SCHNITTKE Hymnus II for cello and double bass (6’)
SIBELIUS String Quartet ‘Voces Intimae’ (32’)
SCHUBERT String Quartet No. 14 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (40’)
A reflective evening of intimate music at sundown in the unique in-the-round setting of St Martin’s Church in Stoney Middleton, against a stunning backdrop of the beautiful Peak District.
Schubert’s deeply personal and beloved ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet is preceded by the crowning achievement of Sibelius’s chamber music, a soulful quartet of fierce intensity, and a sonorous duet from Schnittke that draws out the eerie tones of the bass strings.
Limited tickets available; early booking is highly recommended.
SCHNITTKE Alfred, Hymnus II for cello & double bass
Schnittke composed Hymnus II, for cello and double bass, in 1974. It is the second of four ‘Hymns’ written between 1974 and 1979 for unusual instrumental combinations (the first is for cello, harp and timpani, the third for cello, bassoon, harpsichord and bells). The music is marked by a kind of meditative stillness (briefly interrupted by a cello outburst), and, at the close, by an eerie, otherworldly quality as these two bass instruments seem to reach ever higher before fading into an uneasy silence.
© Nigel Simeone
SIBELIUS Jean, String Quartet Op.56 ‘Voces Intimae’
Andante–Allegro molto moderato
Adagio di molto
Allegretto (ma pesante)
In February and March 1909, Sibelius came to London to conduct concerts of his own music and it was during this stay that he composed most of the Voces intimae (Intimate Voices) quartet. He first stayed at the Langham Hotel (across the road from Queen’s Hall) but asked his friend Rosa Newmarch to find cheaper lodgings where he could also work in silence. She found quiet rooms for him in Kensington and having installed him, ‘left the composer to settle down (as I hoped) to write his string quartet, Voces initimae.’ Word travelled in the neighbourhood that a composer was staying, emboldening one elderly lady to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata repeatedly, as a sign of solidarity. Newmarch intervened, there was no more Beethoven, and Sibelius was able to make good progress on the quartet in Kensington.
According to his diary, he began the second movement on 16 February, and sketched the third on 25 February. Work continued throughout March (at the end of which he left London) and the quartet was finished in Berlin on 15 April. The first performance took place a year later, on 25 April 1910, in Helsinki.
Voces intimae is a characteristically bold exploration of musical form: there are five movements (including two scherzos), with a highly expressive slow movement at the centre. There has been speculation about the title and the likeliest explanation is that it has some connection with the fear of death which Sibelius confided to his diary in London. It was clearly a personal reference that will probably remain a mystery, but it is entirely apt for a work that embodies such an intense musical dialogue between the four instruments.
© Nigel Simeone
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