Leipzig String Quartet

Stefan Arzberger, violin
Tilman Büning, violin
Ivo Bauer, viola
Matthias Moosdorf, cello

Sunday, August 4, 2013, 4 pm

“Quartet Monuments”


String Quartet No. 5 in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5 (1798–1800)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Menuetto — Trio
Andante cantabile con variazioni

String Quartet (1964) Witold Lutosławski
(In honor of the composer's centenary)


String Quartet in D Major, M. 9 (1889)
César Franck (1822–1890)

Poco lento. Allegro
Scherzo: Vivace
Finale: Allegro molto




next week

Saturday, August 10, 6:30 pm
Fred Hersch, jazz piano, and Anat Cohen, clarinet

Sunday, August 11, 4 pm
Trio Solisti

Music of Schubert, Britten, Aaron Copland, and Shostakovich



Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Founded in 1988, the Leipzig String Quartet is widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting string quartets on the international chamber music scene. The Neue Züricher Zeitung has described the ensemble as “one of the towering and most versatile quartets of our time,” and in 2002 The New York Times wrote, “if there is a Leipzig sound, this is it!“ Three of its members were first chairs in the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig. The quartet has won numerous prizes and awards, including the International ARD Munich competition and the Busch and Siemens prizes.

Today, the Leipzig String Quartet concertizes extensively throughout Europe and in Israel, Africa, Central and South America, Australia, and Asia, including appearances at many of the major festivals. In North America, engagements have included appearances at Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall, the 92nd Street Y, the Frick Collection, Wolf Trap, the Library of Congress, and many other chamber music series. Often offering its own thematic cycles (Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, the contemporaries), the quartet was also one of the initiators of the 1996 and 1997 Beethoven Quartet Cycle offered jointly with five other quartets as a sign of pan-European friendship in more than fifteen cities.

Since 1991, the ensemble has had its own concert series, Pro Quatuor, at the Gewandhaus, where it offered, among other events, a multi-year cycle of the major quartets of the First and Second Viennese Schools. As a member of the Leipzig-based Ensemble Avantgarde, the quartet is dedicated to contemporary music and works by the classical moderns. With this ensemble, the quartet formed in 1990 the Musica Nova series at the Gewandhaus, and was awarded the 1993 Schneider-Schott prize of the City of Mainz.

Chamber music partners Juliane Banse, Christiane Oelze, Alfred Brendel, Barbara Buntrock, Menahem Pressler, Michael Sanderling, Andreas Staier, Christian Zacharias, and others enrich and expand the quartet’s already large repertoire, which consists so far of almost three hundred works by approximately one hundred composers.

The quartet’s almost seventy recordings cover a range of music from Mozart to Cage and include the complete works of Brahms, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and the Second Viennese School. All have been met with international critical acclaim. The Leipzig Quartet has earned the Diapason d’Or and Premios CD Compact awards, two nominations for the Cannes Classical Award, and multiple ECHO Klassik awards. Their recording of the complete Schubert quartet literature, a first, is considered by many the most important release for the 1997 Schubert bicentennial year. The French magazine Répertoire named the Leipzig’s recording of Schubert’s Trout quintet with pianist Christian Zacharias as the best recording of this work. The quartet has repeatedly won the Quarterly Prize of the German Record Reviewers. Since 1992, the Leipzig has recorded exclusively for Dabringhaus & Grimm Music (MDG) Productions. Since 2009, the members of the Leipzig String Quartet have performed as principals in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, at the invitation of Maestro Claudio Abbado, and they are guest professors at the Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai).





Beethoven was twenty-seven when he began the six string quartets of Opus 18, his first important works in this genre. In this early part of his career, Beethoven copied out string quartets by Mozart and Haydn in order to study their techniques, and the influence of both composers is evident in the String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5.

In the opening Allegro, the first violin presents an upbeat theme. The second theme is in minor, providing the requisite contrast. As in earlier quartets by Mozart and Haydn, the first violin has the principal role, with the others only occasionally stepping forward.

Beethoven puts the Menuetto as the second movement (a minuet or scherzo is more commonly placed third in the order of movements). The instruments divide the task of playing the eminently danceable theme, and Beethoven adds a short fugato (fugue-like) passage. The violin plays double stops (two notes with one stroke of the bow) as the accompaniment for the Trio section, while the inner voices play the heavily accented melody.

