2015 Arcadia Event 3 - programme notes
October at St Mary Magdalene, Leintwardine SY7 0LJ
Dvořák Quintet op 77
Dvořák’s music as it is played today in concert halls and Opera houses around the world, is the music of a distinct style and identity. Works such as the later symphonies, the cello concerto, the later operas and much of the chamber music present us with an easily recognizable sound and style. However it is easy to forget how hard won this memorable flavor is and worth considering that at the time of this work’s composition Dvořák, who had none the less been producing music for half his life, had not yet composed a single one of the works that today make him the much loved composer he is.
The quintet was completed in its unrevised state in March 1875 and seemed to be a firm footed move away from the Wagnerian path Dvořák had until that time been pursuing. The rather late opus number 77 was assigned to it by Dvořák’s publisher when the work went through a revision in 1887 and was finally published – perhaps during a bout of nostalgia for the things of his earlier years. (One movement - an Intermezzo - was dropped, though it went on to be published separately as a Nocturne for strings.)
The unusual instrumentation of a quintet made up of the conventional string quartet plus the double bass is remarkable and one that gives the work a charactersitc and distinctive voice. There seems no clear reason why Dvořák should have adopted this too little imitated line up. However, we know that the work was entered for a chamber music competition and it is possible that he felt this might be a way of catching the judges’ attention. He needn’t have worried; the work, submitted anonymously as per the rules, was an immediate and unqualified hit with the panel who unanimously awarded him the prize.
Eleanor Alberga ‘Langvad’ UK premiere
Langvad was composed in 2006, born out of love for the Kirsten Kjaers Museum in NW Denmark and for its developers John Anderson and Harald Fuglsang who also caused the summer festival the Langvad Chamber Music Jamboree to come into being. The museum itself is in the village of Langvad which comprises a single very long road. This gave me the idea of painting a picture of a long parade, perhaps by circus folk, or a history of events in someone’s life or in nature. This was the germ of an idea which led to the piece but it is open to the listener’s own perception as the music tells its own story according to the ear of the receiver.
The piece is in one movement with varied sections throughout. The principal protagonists are the clarinet and violin although the oboe and horn do rise in some sections. The main material presents lyrical lines, chordal passages which grow into insistent rhythmic blocks that push forward, and repeated notes, jumping large pitch distances in the clarinet or again acting as a rhythmic impetus when shared among the other instruments. Langvad begins with a clarinet melody, as if unfolding a story. Moods change throughout and after a loud passage the violin tells a tale. This winds down into a canon before the final outburst.
The Danish critic Henrik Svane describes about two-thirds of the piece thus:
“The long, flowing introduction draws a poetic landscape, a tone painting in which long tones and small figures suggest long, soft shadows. Later the story becomes more intense with an increasing rhythmic conciseness, with sharp musical attacks leading to a violent climax. This is followed by a passage for violin that paints a peaceful mood, almost as refreshing as the sound of a blackbird after a violent thunderstorm.”
Beethoven String Quartet in C sharp minor op 131
By 1825 Beethoven had completed the third of his quartets promised for Prince Galitzen. They are the quartets opus 127, 130 and 132. (The numbering is confusing as it refers to the order of publication and not composition.) Listeners to last year’s Arcadia heard a performance of one of these, the quartet in A minor, op. 132, and the third and last to be composed was the quartet in B flat op. 130 together with its original finale the Grosse Fuge op. 133. So, was Beethoven to put down his pen on the matter of the string quartet? The answer of course is ‘no’, and op. 131 is the extraordinary result of his continued quest in the form. To be sure Beethoven’s financial state was not good and he was receiving nearly constant offers from publishers for more string quartets and therefore some very welcome income. But from a purely compositional standpoint it is clear from his sketch books that the writing of the three preceding works had released a stream of ideas that had not abated. What at last emerged as op. 131 was felt by its creator to be the finest quartet he had ever composed. Today it stands as a peak even amongst its near companions and every element of what we now refer to as his ‘late’ style is here in apotheosis.
Here is music that is as spiritual as it is worldly, as rough and humorous as it is heavenly and philosophical: and running through it all a sort of inner dialogue with the questioning self.
The quartet’s 40 minute duration is made up of seven connected movements – some short, some long. They unfold without a break and with both the inevitability of the most thoroughly worked out scheme and the apparent freedom of a giant rhapsody. To say that there is a genetic link between the opening slow fugue movement and the final sonata form Allegro is merely to underscore some elements of analysis that may help the listener to get his or her bearings. But the manifestation of this unfolding in real time is a different sort of experience than one which can be fully grasped by mere analysis and Beethoven’s unorthodox use of forms and structure is in a way a liberation for the listener.
Suggested further reading:
Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination
University of Califronia Press
Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations
Editor, Michael Hamburger
Thames and Hudson