String Quartet No. 65 in E Flat, Op. 76, No. 6 (1796) Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Allegretto — Allegro
Finale: Allegro spiritoso
Mountain Interval (String Quartet) (2016) Russell Platt (b. 1965) • World premiere
I. Introduzione in tre parti (Fantastico—Largo, maestoso—Allegro molto moderato)
II. “The Pasture”: Corale senza parole (in memoriam Stephen Paulus) (Sturdy and songful)
III. By June our brook’s run out of song and speed (Poco adagio)
IV. Snowy Evening (Scherzo d’inverno) (Allegro amabile)
V. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall (Deliberato)—Interlude: Tema principale—
VI. To prove saws knew what supper meant (Presto)
VII. Under the sunset far into Vermont (Inconsolabile—Elegia: Andante molto cantabile)
Commissioned by Maverick Concerts for the centenary, with the support of
Alan & Sondra Siegel and Stephen McGrath & Janine Shelffo.
String Quartet No. 12 in E Flat Major, Op. 127 (1823) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile—Andante con moto—Adagio molto espressivo
Finale. Allegro—Allegro comodo
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
The Borromeo String Quartet has established itself as one of the most important string quartets of our time. Their use of technology when teaching and in distance-learning classes is helping to make classical music relevant to students who are growing up in the digital age. The ensemble records its own concerts, and in 2003 started the Living Archive, which makes many of the quartet’s concerts available on demand.
The Borromeo has been the quartet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music for more than twenty years, and collaborates extensively with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York and the Library of Congress in Washington. They can be heard throughout the year on National Public Radio, and the group was ensemble-in-residence for NPR’s Performance Today in 1998 and 1999.
The quartet has been heard in the most of the world’s great concert halls, and has performed at major music festivals around the world. The Borromeo has collaborated with a wide range of world-class artists, and the prestigious awards it has garnered include the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Martin E. Segal Award, the Cleveland Quartet Award, and the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
In Haydn’s late String Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 76, No. 6, the man who had written the rules for string quartets now set about breaking them all. He starts with a theme and variations—a highly unusual format for a first movement (Allegretto). At the end, he turns it into a fugue (Allegro), thus joining the ranks of composers who returned to that complex and ancient form in their later years.
The slow movement (Fantasia: Adagio) presents a songlike melody. Occasional solo runs take the music into distant unexpected keys, and, once again, the theme is given a fugue-like treatment.
In the Menuetto: Presto, we encounter Haydn the wit. The tempo is too fast, the violin notes are too high, and the leaps are too sudden for this to be a serious minuet. Once again, Haydn gives the theme a contrapuntal treatment.
The Finale (Allegro spirituoso) is an exciting romp in fast runs. In the middle of the movement, the violin solo leads the other instruments into unfamiliar harmonic territory, after which the main theme returns.
Russell Platt holds a unique position in American music. As a composer, he has received a Charles Ives Scholarship as well as fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Civitella Ranieri, and Copland House, and an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award. As a writer, he has been honored with an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Criticism, in recognition of his work for The New Yorker, where he is a longtime classical music editor.
Mr. Platt’s music is consistently performed by exceptional musicians, such as the Buffalo Philharmonic led by JoAnn Falletta, New York Festival of Song, the Knights, the American Modern Ensemble, the St. Petersburg and Amernet string quartets, the Dale Warland Singers, Metropolitan Opera tenor Paul Appleby, the Verdehr Trio, bassoonists Peter Kolkay and George Sakakeeny, violinists Frank Almond and Livia Sohn, and pianists Brian Zeger and Lydia Artymiw. Current projects include a piano trio for pianist Bruce Levingston and members of Brooklyn Rider.
Russell has undertaken six composing residencies at Yaddo and three at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His work has been performed recently at Merkin Concert Hall and at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Russell holds degrees from Oberlin College, the Curtis Institute, the University of Minnesota, and St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge.
Of Mountain Interval (String Quartet) Russell writes: “The work was begun in October 2014 during a month-long residency at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, and finished on July 15, 2016, at my home in New York. It was commissioned for the Borromeo String Quartet to mark the centenary of Maverick Concerts, and I am also grateful to the Westport Arts Center for presenting a partial performance of the work in April of this year.