The third movement (Andante cantabile) is a simple and straightforward theme, sung by the violin, with several variations. In the first, Beethoven starts the staccato theme in the cello, and then adds each instrument in turn. The second variation gives the first violin fast runs as the others play isolated staccato eighth notes. The viola and cello take the melody in variation three, with the violins playing a fast two-note ostinato (a repeated pattern of notes). In variation four, Beethoven shows us a glimpse of his harmonic adventurousness, changing the chordal progressions entirely. Variation five is in the grand style of a marching band, ending with a short, slow coda.

The first four short notes of the finale (Allegro) are used as a melodic and rhythmic motif throughout the movement—a compositional technique that would become a distinctive characteristic in much of Beethoven’s later work. The second theme is given in long slow notes, as if played on an organ, and then developed and combined with the first theme. A long section of cadential material (another typical Beethoven technique) prepares us well in advance for the gentle ending.

Polish composer Witold Lutosławski is now acknowledged as one of the leading European composers of the twentieth century. His first symphony (1947) was condemned by Russia's Stalinist government, which after World War II had established hegemony over most of Eastern Europe, including Poland. After that, Lutosławski maintained a separation between music he wrote for himself and that intended for public consumption. He composed children’s songs, piano pieces, film music, and light concert pieces using folk melodies, meanwhile working in private on his twelve-tone compositions, which were presented to the public only after Stalin’s death in 1953. After hearing John Cage’s music, he started incorporating into his music aleatoric (“music of chance”) techniques, where the performers’ choices determine the final form of the composition. Lutosławski was a champion of Polish
independence, and his contribution to that cause was recognized with major awards. He was a longtime friend of Maverick’s 2013 featured composer Benjamin Britten, and composed a song cycle for Britten’s partner, tenor Peter Pears, who premiered it at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1965, with the composer conducting.

Lutosławski’s String Quartet is one of the few chamber works in his oeuvre. He wrote out the individual parts, but did not want to bind them together into a score. The performers make their own choices about some entrances and exits, while other moments are played in predetermined synchronization. The piece therefore sounds slightly different each time it is played. The composer writes: “In this quartet I have sought to develop and enlarge what I call controlled aleatorism. It employs the element of chance for the purpose of rhythmic and expressive enrichment of the music, without limiting in the least the full ability of the composer to determine the definitive form of the work.”

During his lifetime, César Franck was renowned as a teacher and as an organist. His students at the Paris Conservatory (including Ernest Chausson and Vincent d’Indy) became known as La bande à Franck, or the Franckists, and presented premieres of his works through the Société Nationale de Musique. Franck’s improvisations at the organ of the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde drew capacity crowds every Sunday. During one such performance, Franz Liszt whispered to a friend that he felt as though he were listening to Johann Sebastian Bach play.

As a composer, however, Franck was largely unappreciated for most of his life. The String Quartet in D Major (his only work in this genre, written in the last year of his life) was the first of his compositions to receive enthusiastic public acclaim. The novelist Marcel Proust was so taken by it that he asked for a private performance at his home.

Franck’s music emphasizes “tonal architecture” and “cyclic form,” terms he used to describe structural techniques that had actually been used by many composers before him, including Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms. Motives and thematic materials are not just developed and recapitulated within a movement, but are also carried over into later movements, unifying and integrating the entire composition.

In the introduction (Poco lento), the violin sings the melody accompanied by full, sustained chords. This song becomes a motto theme, used in various forms later in the work. After a pause, the Allegro proper starts, using the same thematic materials speeded up and handed off to the other instruments. This fairly long movement has various tempo changes, including a slow fugato (fugue-like) treatment of the song, another dramatic Allegro, and a final return to the aria-like treatment of the opening.

The Scherzo: Vivace makes only veiled references to the motto theme. The opening and closing sections employ fast bowing for a frenetic but at the same time hushed and mysterious sound. The central section provides a more relaxed legato counterbalance.

In the slow third movement (Larghetto), Franck makes allusion to the rhythmic and melodic contours of the motto theme. It is easy to lose oneself in the violin’s tune, but this movement is full of intense part writing, with each instrument making an important contribution.

The Finale (Allegro molto) opens with unison strings in a brief but forceful utterance, followed by the song from the first movement, then the authoritative unison again, followed by the theme of the Scherzo, and so on, until all the basic themes are recalled and redeveloped. The final remembrance of themes past is the tune from the Larghetto, after which the unison strings provide the powerful final 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 Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg