Daedalus Quartet and Rufus Müller, tenor

Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violins
Jessica Thompson, viola
Thomas Kraines, cello

Rufus Müller, tenor

Sunday, September 1, 2013, 4pm

“Britten and the Romantics”

program

Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703 (1820)
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)

Allegro assai

String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (1941) Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)

Andante sostenuto — Allegro vivo
Allegretto con slancio
Andante calmo
Molto vivace

Winter Words, Op. 52:
Lyrics and Ballads of Thomas Hardy
(1953)
World premiere of a new arrangement for tenor and string quartet by Thomas Kraines / Britten

1. At Day-Close in November
2. Midnight on the Great Western
3. Wagtail and Baby
4. The Little Old Table
5. The Choirmaster’s Burial
6. Proud Songsters
7. At the Railway Station, Upway
8. Before Life and After

intermission

String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor, “From My Life” (1876) Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884)

Allegro vivo appassionato
Allegro moderato à la polka
Largo sostenuto
Vivace

next week

Saturday, September 7, 6:30 pm
Dan Tepfer, jazz piano


Program includes J. S. Bach/Dan Tepfer, The Goldberg Variations/Variations

Sunday, September 8, 4 pm
FINAL CONCERT OF THE SEASON
American String Quartet


Music of Haydn, Shostakovich, and Beethoven


 

 

 


LOGO
Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

ABOUT THE ARTIST

In the eleven years of its existence the Daedalus Quartet has received plaudits from critics and listeners alike for the security, technical finish, interpretive unity, and sheer gusto of its performances. The Daedalus Quartet has performed in many of the world’s leading musical venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, and Boston’s Gardner Museum, as well as on major series across Canada. Abroad, the ensemble has been heard at the Musikverein in Vienna, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Cité de la Musique in Paris, and in leading venues in Japan.

The Daedalus Quartet has won plaudits for its adventurous exploration of contemporary music, most notably the compositions of Elliott Carter, George Perle, György Kurtág and György Ligeti. Numerous chamber music organizations have commissioned works for them, by composers such as David Horne, Fred Lerdahl, and Joan Tower. The quartet has also collaborated with some of the world’s finest instrumentalists, including pianists Marc-André Hamelin and Simone Dinnerstein, clarinetists Paquito D’Rivera and David Shifrin, and violists Roger Tapping and Donald Weilerstein.

Lincoln Center appointed the Daedalus Quartet as the Chamber Music Society Two quartet for 2005–2007. The Daedalus Quartet has been Columbia University’s quartet-in-residence since 2005, and has served as quartet-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania since 2006. In 2007, the Quartet was awarded Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award and Chamber Music America’s Guarneri String Quartet Award.

The ensemble has performed at festivals including Bravo! Vail, Bard, Mt. Desert, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and many others. The award-winning members of the Daedalus Quartet hold degrees from The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute, Cleveland Institute, and Harvard University

The English-German tenor Rufus Müller was acclaimed by The New York Times following a performance in Carnegie Hall as “...easily the best tenor I have heard in a live Messiah.” He is a leading Evangelist in Bach’s Passions, and his unique dramatic interpretation of this role has confirmed his status as one of the world’s most sought-after performers

Rufus Müller has worked with leading conductors including Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington, Gustav Leonhardt, Trevor Pinnock, Joshua Rifkin, and many others. He has given solo recitals in the Wigmore Hall and the Barbican Concert Hall in London, and other venues across Europe. He has a regular partnership with the pianist Maria João Pires, with whom he has performed throughout Europe.

Mr. Müller’s operatic undertakings include major roles in productions at Houston Grand Opera as well as in major opera houses throughout Europe. His recordings range from Bach Passions and Mozart operas to lute songs by John Dowland and the works of Ned Rorem.

Rufus Müller was born in Kent, England, and was a choral scholar at New College, Oxford. In 1985 he won first prize in the English Song Award in Brighton, and in 1999 was a prizewinner in the Oratorio Society of New York Singing Competition. He is assistant professor of music at Bard College.

 


 


 


ABOUT THE MUSIC

In his lifetime, Schubert was considered an excellent composer of lieder, but his symphonies and chamber music went unpublished and unappreciated. As a result, many of his extant instrumental works are fragmentary. The Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) in C Minor, D. 703. is the only surviving movement of a quartet he wrote at the age of seventeen. Young Schubert would have played it on Sunday afternoons with his family string quartet.

The slow introduction (Grave) is intense and mysterious, and that intensity continues in the Allegro, with halting phrases, dramatic pauses, and shifts between dark minor passages and brighter major sections.

When it was discovered, the manuscript was missing the ending. It was reconstructed in 1939 by musicologist Alfred Orel.

