ClefLogo  Concert 3 - Programme Notes

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Ruisi String Quartet     

Concert No 3

8pm Saturday 18th November 2017
at Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre

Ruisi String Quartet

Song in String Quartets

Making Music Selected Artists

Alessandro Ruisi - violin, Oliver Cave - violin,
Luba Tunnicliffe - viola and Max Ruisi - cello

“... joy and anguish, tenderness and high spirits, they were all there in this understated, refined,
masterly performance.”

The programme notes for this concert are:

String Quartet No.25 in C Major Op.20 No.2 Hob. III: 32
Joseph Franz Haydn 1732 – 1809
      I: Moderato      II: Adagio      III: Minuetto; allegretto      IV: Fugue

Joseph Haydn was an Austrian composer of the 18th century who was the brother of Michael Haydn (1737 - 1806). During his lifetime Joseph saw a series of striking changes in musical style with the transition from the traditional Baroque to the maturity of the Classical form. Haydn did not simply live through this time but was an essential part of it. Under his care the symphony and above all the string quartet came to real life. In addition to his monumental accomplishments as a composer of symphonies, he was the virtual creator of the string quartet, Haydn's predecessors preferring the chamber structure of the trio-sonata.

Haydn seized upon the string quartet as a medium uniquely suited to his personality and artistic needs. On it he lavished such love, devotion and talent that forthwith the string quartet gained legitimacy in the family of musical forms. He composed 68 string quartets from 1762 - 1803.

The set of six quartets, Op.20 are known as the Sun Quartets simply because the title page issued by the publisher showed a picture of the rising sun on its cover. They were completed in 1772. They show Haydn had reached a pinnacle of skill in his composing for this medium.

“The quartet begins with an impressive, richly textured movement, moderately paced and dominated by the spacious first subject heard on the Cello. This is followed by a capriccio in C minor, an extraordinary piece of bold writing with dramatic unisons and recitative leading to a simple ‘arioso’ in E flat major. The remarkable Minuet follows with its dramatic suspensions, pedals, chromaticisms and occasional dynamic surprises which frame a dark C minor trio. The finale is a Fugue with four subjects, and the argument is pursued ‘sotto voce’ until the closing bars, when contrapuntal severity is relaxed in favour of a homophonic conclusion.”

The part in quotes is taken from a CD cover note of Haydn String Quartets performed by the Lindsay String Quartet with notes written by Robin Golding.

Previous performance at HCMS concerts by the Wu String Quartet on 27th September 2014


String Quartet No.1 Kreutzer Sonata
Leos Janáček 1854 – 1928

Very few works of chamber music owe their inspiration to extra-musical sources. Janáček’s String Quartet No.1 is one of these. Other well-known examples include Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Smetana’s String Quartet No.1 (From My Life) and Janáček’s String Quartet No.2, entitled Intimate Pages.

Janáček, unlike most other composers, did not produce a string quartet until late in life (to be technically correct, he wrote a quartet during his student days in Vienna in 1880, but this has been lost). The First Quartet dates from 1923, when the composer was 69, the Second from 1928, the year of his death at age 74. The First Quartet’s subtitle refers to both a short novel by Tolstoy and a sonata for violin and piano by Beethoven. Both have relevance to Janáček’s quartet.

Tolstoy’s novella (1889) is the story of a married woman caught in the dilemma between remaining faithful to a man who treats her cruelly and having an affair with a violinist who adores her. The violinist, ironically, was introduced to the woman by her husband at a soirée during which Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (No.9, Op.47) was performed. Tolstoy describes in detail the effect the music had on those present. Among other observations, the author believes music generally to be “one of the main intermediaries for encouraging adultery in our society.” At any rate, the husband returns unexpectedly early from a business trip several days later to find his wife and the violinist in passionate embrace. The “poor, exhausted, beaten, sorrow-worn woman” is thereupon murdered. Janáček’s compassion for this unfortunate woman found its way into artistic expression through his First String Quartet, which was given its première by the famed Bohemian Quartet on October 24, 1924 in Prague.

In preparing to write the quartet, Janáček annotated a copy of Tolstoy’s work with specific ideas about the relationship between the sonata and the novella. However, the composer made no effort to trace any kind of dramatic program in his quartet. Rather, it presents and expands emotional and psychological states to which various musico-dramatic touches have been added. To some listeners, the opening of the third movement of Janáček’s quartet is a veiled quote from the slow movement of Beethoven’s sonata.

