Marmen Quartet

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Friday 24 March 2023, 7.00pm

£14 DLA, UC & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 



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

Past Event

MOZART String Quartet in E flat K428 (25’)
JANÁČEK String Quartet No.2 Intimate Letters (27’)
BEETHOVEN String Quartet in E minor Op.59 No.2 Razumovsky (38’) 

In 2015 the Marmen Quartet was selected by our founder, violinist Peter Cropper, as the first ensemble to be supported by our new Bridge scheme. Established for musicians at the start of their professional career, the scheme provided the young quartet with coaching and development opportunities for three years.   

Since then, the Marmen Quartet has established themselves as a leading quartet, with a worldwide touring schedule and an impressive list of major prizes to their name. For their hotly anticipated return to Sheffield, they’ll be treating us to three of the greatest quartets in the repertoire, showcasing the intuitive brilliance of these four exceptional musicians. 


This concert is dedicated to the memory of Lord Menuhin of Stoke d’Abernon OM KBE, an inspirational violinist, conductor and educator whose personal kindness means so much to one of the sponsors.

MOZART Wolfgang Amadeus, String Quartet in E flat K428

Allegro non troppo 
Andante con moto 
Menuetto and Trio. Allegro 
Allegro vivace 

In 1785 the Viennese publisher Artaria issued a set of six string quartets by Mozart, the title page of which reads: “Six Quartets for two violins, viola and violoncello. Composed and dedicated to Signor Joseph Haydn, Master of Music for the Prince of Esterhazy, by his friend W.A. Mozart.” This was a most unusual dedication for the time: composers nearly always dedicated works to the aristocrats who supported them financially, not to fellow musicians. The long dedicatory epistle is headed “To my dear friend Haydn”. Mozart explains why he dedicated these quartets to Haydn, wanting to confide them “to the protection and guidance of a very celebrated man, especially when the latter by good fortune was at the same time his best friend.” The quartets, he writes, are “the fruit of a long and laborious study,” but that Haydn himself had told Mozart of his “satisfaction with them during your last visit to this capital. It is this above all which urges me to commend them to you … and to be their father, guide and friend!” 

After hearing these quartets, Haydn declared to Mozart’s father that “Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” Mozart’s “long and laborious study” included a detailed examination of Haydn’s Quartets Op.33 (composed in 1781), but while he had studied Haydn’s magnificent model, the results were no pastiche, but six works of extraordinary originality. 

The Quartet in E flat, K428, is the third of the “Haydn” Quartets and it was completed in 1783. It opens with a spacious theme in octaves that already reveals some of the chromatic colouring that gives this work its strikingly individual character. This harmonic daring is continued in the extraordinary slow movement – rich and intense – which seems to hint at the music of later composers, especially Brahms (the persistent drooping figure) and even Wagner. The Minuet is bracing but never predictable, while the central Trio is again more sinuous and chromatic. The delectable Rondo finale is a brilliant example of Mozart’s quartet writing at its most witty and inventive: a dazzling homage that captures the very essence of Haydn.  

© Nigel Simeone  

JANÁČEK Leoš, String Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”


This extraordinary work was the result of extraordinary circumstances. As a married man in his 70s, Janáček had been head over heels in love with the much younger Kamila Stösslová for a decade by the time he wrote his 2nd String Quartet. This was a passionate (if largely one-sided) love that is eloquently expressed in the hundreds of letters he wrote her, and in the pieces that were directly inspired by her – from operas such as Katya Kabanova to the much more private world of chamber music. On 29 January he told Kamila about the latest piece to be inspired by her: ‘Today it’s Sunday and I’m especially sad. I’ve begun to work on a quartet; I’ll give it the name Love Letters.’ By 19 February the sketch was finished, and a couple of weeks later Janáček had written out a fair copy. He changed his mind several times about the title, eventually settling on Intimate Letters. The original scoring, noted on the manuscript, was to include a viola d’amore – the viola of love – but this was more symbolic than practical and after a private play-through, Janáček abandoned the idea.   

Janáček’s letters to Kamila are revealing about the programmatic content of this quartet. The first movement he described as ‘the impression of when I saw you for the first time!’ and the third evokes a moment ‘when the earth trembled’. The fourth movement was ‘filled with a great longing – as if it were fulfilled.’ As for the whole work, he confided in April 1928 that ‘it’s my first composition whose notes glow with all the dear things that we’ve experienced together. You stand behind every note, you, living, forceful, loving.’  

Janáček died on 12 August 1928, and the quartet had to wait another decade before it was published, by which time both Kamila and Janáček’s long-suffering wife Zdenka were dead. Intimate Letters stands as one of the most personal and original works in the twentieth-century quartet repertoire. The Czech novelist Milan Kundera summarized the essence of Janáček’s art as ‘capturing unknown, never expressed emotions, and capturing them in all their immediacy’. 

Nowhere is it more immediate – or more emotional – than in this quartet.  

© Nigel Simeone

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, String Quartet in E minor Op.59 No.2 Razumovsky

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 publisher 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 opera 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 

“The entire concert radiated note-perfect brightness.”

Now Then magazine

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