BEETHOVEN STRING QUARTETS

Ensemble 360

Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield
Wednesday 18 May 2022, 2.00pm

Tickets: £20
£14 Disabled & Unemployed
£5 Students & Under 35s

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BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.59 No.2 (36’)
SHAW Entr’acte (12’)
BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.127 (40’)

This full-length afternoon concert features two great Beethoven string quartets, and between the two, a short work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning US composer Caroline Shaw.

This concert is dedicated to Martyn Annabel (1955-2021), who found joy in music throughout his life, and who supported Music in the Round for over 30 years.

Please note the change to the previously advertised programme for this concert.
We apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival runs 13–21 May 2022

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BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, String Quartet in E minor Op.59 No.2 ‘Rasumovsky’

Allegro
Molto Adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
Allegretto – Maggiore (Thème russe)
Finale. Presto

“Demanding but dignified” was how the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung described Beethoven’s new quartets dedicated to Count Rasumovsky when they were first heard in 1807. Composed in 1806, and including Russian melodies from a collection of folk tunes edited by Ivan Prach (published in 1790), these quartets were a major development in the quartet form; but though they were longer and more challenging than any earlier quartets, they were an immediate success. Before the Rasumovsky Quartets were played, Beethoven offered them to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig – in a job lot with the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Fourth Symphony and Fidelio – but the deal fell through and the quartets were first published in Vienna by the Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie and in London by Clementi. While the first of the Rasumovsky Quartets is unusually expansive, the second is more concentrated. From the opening two-chord gesture establishing E minor as the home key, the first movement is tense and full of rhythmic ambiguity. The hymn-like slow movement has a combination of richness and apparent simplicity that blossoms into a kind of ecstatic aria: Beethoven himself is reported to have likened it to “a meditative contemplation of the stars”. The uneasy rhythms of the Scherzo are contrasted by a major-key Trio section in which Beethoven quotes a Russian tune that famously reappeared in the Coronation Scene of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. The finale begins with a surprise: a strong emphasis on the note C that is tantalising and unexpected in a movement that moves firmly towards E minor.

© Nigel Simeone 2013

SHAW Caroline, Entr’acte

Entracte was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 2 — with their spare and soulful shift to the D-flat major trio in the minuet. It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further.

From Caroline Shaw Editions.

BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, String Quartet in E flat Op.127

Maestoso–Allegro teneramente
Adagio ma non troppo e molto cantabile
Scherzando vivace
Finale. Alla breve

Beethoven had not written a string quartet for well over ten years when the Russian Prince Nicholas Galitzin – a talented amateur cellist – asked Beethoven to write three new quartets. That commission came at the end of 1822, but Beethoven was unable to make any serious progress as he needed to complete the Ninth Symphony first. This he did in February 1824, and after the score of the symphony had been sent to the Philharmonic Society in London (who performed it in March 1825), Beethoven was able to get down to his new commission for Prince Galitzin. The Quartet Op.127 was started in April 1824 and finished by February 1825, swiftly followed by Op.132 in July and Op.130 in November. The first performance of Op.127 was given on 6 March by the Schuppanzigh Quartet and was not a success, partly because Beethoven had only given the parts to Schuppanzigh two weeks before. Still, the composer was angry and for the next performance he asked Joseph Böhm (who was later to teach Joseph Joachim) to lead the quartet. It didn’t fare much better. At a concert on 23 March, where Böhm performed the work twice in the same concert, while there were passionate enthusiasts, others we unconvinced and one critic described the work as ‘an incomprehensible, incoherent, vague, over-extended series of fantasias – chaos, from which flashes of genius emerged from time to time like lightning bolts from a black thunder cloud.’

This may seem a bizarre judgement almost two centuries later, but from the very start, this is music of extraordinary boldness. The quartet opens with six bars of loud, sonorous chords that return twice more in the movement, each time in a different key (in E flat major at the beginning, then in G major, and finally in C major). What follows is in quick triple time, as is the music after each subsequent statement of the stirring chords, but Beethoven takes the music in different directions each time, inserting unexpected silent bars, fragmenting ideas, and producing effects that must have seemed beyond strange in the 1820s, since their sheer daring is still just as palpable now. The French composer Vincent d’Indy (a pupil of César Franck) described the theme on which the variations of the slow movement are based as ‘so radiant in splendour that on reading it one feels … at once transported with joy and bewildered with admiration.’ The Scherzo opens, like the first movement, with loud tonic–dominant–tonic chords, but what follows is a thematic idea in dotted rhythms that is passed from player to player until all four instruments play it together in a fortissimo climax, before the dotted rhythm and the trills which accompany it are further developed, fragmented, and transformed. The central section of the movement is quick and spooky, beginning in the key of E flat minor, growing through a series of long crescendos before leading back to a brilliantly varied reprise of the opening material. About the lilting but idiosyncratic tune that dominates the finale, d’Indy wrote that it ‘would reawake the pastoral impressions of [the Sixth Symphony] did not the development of the dream which ends it, elevating the almost trivial phrase of the beginning to incommensurable heights, remind us that this is … altogether in the poet’s soul.’

Nigel Simeone © 2010