Programme Notes

The Dudok Quartet

Judith Van Driel, violin
Marleen Wester, violin
Marie-Lousie de Jong, viola
David Faber, cello

Programme Notes by Donald Judge

buy Latuda illegally W A Mozart (1756-1791): String Quartet No. 23 in F major  can i buy lurasidone or Lurasidone over the counter K 590

Allegro moderato; Andante; Menuetto; Allegretto – Allegro

In 1789, Mozart met, and played for, the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II, an amateur cellist. As a result of royal commissions, he wrote three string quartets of a projected set of six – customary in those days – and the piano sonata K 576 for Princess Friederike, also one of several that never materialised. His Majesty must have been a fine cellist if Mozart thought he could manage the part. Having only paid the increasingly impoverished composer 100 Golden Friedrichs, the King withdrew further payment:  Mozart withdrew further music and the dedication. Number 23 turned out to be his last quartet: he had the three engraved at his own expense, but they were only published after his death. 

The 1st – sonata form – movement begins with a melody that rises up the triad of the home key in minims, before a descending flourish in semiquavers. The shape of this idea is repeated a tone higher, but with the intervals flattened and a quick return to the home key. The violin sings a melody, bird-like or diva-like, above a chugging accompaniment, until the cello enters with variants of the descending semiquavers. What follows is a virtuosic display of composition, full of invention and counterpoint. All instruments, including Mozart’s own, the viola, share the honours. After the exposition, a fairly brief development section plays with some of the ideas already heard on its way to a recapitulation of the opening music. The analysis makes it sound quite conventional, but this is the genius Mozart. No spoilers except to say the end of the movement is a complete – and ultra-genius – surprise. The andante in 6/8 also used the device of shifting the initial short idea up a tone. Again, the 1st violin begins the semiquaver embellishments that all share. But when the opening music returns, it’s the viola that adds a new idea with “Scotch snaps” – a reversal of a dotted rhythm with the short note on the beat followed by the longer one. As a form, the minuet had already come a long way from its courtly origins and being suitable for dancing on its journey to becoming the scherzo. As Haydn often did, Mozart wrong foots us in the most subtle way rhythmically, and then introduces some daring chromaticisms. Perhaps that’s why he kept the Trio in the same key – F major. The finale begins innocently enough with a lively melody that descends in a semiquaver pattern, almost like a folk dance.  But this extraordinary finale is perhaps as close as Mozart could have got, with just four instruments, to the contrapuntal finale of the (earlier) Jupiter Symphony – appropriate for the last notes he wrote in both genres. The semiquaver pattern is constantly developed: a new theme is pitted against it and both are presented together in double counterpoint. The music passes through a wide range of keys, and even seems briefly to take on a new key’s character – for example, D minor said “dark” to Mozart, the key of Don Giovanni’s demise and the K466  piano concerto. There are surprising pauses and surprising dissonances, and needless to say, the ending will be a surprise!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893):    String Quartet No. 1 in D major Op. 11  

Moderato e semplice; Andante cantabile; Allegro non tanto e con fuoco – Trio    Allegro giusto – Allegro vivace 

Tchaikovsky idolised Mozart, but like Beethoven, only published his first quartet (of three) once he turned 30, having abandoned an earlier attempt after one movement. It’s rare for any composer to write 9/8 as a time signature as in the first – sonata form – movement. 9 quavers in a bar, grouped in 3s, is a beguiling metre: even in the best-known example, Bach’s celebrated setting of Jesu Joy, the quavers are really triplets set against the 3 crotchets of the chorale. Tchaikovsky’s opening rhythms are elusive, and far from semplice (simple) that he writes at the start – as is the richly inventive development of the material. The repeated opening chords, richly scored with all instruments double stopped, include notes tied over from weak beats to strong: hearing the underlying pulse is impossible. In the first four bars, the harmonies shift a bar at a time above a drone bass. Soon the opening chords that were marked piano dolce (soft and sweet) return pianissimo (even quieter) before the instruments in turn embellish the continuing chords with semiquavers. The second subject, in A major and introduced low in the instruments’ registers, adheres more strongly to the feel of 9/8, but Tchaikovsky throws in a bar of 12/8 to add to the mystery. In the rest of the exposition the music becomes livelier and louder: there is much syncopation with melodic ideas beginning off the beat: at one point in the development the composer writes con fuoco (with fire). The movement builds to a thrilling and assertive climax. The slow movement sets a beautiful and typically Russian folk melody that, so the story goes, the composer heard whistled by a house painter when visiting his sister. The scherzo is as wild as the slow movement is tear-jerking, a dance in the minor key with off-beat accents, but the main section fades to a pianissimo. The trio has new material but continues the thrilling syncopations. The finale begins with what could be another folk melody, in 2/4 metre, marked to be played giusto (in strict time). But even here, Tchaikovsky plays with the pulse, with silence for the first quaver of the second bar. The music contrasts louder and softer passages, expertly combining melodic ideas and sharing them between the instruments. A brief coda, again marked con fuoco, brings this fine addition to the quartet repertoire to a dazzling close.

