Archive for February, 2008

Rachmaninov, Romance (for string quartet)

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Sergei Rachmaninov

Romance. Andante espressivo
(from String Quartet No. 1, unfinished)
, ca. 1889-1890

Sergei RachmaninovSergei Rachmaninov was the last of the Russian romantic composers in an extraordinary tradition that largely ended with the revolution of 1917. His musical life comprised three simultaneous and eminently successful careers: concert pianist, conductor and composer. Rachmaninov’s historical legacy lies in his compositions of which his most famous include his second and third piano concertos, his second symphony and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. His extraordinary gift for lyrical melody resulted in making several themes from these works immensely popular, familiar to us whether or not we recognize their origins. Two smaller works enjoyed the same phenomenon: the piano Prelude in c-sharp minor and the exquisite Vocalise that has been transcribed for nearly every imaginable ensemble including a moody rendition with a superimposed thunderstorm soundtrack. (more…)

Haydn, String Quartet in f minor, Op. 20/5

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

String Quartet in F-minor, Op. 20, No. 5, 1772

SunAccording to a list Haydn compiled of those works he considered his “true” string quartets, Op. 20 was his third set of six quartets, preceded by Op. 17 and Op. 9. All three sets were composed between 1769 and 1772, a period of merely three years in which the pioneering Haydn produced eighteen quartets. This burst of creative effort might well be regarded as the most important in the history of the string quartet. Showing a steady progress through Op. 9 and Op. 17 that yielded more than a few outstanding early works in the form, Haydn realized the full bounty of his exploration with Op. 20, six masterpieces conceived as an integrated set immediately regarded as a towering achievement, the very first crucial landmark in the history of the string quartet. (more…)

Dvořák, String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat, Op. 105

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Antonín Dvořák, 1841-1904

String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat, Op. 105, B. 193, 1895

Antonín DvořákMost chamber music lovers know Dvořák’s American Quartet (No. 12), but are less aware that it is only one of five superb works completing a total of fourteen many regard as the finest cycle of 19th century string quartets after Schubert. Like Schubert, whom he greatly admired, Dvořák had an instinctive sense of chamber music and a natural gift for melody. Dvořák composed his last two string quartets together, one “inside” the other. He began the String Quartet in A-flat major, Op. 105 in New York just before returning to Prague from his three-year stint as director of the National Conservatory of Music from 1892 to 1895. After completing only a portion of the first movement, Dvořák traveled home and began afresh with a new string quartet, Op. 106. Only after finishing this “next” quartet, did he resume Op. 105, completing both in 1895. (more…)