American String Quartet

Peter Winograd, violin
Laurie Carney, violin
Daniel Avshalomov, viola
Wolfram Koessel, cello

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 4 pm

FINAL CONCERT OF THE SEASON

program

String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2 (1799)
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Allegro moderato
Menuetto: Presto ma non troppo
Andante
Finale: Vivace assai

String Quartet No. 3 in F, Op. 73 (1946)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Allegretto
“Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm”
Moderato con moto
“Rumblings of unrest and anticipation”
Allegro non troppo
“The forces of war unleashed”
Adagio
“Homage to the dead”
Moderato — Adagio
“The eternal question: Why? And for what?”

intermission

String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3, “Razumovsky” (1805-1806)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Introduzione: Andante con moto - Allegro vivace
Andante con moto quasi Allegretto
Menuetto: Grazioso
Allegro molto

 

 

 


LOGO
Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Internationally recognized as one of the world's foremost quartets, the American String Quartet (Peter Winograd, violin; Laurie Carney, violin; Daniel Avshalomov, viola; and Wolfram Koessel, cello) celebrates its thirty-seventh season in 2012–2013. Critics and colleagues hold the American String Quartet in high esteem, and many of today’s leading artists and composers seek them out for collaborations.

In July 2012, the Quartet collaborated with composer Mohammed Fairouz, clarinetist David Krakauer, and Indian dancer and Bollywood star Shakti Mohan in a performance of Fairouz’s Hindustani Dabke, performed for BBC World News. Following summer residencies at China’s Great Wall International Music Academy and at Colorado’s Aspen Music Festival, the Quartet’s 2012–2013 season included performances in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In January, the Quartet returned to Israel for appearances in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, where clarinetist Sharon Kam joined them for performances of Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major, K. 581. Also in Tel Aviv, cellist Iris Regevjoined the quartet for Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, D. 956, and violist Ori Kam joined the them for the Brahms Quintet in G major, Op. 111. Other collaborators during the 2012–2013 season included violists Matthias Buchholz, Karen Dreyfus, and Thomas Rosenthal; cellists William Grubb, Alexander Scheirle, and Alan Stepansky; double bassist Timothy Cobb; pianists Robert McDonald and Menahem Pressler; and clarinetists Richard Stoltzman and Oskar Espina Ruiz, as well as the Ariel Quartet.

To celebrate its thirty-fifth anniversary, the Quartet recorded an ambitious CD, Schubert’s Echo, released in August 2010 by NSS Music. The program invites the listener to appreciate the influence of Schubert on two masterworks of early 20th-century Vienna.

Critically acclaimed for its presentations of the complete quartets of Beethoven, Schubert, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Mozart, the American also champions contemporary music. The quartet has commissioned and premiered works by distinguished composers Claus Adam, Richard Danielpour, Kenneth Fuchs, Tobias Picker, and George Tsontakis. The quartet has recorded on the Albany, CRI, MusicMasters, Musical Heritage Society, Nonesuch, and RCA labels. Their discography includes works by Adam, Corigliano, Danielpour, Dvořák, Fuchs, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, and Tsontakis. Originally released by MusicMasters and again in 2008 by Nimbus Records, the quartet’s recordings of the complete Mozart string quartets on a matched set of Stradivarius instruments are widely held to set the standard for this repertoire.

The American String Quartet’s innovative programming and creative approach to education has resulted in notable residencies throughout the country. The ensemble continues as quartet in residence at the Manhattan School of Music (1984–present) and the Aspen Music Festival (1974–present).

Formed in 1974 when its original members were students at The Juilliard School, the American String Quartet was launched by winning both the Coleman Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Award in the same year.

 


 


 


ABOUT THE MUSIC

At the end of the eighteenth century Joseph Haydn made two visits to London, where his music was widely acclaimed. He dedicated the two quartets of his Opus 77 to Prince Lobkowitz (who had commissioned Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartets one year earlier). Over his career, Haydn standardized the form of the string quartet, making it into the pre-eminent genre of chamber music. These late quartets are among his greatest.

In the opening Allegro moderato of the String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2, Haydn presents a pleasant theme that becomes the basis of considerable thematic development. Although Haydn follows sonata form, the movement is based entirely on the opening melody.

The Menuetto: Presto ma non troppo is an example of the evolution from minuet to scherzo over Haydn’s compositional career. Despite its name, this is much more a scherzo than a minuet. The rhythmic feeling is one beat to a measure rather than three, and it is far from the genteel and courtly dance of earlier days. The central trio, as is common, provides a contrasting affect—here with a warm, subdued character. Following traditional minuet/scherzo form, the opening material returns to provide symmetry to the movement.