“The piece, conceived over a period of more than a decade, is an homage to the poetical world of Robert Frost and to the musical world of late Beethoven. From Frost, I have made reference to several famous poems, which are bonded to several musical movements at varying degrees of intimacy. (‘Mountain Interval’ is the title of Frost’s third book of poems, published in 1916, the year of the Maverick’s first season.) The first movement is a three-part overture, with an important ‘principal theme’ of a downward octave G and an upward fifth to D. The second movement is directly Frostian, a corale senza parole: a choral setting of Frost’s archetypal poem ‘The Pasture,’ from which the words have been removed. (I learned of death of the composer Stephen Paulus, an old Minnesota colleague and a master of the choral genre, while I was finishing the first verse.) The third movement is a tone poem after Frost’s fifteen-line sonnet ‘Hyla Brook’: a hyla is a species of tree frog, and its gurgle is—humbly—imitated in the leaping trills heard in the two violins. The fourth movement is a ‘winter scherzo’ evoking the many moods of Frost’s famous poems about night, winter, and snow—and, obviously, the fifth movement of Beethoven’s Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131. In my fifth movement, the link to Frost is potent but generalized: I have taken the opening line of ‘Mending Wall,’ a well-known poem about rocks, boundaries, and the obstinacies of grown men, as my theme. (Its last line—‘Good fences make good neighbors’—is as famous as its first.) The sixth and seventh movements evoke different aspects of the poem ‘Out, Out—’. A boy, after a day of work, dies after his hand is cut off by a buzz-saw, which may or may not have a will of its own. The poet notes the horror of the scene (‘As if to prove saws knew what supper meant’), but also conjures the magnificent beauty of the landscape in which the scene is set (‘…those that lifted eyes could count/ Five mountain ranges one behind the other/ Under the sunset far into Vermont’).
“From Beethoven, I have taken the seven-movement concept of Op. 131, and a certain epic quality that was not heard again in the quartet genre until Schoenberg, in his First Quartet, and his friend Zemlinsky, in his Second Quartet, dared to try. (I have not attempted to imitate what Joseph Kerman and others have called the ‘organic unity’ of Beethoven’s technique. No one can write that way anymore.) Perhaps, like Beethoven’s Op. 130 Quartet, Mountain Interval is more of a suite, and, like that piece, it once had six movements. But I added the seventh (marked ‘inconsolable’) when I realized that I had not properly completed the tonal layout of my own concept. Much of the piece is vehemently chromatic, but the basic tonal sequence, movement by movement, is in the order of the chain of fifths that comprise the open strings of the violin (G-D-A-E). I was missing the first link of that chain, the C of the cello and viola, which is at last intoned in a grand melody (Andante molto cantabile) in the finale. Its climax, however, is an escape to D-flat major, and at the close that chord is mixed, beyond resolution, with the pitches of the first movement’s Tema principale, G and D. ‘Out, Out’—an allusion to Shakespeare—has a famous final line of its own: ‘And they, since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.’”
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
—Robert Frost (1915)
The String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 127, is one of three quartets Beethoven wrote as a commission from the Russian Prince Nikolai Galitzin. In the short introductory Maestoso (majestically), each instrument plays triple or quadruple stops (bowing three or four notes at the same time), and the thick texture is grand and ceremonial. Then the first violin starts the Allegro theme, marked Teneramente (tenderly). The gentle mood is interrupted several times by the Maestoso chords from the introduction, and a pattern is established that continues through the entire quartet: juxtaposition of sections that have extremely different characters.
In the vast second movement (Adagio—Andante—Adagio), Beethoven emphasizes harmonic development. He articulates the harmonic changes with short transitions or actual breaks in the music, starting up in an entirely new key and tempo.
The third movement (Scherzando vivace) uses galloping dotted rhythms. The cello motif recurs, in a sort of theme with extremely diverse variations, and a cheery violin tune (Presto) brings a new feeling.
The violin holds the melody for most of the last movement (Finale), but several times, the cello holds forth, high in its register. Beethoven puts off the final cadence as he recapitulates earlier themes, then brings the piece to a dramatic close.
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg