Programme Notes

Joseph Haydn [1732-1809]
Quartet in C major Op.76/3 ‘Emperor’
1. Allegro
2. Poco Adagio, cantabile
3. Menuetto
4. Finale, presto

THE SHANDON QUARTET
Siun Milne, violin
Brendan Garde, violin
David Kenny, viola
Aoife Burke, cello

Haydn began writing string quartets in 1757, the year after Mozart was born, and finally gave up, leaving his last quartet incomplete, forty-six years later in 1803. In that period he composed sixty-nine quartets of which, in the words of a famous writer and musician, forty-five are profound and profoundly different, absolutely flawless, consistently original master quartets, each a violent, multi-dimensional contrast to any of the others. The six quartets of Op.76 date from 1796-7, just after his two famous trips to London, which were the inspiration of so much new work. Clearly Haydn’s enormous success with the London audiences gave him both energy and confidence, for these quartets show an unprecedented boldness and willingness to explore new ground. They were commissioned by and dedicated to Count Joseph Erdödy, one of Haydn’s many aristocratic patrons.

The C major is probably Haydn’s most famous quartet on account of the slow movement variations on the Emperor’s hymn Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, which Haydn had composed in early 1797 and became both the German and Austrian national anthems, if with different texts. Each movement commences with the same five-note motif, G-E-F-D-C, from the five title words of the hymn. The opening Allegro paves the way for Variations, thus its intrada aspect, majestic tempo and dotted rhythms. Haydn achieves his massive orchestral punch by liberal use of double and multiple stops and octaves – this movement is clearly no simple introduction to the imperial theme. Indeed there is one place where an extraordinary rustic dance with a musette bass threatens to burst all bounds of respectability.

In the Poco Adagio the Kaiser’s theme is present throughout, forming a sort of cantus firmus but in a harmonic and polyphonic environment that is gradually enriched as if we were moving from classicism to romanticism in the space of one movement. The theme is given to the instruments in turn – the first fiddle gets the statement of the theme itself, the first variation is an inspired duo for the two violins with the second violin leading with the theme, the second variation gives the theme to the cello while the other three dance the accompaniment and next it is the turn of the viola, both Haydn’s and Mozart’s instrument of choice. And finally in the fourth variation the first violin returns with a wonderfully enriched version of the opening. A mysterious five-bar coda fades out the theme.

The minuet is a firmly paced Allegro with an intrusive and thrusting theme, whose aggressive nature is mollified by a melancholy minor-key trio, perhaps preparing us for the shock of a minor-key finale. This opens violently and continues to be highly unstable, exploding in triplets at the slightest provocation. Haydn relents in the closing bars, returning us eventually to C major.
Francis Humphrys


Johannes Brahms [1833-1897]
Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor Op.60 [1875]
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Scherzo: Allegro
3. Andante
4. Finale: Allegro comodo

Jordan Bagot, piano
Keith Pascoe, violin
Simon Aspell, viola
Christopher Marwood, cello

On the cover you must have a picture, namely a head with a pistol to it. Now you can form some conception of the music! I’ll send you my photograph for the purpose. You can use a blue coat, yellow breeches and top-boats, since you seem to like colour-printing.

These were Brahms’ instructions to his publisher, Simrock, for the printing of the score of the C minor piano quartet. The man in the blue coat and yellow breeches is the archetypal Romantic hero, Werther, who shoots himself in the last chapter of Goethe’s novel because of his anguished and unrequited love for a married woman, whose husband he admires.

Brahms of course is talking about his relationship with Clara Schumann. The twenty years spent on the composition of this work began in Düsseldorf in 1853, when he was acting as Clara’s knight errant, while Robert was locked up in the sanatorium at Edenich. We shall never know why they never married after Robert’s death in 1856 – it seems that they were both so proud and independent that they felt their personal destinies were best worked out apart from each other – but their love never diminished. Most of Brahms’ music was composed for her, and she and the violinist Joachim would nearly always be the first people to see his scores. And though Clara was fourteen years older than Brahms, he survived her by less than a year, after she died in May 1896.

I speak in my music, wrote Brahms, and of no work is this truer than this quartet. The key of C minor was for Brahms, as for Beethoven, the key of intensity, drama and restlessness. The piano opens with a summons, to which the strings reply with a two-note phrase that speaks the name Clara, immediately followed by a transposed version of Schumann’s Clara-theme. This is repeated in B flat minor and the piano guides the music back to the dominant of C minor, which is tinged with a strange dissonance, a pizzicato E in the viola and violin. Joachim objected to this vehemently, but Brahms insisted on keeping it. I cannot part with the pizzicato E, the continuation will create the effect I want and allow the E to sound right.

A stormy transition leads to the richly romantic second subject, which gives rise to a small group of four variations. The third of these becomes massively vehement, and the last most ardently longing, leading us inevitably to a variant of the Clara-sigh, and thence straight into the development. This generates an enormously powerful theme, fortissimo and marcato, which is a direct offspring of the Clara-sigh that inevitably reappears after much intemperate raging. Joachim’s pizzicato also reappears, going in a new harmonic direction at the beginning of the recapitulation. The second subject is now given a wonderful translucent gloss until the third variation breaks the place up again. This leads to another bitter outburst in the coda, making the tranquillity of the final bars all the more unexpected.

There is some evidence that the scherzo was the finale of the original quartet written in 1856. Certainly it is through composed without a trio. The powerful rhythmic drive, which grows from the tense opening, is only interrupted by a brief chant-like second theme. The ending is brutally abrupt.

