years ahead. 

It goes without saying in the city containing York Minster that Herbert Howells (1892-1983) is well known as a definitive sound of English Cathedral music. His early chamber music is less known and is infused with an English pastoral palette, especially redolent of his native Gloucestershire. The Fantasy String Quartet is in one movement – a beautifully crafted, free-spirited outpouring, rooted in the English folksong tradition, although the tune is the composer’s.

 

In the Spring of 1842, brooding and alone in Leipzig having left Clara on a concert tour – she was the most famous pianist of the day – Robert Schumann passed the time by a close study of the string quartets and trios of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. On Clara’s return and with her inspiration his creative voice suddenly erupted in what has become known as his ‘chamber music year’, which included three string quartets but also the idea of adding single voice instruments to a string quartet (oboe, clarinet, horn). In October he wrote out at top speed the Piano Quintet for Clara. It left him emotionally and physically drained but as she said the piece is, “…full of strength and freshness.” Schumann thus invented the idea of the piano quintet which became the model and inspiration for Brahms, Dvorák, Fauré, César Franck among others and remains one of the greatest pieces of chamber music ever written; as Steven Isserlis writes, “miracle after miracle”.

Sat, 19 Sept 2020 19:30 
Online at the NCEM

Katya Apekisheva, Simon Blendis,
Charlotte Scott, Matthew Jones,
Jon Thorne, Tim Lowe

PLAY AGAIN Event 2

Ludwig van Beethoven - String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op.18, No. 1
Josef Suk - Piano Quartet in A Minor, Op.1
Interval
César Franck - Piano Quintet in F minor

Time & Location
19 Sep, 19:30 

​About The Event

​In his late 20s Beethoven was living in Vienna having managed to secure the patronage both as composer and pianist of Vienna's cosmopolitan aristocracy. They had an insatiable need for chamber music and the he was able to supply string trios, piano sonatas, violin sonatas as well as famously improvising at the piano (for which he was better known). Biding his time before launching into the string quartet genre – given that Haydn was still at the height of his powers – Beethoven bit the bullet in 1798 and by1801 his set of six quartets were published as Op. 18. The F Major quartet is the most well developed and has the greatest expressive range of the six, has a tragic slow movement inspired by Romeo and Juliet and further put the young Beethoven into the public eye. Here he shows us his distinctive voice and already prefigures his later quartet style.

​Suk's Piano Quartet was the result of an assignment from his teacher at the Prague Conservatoire, Anton Dvorak. The seventeen year-old had produced under the illustrious composer’s eye a gem, signalling his distinctive voice, despite shades of Dvorak from time to time. Promptly assigned as his Op. 1 the piece was published immediately and became a staple of Czech repertoire and was widely performed. It was recently republished having gone out of print for over fifty years so here is a chance to hear this passionate and tenderly lyrical piece.

From the organ loft of St. Clothilde Cathedral in Paris César Franck garnered admiration as founder of a distinctive ‘Frankist’ school which can be traced down to Messiaen and Boulez, although for over forty years he produced no chamber music. His piano quintet marked a dramatic departure in musical style for the erstwhile rather demure composer. This would seem to have had a strong connection with an extra-marital romance with his dashing Irish student Augusta Holmès (also beloved of Saint-Saëns, Liszt and others). The Piano Quintet in F minor, first performed in 1880 is passionate, even erotic, in mood. It certainly made an impact. Saint-Saëns, the pianist at the premiere walked off the stage (he was also fond of Augusta) and his wife yelled out against this ,”abhorrent music”. It is in fact one of the great masterpieces of French music.

Sun, 20 Sept 2020 19:30 
Online at the NCEM

Katya Apekisheva, Simon Blendis,
Charlotte Scott, Matthew Jones,
Jon Thorne, Tim Lowe

PLAY AGAIN Event 3

Ludwig van Beethoven - String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29
Antonín Dvořak - String Quintet in E Flat Major, Op. 97

Time & Location
20 Sep,19:30 

​About The Event

In his late-twenties with an alluringly intense personality and undoubted musical genius, Beethoven had managed to secure the patronage of Vienna's cosmopolitan aristocracy. Yet he was deeply troubled. By 1801 he was aware that there was no treatment for his failing hearing and his love-life was in tatters when Countess Giulietta Guicciardi declined to marry below her social status. There is no trace of this anguish in this bubbling, attractive quintet. It is a large-scale work using his knowledge of string playing honed writing his string trios and quartets. Like Mozart’s quintets it has a rich sonority due to the addition of a second viola. He had met Mozart fifteen years earlier at a time when he was finishing his own string quintet, so it seems likely that Beethoven used Mozart’s quintet as a model (same instruments, same key). 

​But apart from the Mozartian slow movement with an unusual depth of feeling this quintet has a voice of its own, or rather voices. The finale inspired the quintet’s nickname, the Storm and includes a dramatic fugato (“little fugue”) with the lower strings on full throttle. We are hearing the seeds of the fifth and sixth symphonies and in the breadth of the first movement clear signposts towards the first ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet, Op 59 No.1 and the Archduke Trio. The string quintet is a key work because it marks the transition out of Beethoven’s so called ‘early period’ and is the harbinger of the thirty-year old composer’s imagination already on a different planet as yet unknown and unheard.

Dvorak took up the post of the Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York in 1892. The following summer he was persuaded by his secretary Jan Josef Kovařík to take holiday in Spillville. The town boasted a large Czech community, and further inducements to Dvořák was the promise of going on the Chicago Express. Dvořák was a keen train spotter! Arriving with his family in Spillville he found it an idyllic setting and soon set to work on a new string quartet, rapidly followed by a quintet. He cherished his time in the countryside of Iowa which reminded him of his native Bohemian landscape. Spillville inspired an outpouring of music, in this case some of Dvořák’s sunniest and most bucolic; a state of contentment that is beyond national identities. Beethoven’s use of the added viola to a string quartet would probably not have been too far from his mind. A suitable synergy for our festival and a joyful conclusion.

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