ClefLogo  Concert 6 - Programme Notes

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Elias String Quartet and Robert Plane     

Concert No.6

Saturday 12th February 2022 at 3pm
at Clonter Opera Theatre

Elias String Quartet
and Robert Plane (Clarinet)

Sara Bitlloch (Violin), Donald Grant (Violin),
Simone van der Giessen (Viola), Marie Bitlloch (Cello)
and Robert Plane (Clarinet)

  “Few quartets at any stage of their
evolution have this much personality”

- Philadelphia Enquirer

The programme notes for this concert are:

String Quartet in D major Op.18 No.3
by Ludwig van Beethoven 1770 – 1827
    I: Allegro    II: Andante con moto    III: Allegro    IV: Presto

The string quartet allowed Beethoven the full expression of his genius, even more so than the symphony or piano sonata. The great series of seventeen quartets was begun at approximately the same time as the First Symphony (1799) and ended well after the composition of the Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.111 (1822). It was the unlimited freedom of the four stringed instruments, their complete independence, their supple grace, their intimacy - not necessarily excluding violence - that permitted Beethoven to reach his fullest development. Haydn and Mozart opened the way for Beethoven's string quartet compositions. It is traditional to divide the Beethoven string quartets into three distinct periods and styles, The Early, Middle and Late Quartets. There are six quartets in the early group, Numbers 1 - 6 known as Op.18. In the middle group there are five quartets including the famous Rasoumovsky quartets and the Harp quartet. The late quartets comprise the remaining six and are Opus 127,130,131,132,133 and 135. The quartet in C sharp minor, Op.131 is known as No.14.

When he began composing quartets in 1798 he was well aware that he was entering a hallowed and well-populated arena, represented at its best and therefore most daunting by Mozart and Haydn. He was particularly cognizant of the six quartets Mozart had dedicated to Haydn, as well as Mozart's Prussian Quartets and Haydn's own Opus 20, 71, 74, and 76 quartets. Only with the composition and publication of piano trios, piano sonatas, cello sonatas, string trios, and violin sonatas under his belt did Beethoven feel ready to begin writing quartets in earnest. His sketchbooks show that he composed Quartets Nos. 3, 1, 2, and 5 in that order; there is some indication that No.6 was composed last, but little information exists as to where No.4 fits into the scheme.

The Op.18 quartets were commissioned by Beethoven's new patron Prince Lobkowitz, who at the same time commissioned six from the aging Haydn, who was unable to produce more than two and part of another. Inevitably Beethoven must have felt the heat of competition on many levels, and the task, which took him two years to complete, involved much revision. He is famously quoted as writing to his friend Karl Amenda in 1801 about an early version of Op.18 No.1, saying not to circulate it, for "I have greatly changed it, having just learned how to write quartets properly." The Quartets were published in 1801 by Mollo, one of three publishers kept busy by Beethoven that year. As a measure of how far Beethoven had come by the time he wrote the Op.18 quartets we should remember that his First Symphony, also published in 1801, came into existence alongside the quartets.

Although the D major Quartet is numbered third in the sequence, dating from1798 it was almost certainly the first to be written, thus leaning most towards Beethoven's early influences. Overall the quartet gives the impression of being quiet and pensive, particularly in the calm and tender opening with the first violin floating in on the first subject with its striking dominant seventh over the soft sustained chords of its companions. A little disquiet enters with the second, more agitated, subject, above its staccato bass line. The movement continues with key modulations which bring frequent changes of mood. It is the second violin which, unusually, announces the simple theme of the Andante. Serious in nature, of considerable length, and rich in texture, it is almost in rondo form.

The third movement adopts neither the rhythmic verve of the minuet or the high spirits of the scherzo, but it continues the contemplative mood of the quartet with what is akin to a graceful intermezzo. It is marked by strange pauses and unexpected tonalities, often turning to minor keys, especially in the trio section.

The Presto finale restores the D major high spirits, with rhythmic drive and a feel of perpetual motion, punctuated with abrupt changes of dynamics, until the movement says its farewells in a whisper.

Programme note obtained from the Making Music Programme Note Bank; Author John Dalton.

Not previously performed at HCMS concerts.


String Quartet No.3 Reed Stanzas
by Sally Beamish b. 1956

Sally Beamish is a British composer and violist. Her works include chamber, vocal, choral and orchestral music including two symphonies. She has also worked in the field of music, theatre, film and television as well as composing for children and for her local community. She was a violist in the Raphael Ensemble.

