Archive for November, 2014

Dvořák, String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 51, “Slavonic”

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Antonín Dvořák, (1841-1904)

String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 51, “Slavonic”, 1879

Dvořák first attracted significant attention as a composer with two sides of the same coin: folk music and dance. Aided by Brahms who recognized his talents and recommend Dvořák to his own Viennese publisher Simrock, Dvořák first published a set of Moravian Dances followed by collection of Slavonic (i.e. Bohemian) Dances thereby covering the two chief regions of what would eventually become Czechoslovakia. The Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, published in 1878 when Dvořák was in his late thirties, were wildly successful and immediately established his international reputation as an emerging Nationalistic composer. In the thrall of this excitement, the Florentine Quartet approached Dvořák asking for a new string quartet “in the Slavic style.” Dvořák, a professional violist who had already written numerous chamber works responded by composing his tenth string quartet, Op. 51 published in 1879 and subsequently known by its nickname “Slavonic.” (more…)

Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 15 in E-flat minor, Op. 144

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 15 in E-flat minor, Op. 144, 1974

For many, the fifteen string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich represent a cycle of artistic devotion and intense, intimate expression second only to the sixteen quartets by Beethoven. For Shostakovich, the quartets provided a refuge from the more public and highly scrutinized genres of opera, symphony, ballet or film score where a negative judgment by totalitarian authorities threatened real and serious danger. The wordless “absolute” musical meaning of instrumental chamber music provided a safe haven even when such “domestic” music of friends was performed in public. Here, he could express himself more naturally and honestly and as with late Beethoven, the music is often deeply personal, introspective, and vividly autobiographical. Shostakovich was also a great classicist, drawn to the preludes and fugues of Bach and the transcendent quartets of Beethoven and he strove to make his contribution in these august musical traditions. He planned to compose a set of twenty-four string quartets, one in each major and minor key, but he ran out of time. Dying of an aggressive cancer, and frequently hospitalized, Shostakovich completed his 15th and last string quartet at the age of 68 in 1974, less than a year before he died. (more…)

Haydn, String Quartet in D Major, Op. 50/6 “The Frog”

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)

String Quartet in D Major, Op. 50, No. 6, “The Frog”, c. 1787

Haydn’s six string quartets numbered Op. 50 appeared in print in 1787 though it is not entirely certain when he composed them. Mostly likely, they were written between 1784 and 1786 but possibly as late as 1787. In what appears to have been a bit of an afterthought, Haydn dedicated the set to the music-loving, cello-playing King of Prussia, William Frederick II and thus they are known as Haydn’s “Prussian” quartets. Written after Mozart’s “Haydn” Quartets following Haydn’s own epochal Op. 33, the Op. 50 quartets are considered some of Haydn’s finest: pure and perfect classical quartets from an inextinguishable font of charm, invention and wit in a new installment of the historical dialectic. Although the traditional set of “famous” or “beloved” quartets of Haydn includes only the final, sixth quartet of Op. 50, the inimitable musicologist and quartet expert Hans Keller includes all six Op. 50 quartets in his book, “The Great Haydn Quartets.” Nonetheless, the last quartet, Op. 50, No. 6 in D major is the most well-known of the set bearing its own nickname, “The Frog”, bestowed by posterity in reference to a unique sonic device in the finale, of which more in a moment.
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