Beethoven, String Quintet in C major, Op. 29, "Storm"

April 25, 2018

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29, “The Storm” (1801)

Ludwig van Beethoven When Beethoven composed his only full-length string quintet in 1801, he was beginning a transition between his early and middle stylistic phases, moving from Classical mastery towards a new kind of epic innovation that would define his mature artistry. The years of 1801-1802 witnessed Beethoven confronting the ironic and devastating fate of losing his hearing, eventually prevailing with heroic resolve. This transitional period finds Beethoven composing his second symphony, his third piano concerto and the marvelous Op. 29 String Quintet known by the nickname “Storm” (Der Sturm). Overshadowed by the fame of his string quartets and the string quintets of Mozart and Schubert, Beethoven’s quintet is rarely performed, a special treat to encounter.

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Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings, Op. 48

April 25, 2018

Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 (1880)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky had such an intuitive gift for melody, rhythm and musical expression in general that many of his compositions have become enduring popular classics including the beloved Serenade for Strings. Unlike many of his contemporary Russian composers who eschewed the Western European classics in an attempt to write music that was genuinely Russian, Tchaikovsky was more than content to emulate the masters, particularly his favorite: Mozart. Tchaikovsky specifically stated that his Serenade was a deliberate imitation of Mozart’s style even though it is more Tchaikovsky than Mozart.

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Schumann, Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18

April 25, 2018

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18 (1839)

Robert Schumann The quintessential Romantic composer Robert Schumann distinguished himself in all musical genres but may well be most admired for his character pieces for solo piano. At the time he composed Arabesque, he was visiting Vienna where he hoped to make his future home with his love, the extraordinary young pianist Clara Wieck. At the time, however, Clara’s father forbade the union and Schumann would not yet encounter the musical fame he hoped to establish in that eminently musical city. Hence, while composing during his sojourn, the young Schumann oscillated between hope and despair, the ultimate Romantic polarity some commentators find in the emotional makeup of Arabesque itself.

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Dialogue with Beethoven, Gordon, Moravec and the Enso

April 7, 2018

Paul Moravec (born 1957)

Dialogue, 2015

Paul Moravec Founded in 1930 and ostensibly the longest running summer chamber music festival in the United States, Music Mountain launched a five-year commissioning project in 2015. For the first year, they commissioned a work for the Enso String Quartet who recommended composer Paul Moravec. The theme for the commission was to create a dialogue with the past, specifically including a connection with the festival’s founder Jacques Gordon, violinist and leader of the Gordon String Quartet. Jonathan Yates, music director for Music Mountain at the time writes:

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Josef Suk, Elegie, Op. 23

March 10, 2018

Josef Suk (1874-1935)

Elegie for Piano Trio, Op. 23, Under the Impression of Zeyer's Vysehrad (1902)

Josef Suk When Josef Suk was born, Dvořák was in his early thirties and would become an important father figure to Suk in many ways. Suk grew up in a Bohemian village where his father, a choirmaster, taught him piano, violin and organ. Entering the Prague Conservatory when he was only eleven, Suk studied violin, theory and chamber music graduating in 1891 with an impressive piano quartet as his first official opus. Still merely eighteen, he remained at the conservatory for another year to study with Dvořák who had just joined the teaching staff. Thus began a multi-dimensional relationship that lasted until the end of Dvořák’s life. Dvořák considered Suk his favorite pupil and in 1898 became his father-in-law when Suk married his daughter Otilka.

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Kurtag, 6 Moments musicaux for string quartet

March 5, 2018

György Kurtág (born 1926)

6 Moments musicaux, Op. 44 (1999-2005)

György Kurtág György Kurtág, a living composer now in his early nineties, is widely regarded as one of the most important avant-garde composers coming into prominence in the second half of the 20th century. Kurtág was born of Hungarian parents but grew up in a part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that became part of Romania in 1918. Speaking Hungarian at home and Romanian at school, he moved to Budapest in 1946 to study music at the Franz Liszt Academy and soon became a Hungarian citizen. Kurtág graduated with degrees in piano, chamber music and composition and established his initial reputation as a pianist. Despite the disastrous uprising of 1956 and a brief yearlong sojourn in Paris in 1957/8, Kurtág chose to remain in Hungary and has been cited as the only composer to live through the communist regime (lasting until 1989) and achieve an international recognition.

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Schubert, Quartettsatz

February 24, 2018

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 12, “Quartettsatz”, D. 703 (1820)

Franz Schubert Franz Schubert wrote at least 17 works for string quartet, the bulk of which he composed for the practical purpose of playing chamber music at home with his family. These earlier works, designed for his father, brothers and himself, are skillful, winning and, due to the technical limitations of his family members, suitable for amateur players. This all changed with the so-called “Quartettsatz” (a posthumously applied title meaning “quartet movement”) of 1820 written when Schubert was in his early 20s.

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Webern, Fünf Sätze for String Quartet, Op. 5

February 19, 2018

Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Fünf Sätze (Five Movements) for String Quartet, Op. 5 (1909)

Anton Webern 100 years after Beethoven’s “Harp” quartet, as the hallowed history of the string quartet reached its 150 year anniversary, the few years of 1908-1909 witnessed the beginnings of a tectonic shift in the genre and, indeed, classical music in general. Arnold Schoenberg, the founding father of the radical Second Viennese School, completed his infamous second string quartet in 1908 and self-published it the following year. The first bold innovation was adding a human soprano to sing song texts in the third and fourth movements. The second more radical departure was Schoenberg’s abandonment of tonality in the finale, the first important instance of atonal music for string quartet. Significantly, the text from a poem by Stefan George begins “I feel the air of a new planet.” The premiere caused a scandal.

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Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44

February 8, 2018

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44 (1842)

Robert Schumann Robert Schumann is one of the quintessential Romantic figures of the 19th century. He grew up with twin loves for literature and music and became a great composer and well as a great literary figure, one of the most esteemed and insightful musical commentators of his time. He fell passionately in love with Clara and fought a two-year legal battle against her father to win her hand in marriage. Schumann almost manically attacked the great genres of music and composed, in concentrated fits, piano works, art songs, symphonies and chamber music amassing a formidable catalog of masterworks before madness set in.

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Igor Stravinsky, Petrushka (chamber transcription)

February 8, 2018

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Petrushka (1910–11, revised 1947)

Arranged by Yuval Shapiro for flute, clarinet, violin/viola, cello, harp and piano

Igor Stravinsky with Vaslav Nijinsky in costume for Petrushka, 1911 One of the towering composers of the 20th Century, Igor Stravinsky secured his initial reputation with three extraordinary ballet scores for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). Marshalling huge orchestral forces, a dazzling technique initially drawn from the Russian Nationalists such as Rimsky-Korsakov, and an innovative approach above all to complex, bristling rhythms, Stravinsky astonished Parisian audiences initially to riot and then quickly to unbridled adoration. While The Firebird seems an extension of his Russian forebears and the Rite of Spring a milestone of nearly apocalyptic modernism, Petrushka strikes a brilliant balance and may well be the foremost of the triptych to most music lovers.

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