Starting off our chamber music series for a third year the Juilliard String Quartet returns with a program of Bartok and Beethoven. Of them the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, “Whether playing Beethoven, Schubert, Bartok or Carter, the Juilliard Quartet remains unsurpassed in bringing attention to details and expressive devices.”
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Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 Serioso Ludwig van Beethoven
Allegro con brio (1770-1827)
Allegretto ma non troppo
Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
Quartet No. 1 in A minor Bela Bartók
Allegretto – Introduzione
Quartet in F major, Op. 59 No. 1 Razumovsky Ludwig van Beethoven
Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando
Adagio molto e mesto
1810, the year Op. 95 quartet was completed (to which Beethoven gave this sublime title “Quartetto serioso”), found the composer disappointed in love with Therese Malfatti, which plunged him from the heights of absolute ecstasy to the depths of despair. This is music of nervous intensity and restlessness, at times disturbing in its melancholy and anger, and yet, Beethoven finds strength to conclude the work in its finale with a triumphant spark.
Op. 95 quartet, along with the three “Razumovsky” quartets Op. 59 and the Op. 74 quartet occupy Beethoven’s “middle” period. Unlike the “Razumovsky” quartets, with their sheer exuberant, almost symphonic quality, the concise musical language and terse harmonic textures of the Op. 95 quartet take on much sparser and economical characteristics, and clearly point to his future masterpieces of the “late” period. By his own admonition to “seriousness”, Beethoven clearly means to put both musicians and audience on guard – this is not going to be a quartet by Haydn or Mozart. He leaves little room for a passive listener, but requires total engagement.
From the outset of the First movement, Beethoven alerts us that he is going to hurl thunderbolts with his themes, and his harmonies. There’s no let-up. Dainty bridge passages and cadences are bypassed in favour of abrupt and brilliant changes. The instruments don’t “fiddle:” they are four philosophers, poised in a life-and-death struggle with the tension-laden material. Everything is off balance: modulations to unexpected keys, half-tone slides of the theme – one feels like being in the middle of a tornado.
The Second movement, Allegretto ma non troppo, starts with a chromatic cello solo. The notes are chosen, like the footsteps of someone walking on a carpet littered with broken glass, note by painful note, the destination uncertain. When the melody is picked up by the other strings, we find ourselves in the world of D Major – normally a bright tonality, a happy place to be. But D Major is so remote from where the first movement left us off that what we feel is dislocation, a stillness that somehow does not comfort. A fugue appears, intermingled with the gloomy main theme. The opening chromatic cello theme attempts to come to the rescue – the fugue resumes followed by a serene coda.
The Third movement, Allegro assai vivace ma serioso, is a kind of grumpy scherzo, which comes across like a tough little quick-march. The central Trio section has a kind of half-hearted chorale theme that doesn’t quite materialize. After some awkward abruptness, the “march” returns to end the movement.
The Finale starts with eight bars marked Larghetto espressivo, which serve to drop the level of tension for a moment. The Allegro agitato that follows offers a Russian-sounding, dancing theme, bold and colorful. But how does one end a “serious” quartet whose last movement seems to want to be a folk dance? By another thunderstorm burst which ends the piece with a coda of Olympian fury.
Bartok’s first quartet of 1909 is a piece of programmed music without an explicitly stated program. The program in fact was a secret: his unrequited love for a violinist named Stefi Geyer. Using a theme from his long-suppressed Violin Concerto, Bartok opens the quartet with what he himself calls a “funeral dirge,” in this case a slow fugue. The “program” here is a four-part lament with the four musicians of the quartet as pall-bearers. Don’t expect a Bach fugue here. We’re not in Bach’s choir loft: we’re in that anti-bourgeois world of Austro-Hungarian angst, the new “modernism.” Going beyond post-Wagnerian chromaticism, Bartok is a rule breaker even while aiming at contrapuntal perfection, a man setting out to invent his own musical language with its own syntax. You don’t know what’s coming next, to the delight of players and the occasional perplexity of listeners.
The First, Lento movement begins with a violin and viola in dialogue. Even though a fugue is ongoing, the lines are mournful and expressive. Once all four players are fully engaged, they converge in chordal climaxes, culminating in a broad fortissimo chord with the violin’s high A ringing out on top. This is followed by a sudden drop to quietness, a clear modulation to another key, another world, which triggers a sudden burst of double-stop chords from the cello, and the entry of the viola with a kind of syncopated, almost gypsy quality: there is no funeral without dancing. The movement dies away, almost as though Bartok is suddenly embarrassed by where his fugue has just brought him to.
