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|1||Haydn: String Quartet In C Major, Op. 54, No. 2: I. Vivace||6:08|
|2||Haydn: String Quartet In C Major, Op. 54, No. 2: Ii. Adagio||3:05|
|3||Haydn: String Quartet In C Major, Op. 54, No. 2: Iii. Menuet||3:46|
|4||Haydn: String Quartet in C major, Op. 54, No. 2: Iv. Adagio||5:40|
|5||Ligeti: String Quartet No. 1 'Métamorphoses Nocturnes'||21:45|
|6||Brahms: Intermezzo In A Minor, Op. 116, No. 2
Arranged By – Judith Van Driel
|7||Brahms: Intermezzo In E Major, Op. 116, No.4
Arranged By – David Faber
|8||Brahms: Intermezzo In B Minor, Op. 119, No. 1
Arranged By – David Faber (2)
|9||Brahms: Ballade in G minor: Op. 118, No. 3
Arranged By – David Faber (2)
style in which they composed. Haydn, Ligeti and Brahms never settled for what they had achieved: they constantly managed to push forward their self-inflicted boundaries. Joseph Haydn composed his string quartets Op. 54 and 55 at the court of Prince Esterházy, where he held a position as composer in residence. He dedicated these quartets to Hungarian violin virtuoso Johann Tost, who played in the prince’s orchestra. The string quartet in C, the second of Op. 54, might well be the greatest masterpiece of Haydn’s works in the genre: unprecedented virtuosity and profundity, fiery and subdued. Haydn often wrote to friends and colleagues that he played ‘a game with numbers’, but the actual workings of this game he kept secret from everyone. In Op. 54, no. 2 the ‘father of the string quartet’ broke all of the rules he had made for himself. The first movement (’Vivace’, highly unusual for the first movement of a string quartet) begins with a firm statement, but is interrupted as early as the fifth bar. The composer repeats this joke once more and not until the third time around does the piece really get into its stride. The movement is bursting with joy of life and virtuosity. The second movement contrasts strongly with this. An extraordinarily obtrusive ‘Adagio’ is based on Ambrosian church music. It begins with an eight bar chorale. While the lower voices continue the chorale, the first violin plays a highly emotional, seemingly improvised solo and Haydn’s affinity with Hungarian folk music clearly manifests itself here. The drama disappears like snow in the sun when the second movement leads into a carefree and frolicsome ‘Menuet’. Strikingly, Haydn prescribes that the first violin play the entire first phrase on the G-string, which produces a curious nasal sound. In contrast, the trio is once again a dramatic scene. The finale of the quartet is one of the most striking movements that Haydn wrote. It begins with a slow section almost too long to be referred to as an introduction – an adagio as heavenly in its simplicity as the second movement is heart wrenching. While the cello plays long, slow upward arpeggios, the first violin produces an enchantingly simple melody. When least expected, there is a sudden ‘Presto’, which is swiftly over. The Adagio returns once again and the quartet concludes peacefully and quietly.
György Ligeti wrote his first string quartet in 1953-1954. He drew inspiration for it from Bela Bartók’s second and fourth string quartets, though he had only been able to study scores of these works, with performances of Bartók’s music banned by the communist regime of his native Hungary. According to Ligeti himself, this first quartet was from his ‘prehistoric period’. It wasn’t until he left Hungary permanently in 1956 that he could break free of the shackles of communist restrictions and develop his unique and ground-breaking style further. Which is not to say Ligeti’s first string quartet plays politely by any defined rules. Those in power wanted accessible music with a waltz, a polka and Hungarian folk music. Ligeti catered fully to their needs, but in his own personal way, using humour and sarcasm to put a spin on their demands. The quartet’s title, Métamorphoses nocturnes,
is based on the music’s continuous development of a single four-note motif, introduced in the beginning by the first violin. The sticky chromatic accompaniment refers to a recurring nightmare that Ligeti frequently had about a dark room filled with spiders’ webs. Thus commences a twenty-two-minute nocturnal adventure. The motif is developed in the most extreme forms. In nineteen short movements, the players are challenged to balance on the very edge of what is possible – the composer prescribes nearly unplayable tempi, dynamics and techniques. The musicians as well as the audience are sent on an unprecedented musical rollercoaster ride. In a phenomenal way Ligeti has the sun rise again at the end of the piece, when the opening motif returns with an accompaniment of overtones.
The most concrete examples of metamorphosis on this recording are our own arrangements of piano intermezzi by Johannes Brahms. When we heard these intermezzi, we were so moved by them that we decided to arrange a number of these pieces for string quartet. All four of the intermezzi are in ternary form: an opening theme, a contrasting middle section and the return of the opening theme. However, within the boundaries of this form, the composer takes many liberties regarding tempo, harmony and character. This music was not written for the stage, but for the intimate environment of his own living room. From letter exchanges between Brahms and Clara Schumann it is clear how important playing Brahms’ late piano works was for both of them. When Clara received his Intermezzi Op. 116 in November 1892, she described the pieces in her diary as ‘full of poetry, passion, sentiment, emotion; they contain the most beautiful tonal colors [...] in these pieces I finally once again feel a musical revival of my
soul, finally I am playing again with genuine dedication.’ The Ballade Op. 118, No. 3 contrasts with the three highly intimate intermezzi. In it you can hear Brahms’ affinity with Hungarian dance. The middle part of this intermezzo is reminiscent of the beautiful secondary theme from the first movement of his second string quartet. One of the most moving pieces Brahms ever wrote is his intermezzo Op. 119, No. 1. Brahms wrote about this musical gem to Clara: ‘I am tempted to send you a small piano
piece, because I am curious to know what you will think of it. It is full of dissonants! Although they are correct and can be explained, they might not be to your taste, and in that case I wish they were less correct and more to your taste. This little piece is exceptionally melancholic and the marking ‘must be played very slowly’ is not an understatement. Every bar; every note must sound like a ritardando, as though you were trying to drag the melancholy out of every note, and great joy and discomfort from the dissonants.’ Clara answered: ‘You must have known how enthusiastic I would be when you copied this bittersweet piece for me, which, with all its dissonants, is so beautiful. Truly, you revel in the dissonants and while you play them, you wonder how the composer could have managed to bring them to life.
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