After spending the summer of 1939 in Woodstock, Benjamin Britten and his life partner Peter Pears traveled to New York and then to the West Coast. While staying with musician friends in California, Britten received a commission from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had also commissioned works from Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartók, and Prokofiev. Although he had worked in the string quartet genre before (he wrote his first one at age nine), this was his first composition so named, and it became his String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 25.

A slow introduction (Andante sostenuto) of shimmering high chords and pizzicato cello is followed by a galloping figure (Allegro vivo) accompanying a forceful first theme and a skipping second theme. The eerie slow music returns, asserting itself as more than an isolated introduction. Britten plays with fast tempi superimposed on slow, high ranges contrasting with low, and strong chords alternating with ethereal passages.

The second movement (Allegretto con slancio—fast with a surge) is short but compelling. A steady beat provides the background as quick lines dart in and out like jagged lightning bolts.

Britten writes within the tradition of diatonic scales and traditional harmonies. But he often blurs the tonality, seeming to change the key in the middle of a phrase. This tonal ambiguity is evident in the slow movement (Andante calmo), giving it dramatic tension.

The brief finale is light and good natured, its airy, flitting figures interwoven with a slow theme that refuses to stay within the regular time signature. Pauses and glissandos add an even more lighthearted touch, giving the movement the feel of an homage to the father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn.

Britten’s song cycle Winter Words, settings of poetry by the late Victorian Thomas Hardy, touches on some of Britten’s favorite themes—the fragile innocence of childhood, the beauty of the natural world, the frightening dangers of the city, the inexorable march of time. “At Day-Close in November” speaks of trees in the fall, noting that children are unaware of the impermanence of things. In “Midnight on the Great Western,” the poet observes a boy traveling alone, and wonders how his innocence will fare in the dangerous world. The piano portrays the train’s steady motion. “Wagtail and Baby” tells of a bird drinking at a puddle, unconcerned with the wildlife that passes by but terrified of the “perfect gentleman.” Humans pose the greatest danger to the natural world, which even a baby can figure out. The piano right hand portrays the chirping bird.

“The Little Old Table” talks about how an object holds memories. Both piano and voice emphasize the creak of wood with staccato repetitions. “The Choirmaster’s Burial” adds a touch of the supernatural when a vicar ignores his choirmaster’s request for music at his funeral. The next night, the vicar sees a band clad in white playing around the choirmaster’s grave.

“Proud Songsters” is about the miracle of creation: Particles of grain and earth and air and rain turn into songbirds. The piano provides the fast figuration of the birdsong as the voice declaims the narrative more slowly. “At the Railway Station, Upway” again portrays the innocence and wisdom of children. A young boy, instead of shying away from a convict in handcuffs, plays the violin for him, and the convict happily sings along with lyrics about freedom. “Before Life and After” is a deep philosophical question about the primal state, where death is completely natural and accepted as part of life. When “feeling” was born, or “germed,” then pain came into the picture. The poet asks how long it will be until we regain that blessèd “nescience,” or ignorance. Britten’s original setting is for voice and piano. This is the world premiere of cellist Thomas Kraines’ arrangement for tenor and string quartet.

Bedřich Smetana grew up speaking German rather than his native Czech, and in his early years he was a composer of salon music and a virtuoso pianist. The Prague Revolution of 1848 began his transformation into a fiercely patriotic Czech nationalist composer.

The String Quartet No. 1 is subtitled From My Life, and is a rare example of the autobiographical string quartet. Beethoven had written a string quartet movement (the “Heiliger Dankgesang”) that was a personal song of thanksgiving for recovery from an illness, but most composers—even in the Romantic era when so much of music had literary content—treated the string quartet
as absolute music.

The opening movement (Allegro vivo appassionato) starts with a theme played by the viola. According to the composer, the descending fifth represents the call of fate. The lighter second theme is his love for music and romance.

In the second movement (Allegro moderato à la polka), Smetana depicts the happy days of his youth, when he was a composer of dance tunes and a passionate lover of dancing.

Smetana wrote to a friend that the third movement (Largo sostenuto) “recalls the happiness of my first love for the girl who later became my wife.” The occasional anguished passages probably recall her untimely death, but the focus is on the happy memory.

The final movement (Vivace) uses folk tunes to describe Smetana’s pleasure at being able to promote his country as a nationalist composer. Then, above a low and ominous accompaniment, comes a piercing violin note (a high E) which represents the tinnitus (ringing in the ear) that marked the onset of his deafness. He brings back themes from the first movement to recall “the promise of my early career,” but the nostalgia has succumbed to painful regret for the loss of his hearing.

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