One might assign specific themes to characters or moods, if one wishes, but it is the overall sense of theatre that makes the quartet such a compelling work. Not one of its four movements is in sonata form. Instead, motifs and rhythmic devices are presented, repeated, juxtaposed and combined in constantly changing tempos and metres. In a work lasting less than twenty minutes in performance, there are no fewer than 61 changes of tempo and 25 changes of metre. Over and above all this we find liberal use of such special effects as sul ponticello (playing on the bridge of the instrument, which produces an eerie, ghostly sound), harmonics and ostinatos in addition to more traditional effects like trills, pizzicatos and muted passages.

Robert Smetana, in his introduction to the score published by Hudebni Matice, recommends that we approach this music “as a passionate confession of the principle and power of emotional relations between man and woman in life and in art, to grasp the music not as decor, but as an integral part of life, a part that is often excessively painful, and to hear in it the intense personal participation of the composer.”

First performance at HCMS Concerts. The second string quartet “Intimate Letters” was performed by the Franz Schubert String Quartet on 19th October 1991.


Italian Serenade in G
Hugo Wolf 1860 - 1903

Hugo Wolf’s reputation rests on his songs, but throughout his brief creative career (he died at 43 in a mental hospital) he dreamed of composing large-scale works. In 1887, at age 27, Wolf composed–in the space of three days–a movement for string quartet that he called simply Serenade. Three years later, he added the word “Italian” to that title, apparently as an act of homage to a land of warmth and sunny spirits, and in 1892 he arranged the serenade for a small orchestra of pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and strings (there is also a prominent role for solo viola in both versions). Wolf later planned to add three further movements to make his Italian Serenade a full-scale orchestral work, but these came to nothing. Trapped by frequent periods of creative sterility and, increasingly, by periods of mental instability, he could make no progress on these movements, which survive only as fragmentary sketches.

The one completed movement of the Serenade, however, has become one of Wolf’s most frequently performed and recorded works. Some commentators have taken the title quite literally: they claim to hear in this music an actual serenade sung by a young man to his love on a balcony above. They cite the opening pizzicatos as the sound of a guitar being tuned and hear the voice of the young man in the earnest cello and the voice of the young woman in reply.

It is quite possible to enjoy the music without knowing any of this (or searching for it in the music). The Italian Serenade is in rondo form, set at a very brisk tempo–Wolf marks it Ausserst lebhaft (“Extremely fast”)–yet the music manages both to be very fast and to project an easy, almost languorous, atmosphere throughout. Wolf marks individual episodes “tender,” “fiery,” and “passionate” as this music flows smoothly to its quiet close.

Programme note taken from The John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts Concert Series. © Dr Richard E Rodda

Previous performances at HCMS concerts by the Endellion String Quartet on 23rd October 1982, the Piatti String Quartet on 25th February 2012 and by the Brodsky String Quartet on 15th February 2014.


String Quartet No 13 in A minor D804 Rosamunde
Franz Schubert 1797 – 1828
      i: Allegro ma non troppo      ii: Andante      iii: Menuetto: Allegretto      iv: Allegro moderato

Schubert wrote over 30 chamber works including two complete piano trios to the popular Octet for Wind and Strings. However, it was the string quartet that he regarded as the supreme achievement in this field and in 1824 he planned a series of three of them. The first two, including the Rosamunde and the famous Death and the Maiden quartets, were written in February and March of that year. This work was written, given its first performance, and published all in the same year, 1824 – a rare occurrence indeed for Schubert. He dedicated it to the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whose quartet first played it.

The first three notes of the haunting first theme must have haunted Verdi too, for he started his Requiem with them (in the same key). As so often with Schubert, the wistfulness of the opening is offset, or even increased, by an almost immediate transference to the major key. The main secondary theme, on the second violin, is signposted by a brief silence. But the centre of the movement is devoted to the development of the main theme, including some distant modulations, and indeed it has the last word as well.

The main subject matter of the second movement is the third Entr'acte of the Rosamunde music. It is not a series of variations. There is one full-length varied reprise, but both before and after this there are wide and mysterious excursions. Mystery and wistfulness also dominate the main limb of the minuet, though the trio section in the major is more relaxed and dance-like in style.

But this is the end of the sorrows. The effect of the last movement is blithe in the main, and not unlike a foretaste of Dvorák in country mood. The effect, however, is not all lightweight. There are more than a few moments of drama and virtuosity.
Author: Ivor Keys (May 2011)
Programme note supplied by the Making Music Programme Note Bank.

Previous performance at HCMS concerts by the Navarra String Quartet on the 20th October 2012.

© Programme notes compiled by Dr Martin Hudson except where indicated when other authors have been acknowledged.



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