Programme Notes

The Heath Quartet

Sara Wolstenholme, violin
Yume Fujise, violin
Gary Pomeroy, viola
Christopher Murray, cello

Programme Notes by Donald Judge

buy online Misoprostol 20 mcg Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809): String Quartet in F minor  buy brand name Clomiphene online op 20 no 5

Allegro Moderato: Minuet and Trio: Adagio: Fuga a 2 soggetti 

Haydn wrote the six quartets op 20 in 1772 at the age of 40. He was the highly respected but still liveried servant in charge of the music for Prince Nikolaus, who lived at the newly built Eszterháza Palace in Hungary for much of the year. The chateau was magnificent; the surroundings were a swamp making the air humid and oppressive. Haydn and his musicians longed for Vienna, so much so that Haydn dropped a subtle hint that it was time to return there in his “Farewell” symphony. In the finale, the players gradually blow out their candles and leave the stage, until only the two violinists are left, playing in the extraordinary key of F# major with its key signature of 6 sharps. F# minor, with three sharps, was unusual enough for the main key of the work. Perhaps even more can be read into the four flats of F minor, the key of the most intense quartet of the op 20 set. The choice of key is of great significance to classical composers and communicates more to performers that simply how tricky it may be to get their fingers round the notes. In 1772, although Haydn’s life was spent in relative isolation, he was already renowned as the world’s leading composer, and the publication of works that could be played by professionals and talented amateurs was eagerly awaited, as well as being a source of additional income for the composer. There’s little evidence that any of his quartets were performed for the court: they certainly aren’t light entertainment during or after dinner. They were though, a chance for the composer to explore his deepest thoughts and musical invention. As well as issues in his employment and personal life, Haydn was influenced by world changing ideas: wars, revolutionary sentiments and the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Haydn became a leading exponent of Sturm und Drang – storm and stress – in music. This quartet and Symphony no 44 (Trauer or Mourning, in the less extreme key of E minor) are among its finest creations.

Although Haydn claimed the op 33 set of quartets were composed in an “entirely new way”, the same claim could be made for op 20. The opening sonata form movement of no 5 is striking for a hallmark of its composer, three repeated quavers and a crotchet, that Beethoven surely had in mind when he used that rhythm throughout his 5th symphony. What unfolds combines lyricism and virtuosity. The minuet stays in the same extreme minor key and is totally unsuited to dancing. The trio in the major key hardly lightens the mood, and wrongfoots everyone by starting with a 5 bar phrase. The Adagio in F major allows the first violin to indulge in florid decorations, which the other parts are reduced to accompanying, apart from the 2nd violin being allowed to occasionally play the melody. As the finale begins, lovers of Handel’s Messiah will recognise the notes of “And with his stripes” as the first of the two fugue subjects: it’s in the same extreme key, and Haydn must have known its source. There is little evidence of Haydn’s wit and surprise here: rather masterful counterpoint and a terse ending to a work that challenges as much as it entertains. 

Fanny Hensel (1805 – 1847): String Quartet in E flat major

Adagio ma non troppo: Allegretto: Romanze: Allegro molto vivace 

Imagine being the younger sister, by four years, of a boy who was child prodigy, in a world and time where musical composition was considered a male preserve. If women composed at all, it was for domestic performance and consumption. Fanny Mendelssohn was luckier than most in that her father, brother and husband (Herr Hensel) encouraged her talent while agreeing that music was no career for women. Unlike men, women could not travel freely and unchaperoned: Clara Schumann toured extensively as a pianist in her youth and was also a talented composer. But marriage for her meant what it meant for most women – that they should be at home raising children and managing the household. This point of view perhaps reached its height when Gustav Mahler forbade his new wife to compose at all, arguing: Suppose I need you urgently, and you’re preoccupied with writing music? Around the time the Brontë sisters’ novels were being published under male pseudonyms, some of Fanny’s works appeared under her brother’s name. Felix admitted as much to Queen Victoria. 