The mood lightens in the quirky Second movement. Here, rhythmic unpredictability rules. Bartok as a young man traveled to remote mountain villages throughout Hungary where he transcribed extensively the folk music of his native land. Along the way, he discovered that Hungarian folk music did not follow the “rules” of the conservatory professors which reinforced the composer’s need to be unique and peculiar: elements of the “barbaric” are already evident in this movement. So much happens in this movement, and so much of it is unexpected, that all the listener can do is buckle up and enjoy the roller-coaster ride. It’s all right to have a good time at a party, even if no one there speaks any language you know.
The Third movement starts with a 33-bar introductory section. The brisk, Allegro vivace which follows may be a bit baffling to the first-time listener, but Bartok lets loose here a masterful declaration of artistic independence and maturity, with yet another fugue at its heart: modulations, sudden shifts in meter or tempo, and passionate outbursts. The final chords, which include eleven different notes, throw down a challenge to the music of the 19th century and say, in effect, that a new generation has arrived.
When Beethoven’s three Op. 59 quartets were published in 1808, they were dismissed by contemporary critics as “the botched work of a madman” and as “insane music”. A famous Viennese quartet of that time, playing one of the quartets for the first time, thought Beethoven was playing a joke on them. The starkly individual nature of each of their separate movements were bound to disappoint expectations and place undue demands on the listening capacity of contemporary audiences. The quartets represent nothing short of a revolution in the medium.
Count Razumovsky (1752-1836) became the Russian Ambassador to the Austro-Hungarian Court in Vienna from 1790. These quartets have immortalized this discerning music patron by being universally identified with his name. The first of the Opus 59 Quartets is the most expansive of the three in the set, running upwards of 40 minutes. In monumental, symphonic dimensions and in complexity of form and power of dramatic expression – it is every bit an equal to the “Eroica” Symphony. It opens with an amiable and supple theme stated in turn by the cello and then the first violin, over a pulsing accompaniment from the middle voices. Thematic fragmentation begins almost immediately, with solo passages for each of the four players. Sudden shifts of color and mood may leave the listener dazed. When the main theme returns for what sounds like an exposition repeat, Beethoven quickly leads us off into a fanciful and whimsical development.
In the Second movement, Beethoven breaks with the minuet tradition and introduces a fantastic scherzo. It is a scherzando sonata-form Allegretto vivace where musical material is equal parts rhythm and melody to produce a miraculous example of Beethoven at his most inventive. In the Third movement, he brings out a long spun-out lament. Beethoven's most powerful music is often the slowest and sometimes the quietest. This is certainly the case in this movement, which is marked Adagio molto e mesto (Very slow and sad). The music expresses a private grief in closely harmonized ensemble writing. From time to time, the texture is embellished with decorative passagework that foreshadows the adagios of Beethoven's late quartets.
A cadenza-like passage for the first violin leads directly into the Fourth movement. Here Beethoven fulfils Razumovsky’s request to employ a Russian theme in each of the quartets. Drawn from a Russian folk song, Beethoven constructs a fleet and fanciful finale that charges vigorously and directly to the finish line.
The Juilliard String Quartet, widely known as the quintessential American string quartet, welcomes its new cellist, Astrid Schween, and celebrates its 70th anniversary during the 2016/17 season with return engagements in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Detroit, Toronto, Louisville, Cleveland, Tucson, and New York’s Alice Tully Hall. The JSQ premieres Fragments, String Quartet No. 6 by renowned Argentine-American composer Mario Davidovsky, jointly commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music and the Juilliard School. The Quartet tours Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Turkey, including appearances at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Musikverein in Vienna, and the Berlin Konzerthaus.
Last season, a yearlong celebration of Joel Krosnick’s remarkable 42-year tenure as cellist of the JSQ, featured tours of Asia and Europe, concerts throughout the US and Canada, as well as special performances of the Schubert Cello Quintet with Astrid Schween in Detroit, New York City, and at the Ravinia Festival. In 2015 the Quartet was featured in the groundbreaking interactive app on Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet, released by the innovative app developer, Touchpress, in collaboration with the Juilliard School. In addition to the app, the JSQ’s new audio recording of the “Death and the Maiden” is available on iTunes.
The Quartet’s recordings of the Bartok and Schoenberg Quartets, as well as those of Debussy, Ravel and Beethoven won Grammy Awards, and in 2011 the Quartet became the first classical music ensemble to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In 2014 Sony Classical reissued the Quartet’s landmark recordings of the first four Elliott Carter String Quartets together with the more recently recorded Carter Quartet No. 5, making a complete historical document.
Devoted master teachers, the members of the Juilliard String Quartet offer classes and open rehearsals when on tour. At the Juilliard School, where they are the String Quartet in Residence, all are sought-after members of the string and chamber music faculty and annually, in May, they are hosts of the 5-day Internationally recognized Juilliard String Quartet Seminar.