Another story tells that Leo Tolstoy burst into tears on hearing it at a concert in his honour. When the Zoellner quartet played it to Helen Keller, she “heard” it via her fingertips on a wooden tabletop, and waxed lyrical, writing: “When you play to me, I see and hear and feel many things that I cannot easily put into words. I feel the sweep and surge and mighty pulse of life. Oh, you are masters of a wondrous art, subtle and superfine. When you play to me immediately a miracle is wrought, sight is given the blind, and deaf ears hear sweet, strange sounds.”

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)            String Quartet No. 5 in B-flat major Op. 92

Allegro non troppo — II. Andante — Andantino — Andante — Andantino — Andante — III Moderato — Allegretto — Andante

No composer (like no man or woman) is an island: to earn a living, all are at the whim of those who might employ them, publish or play their music, and listen as audiences and critics. Even the greatest composers of their age are not immune, especially as the greatest of them stretch form, subject matter, or tonality to their contemporary limits. Mozart yearned to free himself from the Archbishop of Salzburg’s demands. Tchaikovsky was devasted by Hanslick’s scathing review of the premiere of his Violin Concerto. Under Soviet Communism, Shostakovich, like all his fellow artists, had to tread a treacherous line between political expectation and personal vision. In the 1930’s he was denounced, and his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was banned; he wrote his 5th Symphony as a “Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism.” After the 30th anniversary of the 1917 revolution, he and other composers came under another vitriolic attack for their lukewarm or non-existent response. Shostakovich had at least produced a patriotic, bombastic work, The Poem of the Fatherland, but idealogue Andrei Zhdanov accused him (and Prokofiev for one) of being “deviationist, occupied by private whims, and pathologically discordant.” Stunned by this, and in fear of his liberty or life, Shostakovich kept a low profile. Zhdanov died in 1948, but it was only after Stalin himself died in 1953 that Shostakovich released some major works he’d completed: the 1st Violin Concerto, the 4th and 5th String Quartets, and the 10th Symphony. The latter two are masterpieces on a par with each other, such is their scale and emotional power. The form of the quartet is remarkable. Even the list of movements and tempi doesn’t reveal how frequently the speeds and moods change. To further blur the usual boundaries, the three movements follow each other attacca – without a break. The first is the largest, and, in form at least, the most conventional, even including repeat marks for the exposition as was standard in classical times. But the first two bars contain almost all the thematic material for the entire work, especially the notes for solo viola, a variant of the DSCH motif that pervades a lot of Shostakovich’s work, featuring in the 10th Symphony and 8thQuartet among others. As well as being a contraction of his forename and surname, it represents the musical notes, in German, D, E flat, C, B natural, much as BACH represents B flat, A, C, B natural. Maybe the composer suspected this musical signature was evidence of the “private whims” Zhdanov criticised. The second subject begins as an innocent sounding waltz, in G major, with harmonious accompaniment, the perfect sonata form foil to the turbulent opening. But as so often in this quartet and in much of Shostakovich’s music, repose is a fleeting vision: the material is developed – indeed distorted – rhythmically and melodically, and combined with the other motifs to powerful and disturbing effect. The second, slower, movement alternates two different ideas in different tempi that both have their origin in the opening material. At one point the cellist must sustain a bowed note A, while simultaneously plucking the same pitch off the beat. The finale continues the ingenious exploration of the core material: a logical extension of what Beethoven had strived to do in his 5th Symphony, where the opening rhythm pervades the entire work: and Sibelius in his 7th, growing organically and the traditional movements merging imperceptibly into one. Unlike those revolutionary works, this revolutionary quartet is no journey from darkness to light. It certainly doesn’t defy analysis, but it would be incredibly detailed. The listener is probably best consenting to be transported on a fascinating, if disturbing, journey through a landscape at once familiar and yet constantly and strangely transformed, sometimes breakneck and sometimes meandering. There is intense anger and intense sadness, and the composer was always reluctant to explain his thinking in words. What is certain is that, just as some of his final bars are not the glorious political triumph they might appear, so the hushed ending of this quartet is not unalloyed peace and calm. 70 years on, it’s no less powerful and perplexing a work than when it was first performed by its dedicatees, the Beethoven Quartet.