Presented in the ATB Community Room at Casa, featuring the Musaeus string quartet, with guests Isabelle Robinson (violin), and Mary Lee Voort (keyboard).
Savour Mendelssohn’s first published string quartet, Haydn’s famous “The Lark”, and Vivaldi’s wonderful Autumn concerto from The Four Seasons. Plus, enjoy a cash bar (beverages are permitted inside!), and an Afterglow reception, where you’ll have a chance to mingle with the performers.
Please click here to download and print these programme notes (pdf version).
Extra A – Fall into Strings
Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809): String Quartet Op. 64 No. 5 “The Lark” in D Major
Haydn is credited with being the originator of the string quartet. He composed 68 of them and, as one of the pioneers of this new type of music, successfully established most of the genre’s key features, many of which still remain relevant to this day.
In 1790 Haydn, at 58, was one of the most famous composers in Europe. When Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy, his employer and patron, died, Haydn was given the freedom to travel. Johann Peter Salomon, an impresario and violinist, almost immediately visited Haydn and commissioned six symphonies from him for a concert series he had established in London. It was during this trip to London that Haydn composed his String Quartet Op. 64 no. 5, nicknamed “The Lark”.
Haydn had been employed as the court composer by the wealthy Esterhazy family in remote Austria for nearly thirty years before that and, in relative isolation, he became extremely original and inventive. He was such an influential composer that many of his innovations were taken up as common stylistic traits of the classical era as a whole.
The “Lark” Quartet exhibits many recurrent aspects of Haydn’s style: his characteristic musical wit, inventiveness, humour, and spirit of experimentation. The first movement opens with a staccato motive that reappears in the work all the way until the final movement. This is answered by a melody in the first violin that is thought to be imitative of the sound of a lark, for which the quartet received its nickname.
The second movement is a slow, lyrical adagio which is a formal aspect common among string quartets in the classical era that originated with Haydn. This is followed by a minuet and trio. The final movement, which is nicknamed “the hornpipe”, is fast-paced, energetic, features running sixteenth notes throughout, and is thought to be reminiscent of a sailors’ dance.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741): Concerto “L’autunno” in F Major – from The Four Seasons
Vivaldi is one of the most revered and influential composers of the Baroque era. His contributions to Western music are found primarily in the style and form of the Baroque concerto. Five hundred concerti composed by Antonio Vivaldi survive and The Four Seasons, in which each three-part concerto is designed to depict a season of the year, is easily his most famous and universally celebrated work.
Vivaldi’s innovations would have a profound influence on European composers in his own lifetime and beyond. He standardised the use of “ritornello” form, in which a repeated orchestral refrain is separated by episodes featuring a solo instrument. He is also credited with the development of the three-part “fast-slow-fast” organisation of movements within the concerto. Notably, Vivaldi was a major influence on Johann Sebastian Bach, who transcribed many of Vivaldi’s concerti and successfully absorbed his style.
It is believed that The Four Seasons is inspired by the countryside around Mantua, Italy, where Vivaldi spent some time as ‘Maestro di Capella’ for the governor. The earliest publications were accompanied by poems for each movement of the concerti, also presumably written by Vivaldi, which included all of the imagery that he intended the music to evoke. This is one of the earliest and most significant examples of “program music” (music composed to directly imitate and depict narrative elements that are usually written and distributed in the concert program), which is a style of composition that would not become commonplace until the Romantic era many decades later.
The Autumn concerto is comprised of three movements. The first movement begins with a villagers’ dance where a drunkard portrayed by the solo violin stumbles and eventually falls asleep. In the second movement we hear the sounds of the partygoers who have also now fallen asleep. The third movement is representative of a great hunt with the sounds of horns, rifles, dogs, and a beast who flees and eventually dies.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847): String Quartet Op. 12 in E-flat Major
Felix Mendelssohn composed seven string quartets, six of which were published while he was still alive. His first string quartet, which he composed at the young age of 14, was published posthumously.
Mendelssohn began composing his String Quartet Op. 12 in E-flat Major in Berlin in 1829 and completed it in London later that year. He was beginning what would be several years of travel during which he gave concerts and met with other musicians. This helped to establish his popularity abroad. The quartet was completed in England where the 20-year-old composer conducted his first symphony for the London Philharmonic Society before visiting Scotland and the countryside.
Arguably, Mendelssohn’s most popular work is the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream Op. 21 and some theorists believe that this string quartet and its dramatic elements were reflective of his continued interest in the Shakespeare play which he held in high esteem. It is also agreed upon that this string quartet bears the influence of Beethoven although the composer does not adhere to strict traditional forms and conventions.
The first movement establishes the lyricism of the piece and introduces themes that will return throughout the work. The second movement is a fast-paced, dance-like Canzonetta with virtuosic passages. This movement is popular on its own and is sometimes performed without the companionship of the other movements. The Andante third movement is striking due to its use of operatic techniques including aria and recitative. The final movement is significant in that it does not open in the home key of E-flat Major but rather C Minor and does not return to the home key until the coda. This was Mendelssohn’s first published string quartet and he would not return to the genre for nearly a decade.