In performance, recordings and incomparable work educating the major artists and quartets of our time, the Juilliard String Quartet has carried the banner of the United States and The Juilliard School throughout the world.
An active solo and chamber musician, Joseph Lin was a founding member of the Formosa Quartet, winner of the 2006 London International String Quartet Competition. He was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and has won numerous awards, including the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, the Pro Musicis International Award and First Prize at the inaugural Michael Hill World Violin Competition in New Zealand. His recordings include the music of Korngold and Busoni on the Naxos label, the unaccompanied works of Bach and Ysaÿe on the N&F label, and the Formosa Quartet’s debut CD released by EMI. Mr. Lin has appeared as a soloist with the New Japan Philharmonic, the Sapporo Symphony, the Taiwan National Symphony, the Auckland Philharmonia, the Ukraine National Philharmonic, and the Boston Symphony.
After graduating from Harvard in 2000, he began an extended exploration of China in 2002, and studied Chinese music in Beijing as a Fulbright Scholar in 2004. From 2007 to 2011, Mr. Lin was an Assistant Professor at Cornell University, where he organized the inaugural Chinese Musicians Residency. Joseph Lin’s violin teachers have included Mary Canberg, Shirley Givens and Lynn Chang.
Praised by audiences and critics alike for his insightful artistry, violinist Ronald Copes has toured extensively with Music From Marlboro ensembles, the Los Angeles and Dunsmuir Piano Quartets, and with the Juilliard String Quartet. During the 2011-13 seasons, he and Seymour Lipkin will perform cycles of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Violin at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival and the Juilliard School.
Mr. Copes has recorded numerous solo and chamber music works for radio and television broadcast as well as for Sony Classical, Orion, CRI, Klavier, Bridge, New World Records, ECM and the Musical Heritage Society. He has worked closely with composers including Stephen Hartke and Donald Crockett, and has garnered prizes in the Artists’ Advisory Council International Competition, the Merriweather Post Competition and the Concours International d’Exécution Musicale in Geneva. During the summer he is on faculty of the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival. For two decades, he served as Professor of Violin at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and joined the faculty of The Juilliard School in 1997, where he serves as chair of the violin department.
Roger Tapping joined the Julliard Quartet and the Juilliard School viola faculty in 2013.
He moved from London to the USA in 1995 to join the Takács Quartet. His decade with them included many Beethoven and Bartok cycles in major cities around the world. Their Decca/London recordings, including the complete quartets of Bartok and Beethoven, won many awards including Gramophone Magazine’s Hall of Fame, three Gramophone Awards, a Grammy and three more Grammy nominations.
He has been on the viola faculty of the New England Conservatory, where he also directed the Chamber Music program, and he has served on the faculties of Itzhak Perlman’s Chamber Music Workshop, the Tanglewood Quartet Seminar and Yellow Barn, and given viola master classes at Banff.
Mr. Tapping played and recorded with a number of London’s leading chamber ensembles, including Britain’s longest established quartet, the Allegri Quartet. He was a founding member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He has performed as a guest with many distinguished quartets from the U.S. and Europe, and he was a member of the Boston Chamber Music Society.
His teachers were Margaret Major and Bruno Giuranna, and he participated in master classes with William Primrose. He holds degrees from the University of Cambridge, is a member of the Order of the Knight Cross of the Hungarian Republic, has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Nottingham, and is a Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music.
Cellist Astrid Schween is an internationally recognized soloist, chamber artist, and teacher. Her recent appearances have included performances with the Boston, Memphis, Detroit and Seattle Chamber Music societies, the Boston Trio and ongoing recital partnerships with celebrated pianists Randall Hodgkinson and Michael Gurt. An active juror and panelist, she was recently featured in Strings and Strad magazines, on “Living the Classical Life,” National Public Radio and as a guest speaker at the Library of Congress on the role of women in music.
As a longtime member of the Lark Quartet, Astrid performed at major venues around the world and received many honors including the Naumburg Chamber Music Award. During her tenure, the quartet produced critically acclaimed recordings for the Arabesque, Decca/Argo, New World, CRI and Point labels, and commissioned numerous works.
Astrid made her debut as soloist with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta and received her degrees from the Juilliard School. Her teachers included Harvey Shapiro, Leonard Rose, Bernard Greenhouse and Jacqueline Du Pré. She participated in the Marlboro Music Festival and William Pleeth Master Classes, and was for many years on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Hartt School of Music, Mount Holyoke College and Interlochen.
In September 2016, she succeeded Joel Krosnick as cellist of the Juilliard String Quartet and joined the Juilliard faculty.