Pavel Fischer & Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Thursday 18 May 2023, 1.00pm

£10 DLA, UC & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Save £s when you book for 5 concerts or more at the same time 

Past Event

HAYDN String Quartet Op.20 No.4 (25’) 
TRADITIONAL (arr. FISCHER) Two Songs from the Moravian Highlands (8’)
FISCHER String Quartet No.3 ‘Mad Piper’ (17’) 

Pavel Fischer, composer and former first violin of the Škampa  Quartet, joins Ensemble 360’s string players Claudia Ajmone-Marsen, Rachel Roberts and Gemma Rosefield. Fischer will lead his third string quartet inspired by Moravian folk music, evoking ‘Piper Bill’, who played while under fire during the D-Day landings in Normandy.  

Led by Ensemble 360’s Benjamin Nabarro, Haydn’s innovative, folk-inspired D major quartet precedes Fischer’s works, with its hymn-like opening, joyous variations and complex, chromatic conclusion. 


HAYDN Joseph, String Quartet in D, Op.20 No.4

Allegro di molto 
Un poco adagio. Affetuoso 
Allegretto alla zingarese 
Presto scherzando 

The ‘Sun’ string quartets Op.20 (so named because of the sunrise on the title page of an early edition) were composed in 1772 and the manuscript was one of the prize possessions of Johannes Brahms. The English musicologist Donald Francis Tovey wrote that ‘No document in the history of music is more important than Haydn’s Op.20, with its three fugues (which secure autonomy and equality of parts by a return to the old polyphony), its passages of turn-about solo, its experiments in rich and special effects, and, most important of all, its achievements in quite normal quartet-writing such as pervades the remaining forty-odd quartets.’ In short, with Op.20, Haydn established himself as the master of the string quartet genre. Surprisingly, it was another decade before he composed more quartets (Op.33 followed in 1781).  


The String Quartet Op.20 No.4 is one of the less troubled and anguished of the set, but it is endlessly ingenious. The opening is subdued and rather chorale-like until it is interrupted by flashing violin arpeggios, and the whole movement is marked by sudden and unexpected contrasts. The slow movement is a beautiful set of variations in D minor, notable for its harmonic richness and for the distribution of the variations among all four instruments. The Minuet ‘in gypsy style’ has plenty of surprises – a dazzling display of ambiguous cross-rhythms that only settles into regular patterns of triple time in the Trio. The finale is anything but predictable with modulations to strange keys, moments of ‘exotic’ colouring, and a delectably nihilistic ending.  


Nigel Simeone © 2011 

FISCHER Pavel, String Quartet No.3 Mad Piper

Mad Piper 
Sad Piper 

Pavel Fischer was a founder member and leader of the Škampa Quartet and after an extremely successful performing career, has turned increasingly to teaching and composition. His String Quartet No.3 was written in 2011 and demonstrates his fascination with integrating elements of music from different parts of the world into his work. The ‘Mad Piper’ of the title (and the first movement), evokes the Canadian bagpiper Bill Millin who continued to play while under fire on Sword Beach during the initial stages of the D-Day Landings in 1944. 


After a fast, aggressive opening (the heat of battle, perhaps?), a plaintive viola melody leads to a reprise of the initial material, followed by a serene coda. The second movement, ‘Carpathian’, is a vigorous folk dance with an unceasing, breathless drive. The slow movement, ‘Sad Piper’, was inspired by the plaintive song of a Bulgarian piper, here transformed into an eloquent viola solo, supported by quiet sustained chords. The title of the finale, ‘Ursari’ recalls the nomadic Romani bear handlers of Eastern Europe, in particular their bear dances (Bartok also composed a ‘Bear Dance’ for piano which he later orchestrated). Here the quartet takes on the role of a percussion section as well as string instruments, the music driving forwards until a brief respite for a reflective passage before the dance is taken up again with renewed energy. 


© Nigel Simeone

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