Ensemble 360

Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Saturday 28 January 2023, 7.00pm

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


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Past Event

STRAVINSKY Three Pieces for String Quartet (7′)
SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartet No.3 Op.73 (32′)
BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.135 (26′) 

“Must it be? It must be!” Beethoven inscribed these words on the manuscript of his profoundly moving final string quartet. This Op.135 quartet was written towards the very end of his life, and is touched by the wisdom of his years yet as full of contrast, quick wit and struggle as any of earlier works.  

Two masterpieces of the 20th century are presented alongside Beethoven’s quartet: Stravinsky’s wonderfully inventive short pieces and Shostakovich’s masterful third quartet, which encompasses the scope of a symphony in an intimate chamber work. 

STRAVINSKY Igor, Three Pieces for String Quartet

Composed in 1914, Stravinsky revised these pieces in 1918 when he dedicated them to the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. The first performance was given in Paris in May 1915 by a quartet which included the composer Darius Milhaud playing violin, while the 1918 version had its premiere in London on 13 February 1919. The work comprises three short movements without titles or tempo markings. Though the dimensions of the pieces are slight, Stravinsky managed to baffle (and infuriate) early critics with the unusual sound effects and performance markings in places, and the deliberate absence of any conventional forms or traditional thematic development. Instead, the mood is by turns stange and grotesque. The second piece was inspired by the comedian Little Tich (Harry Relph) whose jerky stage act had impressed Stravinsky during a visit to London in 1914. The result might almost be described as an anti-quartet, and as the critic Paul Griffiths later remarked, these little pieces are ‘determinedly not a “string quartet”. The notion of quartet dialogue has no place here, nor have subtleties of blend: the texture is completely fragmented, with each instrument sounding for itself.’  

 Nigel Simeone 

SHOSTAKOVICH Dmitri, String Quartet No.3 in F major Op.73

Shostakovich began his Third String Quartet in January 1946 but made no progress beyond the second movement until May when he went with his family to spend the summer at a dacha near the Finnish border. According to Beria (head of the Soviet secret police) in a letter to Shostakovich, this retreat was a personal gift from Stalin. It was a productive summer and the quartet was completed on 2 August 1946. The same day Shostakovich wrote to Vassily Shirinsky, second violinist of the Beethoven Quartet: ‘I have never been so pleased with a composition as with this Quartet. I am probably wrong, but that is exactly how I feel right now.’ The Beethoven Quartet gave the first performance at the Moscow Conservatory on 16 December 1946. Though there was an ominous silence from official critics, Shostakovich’s reputation was still high among the nation’s leaders: on 28 December he was given the Order of Lenin and each member of the Beethoven Quartet received the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. Just a year later the Third Quartet was denounced in the journal Sovetskaya musika as ‘modernist and false music.’

Although Shostakovich had no overt programme in mind, he invested a great deal of private emotion in the work – sufficient, as Fyodor Druzhinin (violist of the Beethoven Quartet) recalled, for the music to move the composer to tears when he attended a rehearsal in the 1960s, twenty years after he had written it. The start of the first movement, in F major, recalls the Haydn-like mood of the Ninth Symphony (completed in 1945) and this is followed by a contrasting idea, played pianissimo. The development includes some turbulent fugal writing, injecting a sense of unease that hovers over the rest of the movement. The Moderato con moto (in E minor) is based on a series of sinister ostinato figures and frequent repetitions while the third movement is a violent scherzo in G sharp minor. The Adagio is an extended passacaglia (ground bass) that gives way to a Moderato in which some kind of resolution is found in the closing bars, ending with three pizzicato F major chords.


Nigel Simeone

“Vividly present playing and discreet virtuosity”

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