Morrison Artists Series: Juilliard String Quartet
Please note: Free tickets are required for the Febuary 10 concert. Tickets will be distributed at the door.
- Mozart (1756–1791): String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575 (1789)
- Carter (1908–2012): String Quartet No. 5 (1995)
- Beethoven (1770–1827): String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 (1826)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791): String Quartet No. 21 in D major, K. 575 (1789)
Friedrich Wilhelm the Second commissioned this quartet. It marks the beginning of a new series of quartets commissioned by the King of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm was an amateur cellist, which might explain the frequent dominance of the cello in the pieces he commissioned. Mozart composed this quartet in June 1789 upon his return from Berlin and used themes he had outlined earlier for the first two movements.
The peace and happiness expressed in this quartet is different from anything in Mozart’s earlier chamber work. In the tranquil yet intense first movement, the cello is silent, and replaced as the bass of the quartet by the viola. The organization of this material is so flexible that the theme passes to the viola with scarcely any alteration of texture, merely a rearrangement of voices. The brief development is notable for its amazing melodic flow and effortless interrelation of parts characteristic of Mozart’s writing at its most spontaneous. A reversion to the opening motive in the closing measures completes the remarkable symmetry of the structure.
The fine Andante movement has a trait of musical construction found in a number of slow movements in Mozart’s mature chamber music. The introductory phrase, though atmospheric in itself, is really preliminary to the most eloquent expression in the movement. Here it appears in the form of a lofty phrase from the first violin after the first 20 measures have been rounded off, thereafter passing from instrument to instrument, each time gaining in fervor.
The minuet is characterized by sharp alterations of stress, with numerous instances of soft phrases swelling to fortepiano. The concentrated atmosphere, most unusual in a minuet, comes to a climax at the beginning of the second part of the main section, which, played in unison, is characterized by its disparate accents, contradicting the three-beat rhythm. Against the main section, the trio offers a relaxed ländler-like dialogue between the cello and violins.
Throughout the entire final movement, a feeling of density is maintained through the unusually slow tempo, as well as the frequent passages of two-part writing. The serene theme of the finale is introduced by the cello, accompanied by the viola playing below it. A rondo form is used, but the basic premise of the writing is contrapuntal.
Elliott Carter (1908–2012): String Quartet No. 5 (1995)
One of the fascinations of attending rehearsals of chamber music, when excellent players try out fragments of what they later will play in the ensemble, then play it and then stop abruptly to discuss how to improve it, is that this pattern is so similar to our inner experience of forming, ordering, focusing and bringing to fruition—and then dismissing—our feelings and ideas. These patterns of human behavior form the basis of the Fifth String Quartet. Its Introduction presents the players, one by one, trying out fragments of later passages from one of the six short, contrasting ensemble movements, at the same time maintaining a dialogue with each other. Between each of the movements the players discuss in different ways what has been played and what will be played.
In this score, the matter of human cooperation with its many aspects of feeling and thought was a very important consideration.
String Quartet No. 5 was composed during winter and spring 1995 in New York and Southbury, Conn., and was commissioned for the Arditti Quartet by Antwerp, City of Culture; Wittener Tage fur Neue Musik; Festival d’Automne a Paris; and Lincoln Center, New York.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827): String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 (1826)
The five quartets written in between 1824 and 1826, which have come to be known as the late quartets, were the last works Beethoven wrote. For many years it was believed that because of Beethoven’s alienation from the world due to his deafness and illness, these works were too difficult both technically and emotionally to be either played or understood. There has, fortunately, been a great change of attitude, and they are now widely performed and greatly appreciated.
The writing for each of the four instruments in these quartets is even more independent than before; there are many abrupt changes of speed, meter and mood. The classical quartet form as previously known is enlarged in two important ways: by the frequent use of important and extended slow introductions to the first and last movements and by the use of an immensely expanded variation form for some of the slow movements.
In this quartet Beethoven stretched the boundaries of conventional form to their furthest point. The work is divided into seven sections, rather than separate movements. Each section follows its predecessor without pause. Two of the sections serve only as a bridge or an introduction to the next section. Only the last is in sonata form—the bulwark of traditional quartet structure.
The first section is a free fugue which appears to come to a full stop. This final chord, however, resolves directly into the second section—a free fantasy with fragments of its theme developed between the statements.
It is followed by a recitative section, serving as an interlude and introduction to the Andante. The form of the Andante is a long theme with seven variations. A series of cadenzas leads to an elaborate coda.
The fifth section is a Scherzo, Beethoven’s most complex, yet highly organized use of this form. The Adagio that follows is merely the “ghost” of a slow movement (there is no full slow movement in this quartet), serving as a brief respite and a bridge into the seventh and final section.
This finale, as previously stated, is in sonata form, but the succession and treatment of the themes make it appear more akin to an extended rondo. The rhythm of one secondary theme parallels that of the opening fugue. The entire work is brought to a close with three fortissimo, c-sharp major chords.
The Morrison Chamber Music Center is supported, in part, by a generous gift from the May Treat Morrison Chamber Music Foundation.