It was daring enough for a woman to write a string quartet in 1834, and an especially daunting prospect for the 30 year old sister of an acknowledged genius. So it’s all the more remarkable that she begins this quartet not only with a slow movement, but in an ambiguous tonality, more C minor than E flat major. Eventually, this rhapsodic and often chromatic settles into the home key. Allegretto sounds innocent enough, but the second movement is no less unusual: a scherzo in all but name (and form). Fanny clearly picked up on her brother’s examples of mercurial music, but this is distinguished by the range of keys she travels through, the virtuosic writing and frequent pizzicato: again, this is largely in C minor. The inventiveness continues with the Romanze. Two flats suggest B flat major or G minor, yet the opening harmony is the dominant of C minor, and it really is hard among all the beautiful melodies and constantly shifting harmonies to tell what key we’re in. At one point the music reaches the extreme key of A flat minor, before extricating itself and concluding in G – a major chord with ascending semiquavers from the violins that heralds more music in C minor. Another 6/8 allegro, more fiery and passionate than the last, but where E flat major finally establishes itself in the opening bars. Although there are excursions into other keys as the music proceeds, there is no doubt about the affirmative and virtuosic ending. As strongly as saying E flat, it asserts the identity of a remarkable composer as unrestrained as she could be in her time, one who is thankfully enjoying the recognition she deserves.

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828): String Quartet in D minor D 810 – Death and the Maiden

Allegro: Andante con moto: Scherzo Allegro molto – Trio: Presto – Prestissimo 

In 1817, Schubert wrote a song – one of more than 600 – setting a poem entitled Death and the Maiden with words by Matthias Claudius. In 1824, he fell seriously ill and realised even after recovery that he would die young. He used the song as the theme of variations in this quartet: a much darker piece than the sunny Trout Quintet, written five years earlier, which also features variations on an existing song. The quartet was performed in a private house in 1826, but neither this nor the quintet were published until after the composer’s death at the age of only 31. The previous year, 1827, Schubert had helped to carry Beethoven’s coffin to its final resting place. The young and prolific composer may not have produced such revolutionary work as his idol, but he established a unique voice in the same city, and penned masterpieces of the genres in which Beethoven excelled: the symphony, the piano sonata, and the string quartet, often of such scale and grandeur that Schumann described the C major Symphony as “of Heavenly length.”

After the quartet’s arresting opening, more like an introduction, of contrasting material, the opening Allegro makes much use of the triplet quavers heard in the first few bars. A new, more lyrical melody is expertly combined and developed throughout this turbulent sonata form movement, with much foreboding of impending tragedy. Schubert was a master of modulation – moving to different and often extreme keys – and even more brilliant at extricating himself. The movement ends in a bleak D minor. The deceptively simple song, in binary form with repeats, that follows is in G minor and the mood and rhythm reminiscent of the slow movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony. Variation 1, serenade like, features florid decorations from violin 1, triplets (so common in the 1st movement) from violin 2 and viola, and pizzicato cello. Variation 2 assigns a variant of the melody to the cello in high register. Variation 3 speeds the rhythm of the song up by four times, with all instruments being more equal. Still in the same tempo, but seeming slower and now in the major key, Variation 4 lets violin 1 sing new tunes in triplets above a sustained accompaniment. Variation 5 is even more inventive rhythmically, before a version of the song appears in the major key, but with a sadness that is another of Schubert’s hallmarks. The scherzo is as far removed from the minuet as any by Beethoven, and features off the beat sforzando accents. The trio is in contrasting D major, but here too are moments of minor key angst. The concluding Presto is in 6/8. There are frequent unison passages and it feels a disquieting horseback journey before a more majestic theme emerges. But the galloping rhythms are seldom absent, there is little let-up of tension or tragedy, and finally the tempo quickens yet more as unison rushing quavers and double-stopped chords drive the music to a conclusion as powerful as it is inevitable.