STRAVINSKY Three Pieces for String Quartet (7’)
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Clarinet Quintet (31’)
SCHUBERT String Quartet No.14 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (40’)
A concert of contrasts, showcasing the versatility of the world-class musicians from Ensemble 360.
Schubert’s deeply personal and beloved ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet is set alongside two lesser-known pieces written within a century but which could hardly be more different: Stravinsky’s compelling fragments for string quartet and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s exquisite clarinet quintet. The latter is arguably the greatest achievement in Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music, by turns lyrical and muscular. It bears the unmistakable hallmarks of Dvořák’s profound influence on this tumultuous period of music.
There will be a post-show Q&A with the artists and Colin Jagger of Portsmouth Chamber Music.
Time advertised is the start time, please check your ticket for door time.
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.’
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Samuel, Clarinet Quintet Op.10
Scherzo. Allegro leggiero
Finale. Allegro agitato – Poco più moderato – Vivace
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London and entered to Royal College of Music in 1890 to study the violin. His ability as a composer soon became apparent, and he studied composition with Stanford, becoming one of his favourite pupils. His Piano Quintet Op.1 (1893) heralded the arrival of a remarkable talent, but the Clarinet Quintet, composed in 1895, demonstrates Coleridge-Taylor at the height of his creative powers. Stanford had given his students a challenge, declaring that after Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, written in 1891, nobody would be able to escape its influence. Coleridge-Taylor couldn’t resist trying, and when Stanford saw the result he is said to have exclaimed ‘you’ve done it!’ Coleridge-Taylor took his influences not from Brahms but from another great contemporary composer: in places this work sounds like the clarinet quintet that Dvořák never wrote. That’s a mark of Coleridge-Taylor’s wonderfully fluent and assured writing. The sonata form first movement is both confident and complex, with the clarinet forming part of an intricately-woven ensemble texture. The Larghetto has a free, rhapsodic character, dominated by a haunting main theme. The Scherzo delights in rhythmic tricks while the central Trio section is more lyrical. The opening theme of the finale governs much of what follows until a recollection of the slow movement gives way to an animated coda. The first performance took place at the Royal College of Music on 10 July 1895, with George Anderson playing the clarinet. Afterwards, Stanford wrote to the great violinist Joseph Joachim describing the piece as ‘the most remarkable thing in the younger generation that I have seen.’
SCHUBERT Franz, String Quartet in D minor D.810 “Death and the Maiden”
‘There’s nothing here at all: leave well alone and stick to writing songs.’ This was the damning verdict given to Schubert by Ignaz Schuppanzigh after he had led a private performance of Death and the Maiden at the house of composer Franz Lachner in 1826. As the violinist who had led the first performances of many of Beethoven’s quartets, Schuppanzigh knew the possibilities of the form as well as anyone at the time, but Schubert’s daring and originality in this work clearly eluded him.
Composed in March 1824 (and using the earlier song of the same name as the theme of the second movement), this profound and sometimes disturbing string quartet was not performed in public during Schubert’s lifetime, nor was it published (unlike the A minor Quartet, completed just before it, which was not only first performed by Schuappanzigh but also dedicated to him) – Schubert’s plan for the A minor (Rosamunde), D minor (Death and the Maiden) and G major quartets to be issued together as a set of three never came to fruition. Death and Maiden was only published for the first time in 1831, and it soon attracted a much more positive response from musicians that Schuppanzigh’s dismissive reaction. The critic for the Vossische Zeitung (Berlin’s leading newspaper) wrote in 1833 of a work ‘abundant in originality’ while Robert Schumann in his retrospective review of the Leipzig concert season in 1837–8 wrote that ‘only the excellence of such a work as Schubert’s D minor Quartet – like that of many of his others – can in any way console us for the early and grievous death of this first-born of Beethoven; in a few years he achieved and perfected things as no one before him.’ The four-movement structure may look conventional, but as well as the startling dramatic contrasts of the first movement and the extraordinary song variations that constitute the slow movement, the Scherzo, with its tense syncopations is a brilliant reworking and expansion of one of Schubert’s German Dances (D790, No. 6) for solo piano. It’s a startling transformation. The finale is equally remarkable: an unremitting Tarantella – the wild dance that traditionally wards off madness and death – structured as a large rondo, beginning with an austere statement of the main theme that is almost entirely bereft of harmony. The Prestissimo coda of this movement, with some of the most dramatic and exciting harmonic shifts in all Schubert, pushes mercilessly towards a defiant, disturbing close.
Nigel Simeone 2014