In the slow movement (Andante), Haydn opens with an extended passage of two voices only, with the treble providing the melody and the cello adding the steady walking bass (andante literally means “walking”). The key has shifted to D major for this movement only. As the other instruments enter, the music becomes more complex, but the bare bones of melody and accompaniment remain prominent.

The Finale (Vivace assai) is exciting and virtuosic. The lively theme becomes the basis for fast runs, syncopation, contrapuntal imitation, and rapid-fire dialogue between instruments. An extreme ritardando (slowing down) is followed by a recap of the theme and a satisfying cadence. This was Haydn’s last complete string quartet, and with it he set a high standard for all future quartets.

For many years, Dmitri Shostakovich was considered an ardent supporter of Stalin’s oppressive communist state of that time, and his music was, despite its popularity, dismissed as mere propaganda. In 1979, his published memoirs (from secret interviews, smuggled into the West) revealed his opposition to that regime. The work’s authenticity is questioned, but what we do know is that Shostakovich was the victim of several state-sponsored critical attacks—not what one would expect for a party regular. His fifteen symphonies and the same number of string quartets are considered some of the greatest music composed in the twentieth century. And even without words, these works are rich in emotional expressiveness and inner meaning.

The String Quartet No. 3 is a history of war. The subtitles listed in the program were not part of the score when it was published, but the members of the Borodin String Quartet—close personal friends of the composer—insisted whenever they performed it that the subtitles be appended. The first movement, Allegretto, opens with a carefree folk-like theme “to portray the calm unawareness,” accompanied by simple staccato chords. Occasional bursts of tense harmonies are relieved by the recurrence of that theme.

In the second movement, Moderato con moto, we hear the “rumblings of unrest and anticipation.” The viola plays forceful three-note arpeggio figures against syncopated melodies. The instruments wander in dissonance with an occasional consonant chord as the only anchor. Emotions switch back and forth, ending in uncertainty.

The third movement, Allegro non troppo, depicts the war itself—explosive chords off the beat, melodies that sometimes pursue one another and sometimes cry out as one, and a relentless barrage of notes. It ends suddenly, with an emphatic three-note unison burst.

The fourth movement, Adagio, is the grieving after the battle: In 1946, the people of Europe had much to mourn. The instruments alternate an angry unison with a plaintive melody. Each instrument gets its own individual theme of grief, after which the lower parts join to support the violin's high elegy. The movement ends with the viola and cello in dialogue.

The fifth and final movement, Moderato—Adagio, is the longest. The first theme is introduced by the cello, with pizzicato (plucked) accompaniment. Other instruments introduce various themes, but the first theme returns, rising in pitch and intensity until it becomes the insistent query of those who have experienced war. Finally, the violin plays a phrase that starts and ends, leaving a space, as if to begin a dialogue. But there is no response, and we are left with the unanswered question “Why? And for what?”

Beethoven came into his own personal, non-derivative style in his middle period. Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador in Vienna, commissioned him to write three string quartets, the first of the “Middle Quartets.” The String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3, starts with a slow introduction (Andante con moto) using tense chords (diminished sevenths) and progressions that are far from the cheerful sound we expect from the key of C Major. As the first movement proper (Allegro vivace) starts, we finally get our footing in the major tonality. Beethoven here establishes a rhythmic motif (a short note followed by a longer note, both attacked forcefully) as a unifying element within a broad range of melodic, harmonic, and instrumental textures.

Razumovsky asked Beethoven to incorporate Russian folk songs into the quartets. Beethoven made up his own Russian-sounding tune in a modal (folk-like) scale. The violin plays this tune at the beginning of the second movement (Andante con moto quasi allegretto—slow but not too slow), as the cello plucks a bass accompaniment in imitation of a plucked folk instrument. First the viola and then the cello develop the tune. The final chords, still minor, are played pizzicato by all four instruments.

The third movement (Menuetto grazioso), is short and sweet. Graceful scale runs descend from the first violin down to the other instruments and back up to the top voice. The central Trio section is more forceful, and is followed by a repeat of the gentle Menuetto and a brief coda that leads directly into the finale.

In the last movement (Allegro molto), fast virtuosic runs are joined in fugue-like counterpoint. The energy builds to a climax, and then a solo voice starts the fugue theme again. This pattern is repeated several times before the final dramatic fortissimo cadence.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com