The andante begins with one of Brahms’ most luxuriant cello melodies, growing into a rapt duet between the cello and the violin, which becomes a healing song of sorrow. There is a dolce second subject with a dangerously passionate side to it. The return of the main theme is in octaves in the piano, wondrously accompanied by pizzicati in cello and viola, before the cello reclaims his own. The song returns, bringing peace, a mood which the hushed coda sustains.

The opening of the finale reminds us of the last movement of the G major Violin Sonata. Its relentless moto perpetuo quaver accompaniments are soon augmented into a powerful transition theme leading to a chorale-like second subject in the strings, with tongue-in-cheek responses from the piano. The transition theme and the chorale both generate a lot of Romantic fervour in the recapitulation, especially when the piano gets converted to the chorale theme. The final cadence is clearly Werther pulling the trigger.
Francis Humphrys


INTERVAL

Franz Schubert [1797-1828]
Piano Trio Movement in E flat D.897 ‘Notturno’ [1827]
Adagio

Grainne Ní Luasa, piano
Keith Pascoe, violin
Christopher Marwood, cello

Little is known of Schubert’s intentions for this Notturno movement, although it is widely thought to be a rejected movement from the B-flat Major trio. The melody of the first theme is very similar to a work song (‘Arbeitslied’) from upper Austria with an easy rhythm to which workers would hit their hammers in unison. It is said that in 1825, while on holiday in Gmunden, Schubert passed a group of pile drivers working on the road and paused to listen to their song. The manuscript is lost, however the Notturno was written soon after this trip, in 1826 or 1827.

Although Schubert’s Notturno was written only a short time before his death in 1828, there is no trace of his impending fate hidden in this piece. Instead, this Adagio is as an uncharacteristically calm, blissful work from a composer known for the bittersweet melodrama of his lieder and chamber music. One cannot listen to the Notturno without thinking of the Adagio movement of Schubert’s C major Quintet D. 956. Aside from their identical tempo markings, both share similar dotted sixteenth note rhythms, ternary form, and a playful shift between arco and pizzicato in the strings. However, unlike the Adagio of the Quintet, the Notturno never escalates emotionally, even at the height of its active moments; it is still a stately character.

The opening of the Notturno is marked Appassionato, however the serene chords in the piano followed by the opulent melody in the strings is anything but fiery. In the first several measures, the piano’s block chords are like a strummed harp as the strings sing their quiet melody above and eventually take on the role of the harp with their pizzicati. If the Adagio of the Quintet is the ascent to heaven, in the Notturno we have now arrived.

As the strings quietly fade to nothing, a syncopated rumble in the piano signals a new theme. Racing sixteenth note triplets give the section new life and the strings crescendo continuously while still maintaining their grand character until shrinking back to a pianissimo and longer sustained notes, eventually transitioning back to the first theme. This time, the theme is more lighthearted as violin and cello pizzicato back and forth, but the return is short lived as the noble second theme returns. The first theme eventually returns for the final time, calm and serene as it was in the beginning, but with a trill in the piano, a playful wink to the energy of the second theme.
Kerry Smith


Felix Mendelssohn [1809-1847]
String Octet in E major Op.20 [1825]
1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
2. Andante
3. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo
4. Presto

Mairéad Hickey, violin
Keith Pascoe, violin
Brendan Garde, violin
David McElroy, violin
Simon Aspell, viola
David Kenny, viola
Christopher Marwood, cello
Aoife Burke, cello

By the time Mendelssohn came to write the Octet at the advanced age of 16, he had already composed five operas, the thirteen string symphonies, three piano quartets, a string quartet, a piano sextet and a handful of trios and sonatas. Goethe was a family friend and he knew Weber, Moscheles, Hummel, Cherubini, Rossini, Meyerbeer and Spontini. Already the previous year his teacher, Carl Zelter, had pronounced him no longer an apprentice but an independent member of the brotherhood of musicians.

The massive first movement is built on a symphonic scale with the form shifting between violin concerto and a straightforward string ensemble. The movement is dominated by the all-pervasive opening theme played by the first violin over a shimmering accompaniment in the other strings. Subsidiary ideas include a question and answer pair of phrases and there is a striding rhythmic figure which is particularly effective in its pizzicato form, and when treated contrapuntally with a window-shaking bass line.

The enormous development section is seriously infected by the opening figure but eventually a long crescendo builds out of the rhythmic pizzicato culminating in tutti chords that fade into an impressively controlled piano. This leads to a hurtling climax that rockets into the recapitulation, which in turn is full of contrapuntal fireworks. The coda allows a final ecstatic rendering of the main theme.

The Andante continues to explore the exciting sonorities offered by this combination of instruments. It is clear from both these movements that Mendelssohn both worshipped Mozart and emulated him. The colouring is less orchestral than in the first movement and is beautifully graded, but without any striking melody.

The Scherzo is best described by his sister Fanny: The whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo, the tremulandos coming in now and then, the trills passing away with the quickness of lighting; everything new and strange, and at the same time most insinuating and pleasing, one feels so near the world of spirits carried away in the air… At the end the first violin takes a flight with feather-like lightness, and… all has vanished.

The finale is introduced in a most undignified manner by the second cello, letting the cork out of the champagne, and the resulting effervescent presto exploits the flamboyant possibilities of the eight parts to the full. There are even two quick quotes of the Scherzo Walpurgisnacht theme among the helter-skelter, before the sixteen year old composer builds to a barn-storming finish.
Francis Humphrys