Sally’s Programme Note for this work reads:

“Donald Grant, the second violinist in the Elias, is well known as a traditional Scottish fiddle player. I have incorporated this skill into a quartet work, drawing on Donald's Gaelic roots. The 'second violin range' of a quartet is similar to that used by traditional fiddle, inhabiting the throaty, rich soundworld of the lower strings, and the distinctive clarity of the upper strings in their lower positions. This leaves the first violin to explore the heights of the E string, so that the two violins are almost like different instruments.

I wrote part of the quartet in a cottage overlooking the machar of the Isle of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, listening to Britten's quartets in between working. These works always remind me of my former life as a viola player, and the wind blowing through the reed beds at Snape; a very different, but equally windswept, salt scented wilderness.

The reed has many different associations. 'The Reed of God': a Christian metaphor for Mary: the channel through which the spirit is breathed. The 'accursed' reed of Celtic belief: the reed through which Jesus was given vinegar to drink, on the cross. And the reeds used in the making of wind instruments, including the bagpipe and accordion. The Sufi poet Rumi describes the reed flute as a symbol of longing and separation: the reed, separated from its home, utters a heart-breaking lament.

Reed Stanzas takes the form of variations on a Celtic-inspired theme announced by the second violin, which opens and closes the work in the manner of Pibroch (the classical music of the Highland bagpipe). I have explored the intricate ornamentation used in Pibroch, highlighting its similarities to birdsong, and to Arabic reed flute (ney) playing. The piece also refers to the multiple reeds of the accordion (these days made of metal) - an instrument used in traditional music of many cultures. The idea of the loneliness and vastness of landscape underpins the quartet, while each variation, or 'stanza', has its own metre and mood.

Reed Stanzas was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed on July 25th, 2011 in Cadogan Hall, London, by the Elias String Quartet, as part of the BBC Proms Chamber Music Series.”

Sally Beamish 2011.

First performance at HCMS Concerts.


Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op.115
by Johannes Brahms 1833 - 1897
    I: Allegro    II: Adagio     III: Andantino - Presto non assai, ma con sentiment    IV: Con moto

The Clarinet Trio (Op.114), this Quintet, and the two Sonatas for clarinet and piano, were composed as a result of hearing the remarkable playing of Richard Mühfeld of the Meiningen Orchestra, and inspired the composer to produce these lovely chamber works of his declining years. Many people regard this gracious quintet as the composer's most beautifully conceived small-scale work. 'Small-scaled' only in its limited scoring, for it produces and develops its own sinewy strength and power.

The first movement is in sonata form and is somewhat sombre in mood. The principal subject is stated, after four bars of string introduction, by the clarinet - a theme of considerable loveliness which ranges through three octaves, and one which haunts the entire work and which, in fact, forms the coda to the last movement. After a rhythmic "bridge" passage the clarinet announces the second subject, this time harnessed to the second violin. The development is often impassioned with the wind instrument sometimes soaring above the strings, sometimes offering the dark rich colour of its lower register, but always a warm voice in the general texture. The coda, poignant and heart touching, offers a restatement of the introductory bars.

The Adagio finds the strings muted throughout, allowing the clarinet to spin its magic over a veiled, moonlit landscape. The middle section allows the clarinet to indulge in a wild rhapsody over a tremolo accompaniment and gives it a melody, elegiac and tender, and decorated with impish arabesques. Serenity returns and the coda allows the movement to die away calmly and with resignation.

The third movement is a pensive intermezzo, bringing relaxation after the intensity of the two previous movements. It is cast in two very contrasted sections. After the opening limpid phrases (D major) the tempo suddenly quickens into a lively, but delicate scherzo, in B minor and 2/4 time. The opening andantino never returns, although the coda brings us back into D major with a restatement of its chief theme. It is a very delicately poised movement and full of subtle detail.

The final movement is a set of five variations on a binary theme, the second half of which is repeated. One is struck again by the perfect craftsmanship, by the sensuous beauty of the scoring and by the imaginative treatment. The variations range over a wide canvas, as indeed does the whole work, and reveal a variety of moods with many striking effects. The coda induces a mood of resignation as the principal theme of the first movement creeps into the texture in what is a finely calculated finish to a work of infinite tenderness and nostalgia.

Previous performance at HCMS concerts on 29th September 1990 by the Nash Ensemble and 24th March 2001 by the Camerata Ensemble.

Programme Note taken from the Making Music Programme Note Bank. Author unknown.

© Programme notes compiled by Dr Martin Hudson from other authors who have been acknowledged where known.



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