Leipzig String Quartet


Stefan Arzberger, violin
Tilman Büning,
Ivo Bauer,
Matthias Moosdorf,

Sunday, July 22, 2012, 4 pm



String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 44, No. 1 (1838) Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Molto allegro vivace
Menuetto: Un poco allegro
Andante espressivo ma con moto
Presto con brio

String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135 (1826) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Lento assai e cantante tranquillo
Grave ma non troppo tratto - Allegro


String Quartet in D Major, M. 9 (1889)
César Franck (1822-1890)

Poco lento – Allegr
Scherzo: Vivace
Finale: Allegro molto


next week

Saturday, July 28, 6:30 pm | Jazz at the Maverick
Perry Beekman and Friends: "Cole Porter in Paris"

Sunday, July 29, 4 pm | Zuill Bailey, cello,
and Robert Koenig, piano
Music of Bach, Debussy, Franck, and others




Program Notes © 2012 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Founded in 1988, the Leipzig String Quartet is now widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting string quartets on the international chamber music scene: Three of its members were first chairs in the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig. After studies with Gerhard Bosse, the Amadeus quartet, Hatto Beyerle, and Walter Levin, the quartet went on to win numerous prizes and awards, including the 1991 International ARD Munich competition and the Busch and Siemens prizes.

Today, the Leipzig String Quartet concertizes extensively throughout Europe, Israel, Africa, Central and South America, Australia, Japan, and Asia, including appearances at many of the major festivals. In North America, engagements include appearances at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, at Carnegie Hall’s quartet series in Weill Recital Hall, the 92nd St. Y, The Frick Collection, Wolf Trap, the Library of Congress, and chamber music series in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montréal, and Quebec. Often offering its own thematic cycles (Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, the contemporaries), the quartet was also one of the initiators of the 1996 and 1997 Beethoven Quartet Cycle offered jointly with five other quartets as a sign of European friendship in more than fifteen European cities.

Since 1991, the ensemble has had its own concert series “Pro Quatuor” at the Gewandhaus, where it offered a multi-year cycle of the major quartets of the First and Second Viennese School. Within that series the quartet played the world-premieres of Schnittke’s With Three for string trio and orchestra and works by other contemporary composers. As a member of the Leipzig-based “Ensemble Avantgarde,” the quartet is dedicated to contemporary music and works by the classical moderns. With this ensemble, the quartet formed in 1990 the “musica nova” series at the Gewandhaus, and was awarded the 1993 Schneider-Schott prize of the City of Mainz.

Chamber music partners Juliane Banse, Christiane Oelze, Alfred Brendel, Hartmut Rohde, Michael Sanderling, Andreas Staier, Christian Zacharias and others enrich and expand the quartet’s already large repertoire consisting of almost three hundred works by approximately one hundred composers.

The quartet’s almost seventy recordings, spanning from Mozart to Cage and including the complete works of Brahms, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and the complete Second Viennese School, have been met with international critical acclaim. They have brought the group such recognition as the Diapason d’Or and Premios-CD-Compact awards, two nominations for the Cannes Classical Award and the 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2008 ECHO-Klassik awards. Their recording of the complete Schubert quartet literature, a first, is considered by many the most important release for the Schubert year 1997. Of eighteen recordings of the “Trout quintet”, the French magazine Répertoire voted their recording with Christian Zacharias, piano, as the best. Repeatedly, the quartet has won the Quarterly Prize of the German Record Reviewers. Since 1992, the Quartet records exclusively for Dabringhaus & Grimm Music Productions (MDG).

Since 2009, the Leipzig String Quartet has been invited by maestro Claudio Abbado to be members of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The ensemble also teaches as guest professors at the Tokyo University of Art.





Although Felix Mendelssohn was a child prodigy, his parents spared him the grueling lifestyle of touring and display that young Mozart had endured. Mendelssohn’s composing career was steady, prolific, successful, and fulfilling. He was admired throughout Europe, and practically worshipped in England. Unfortunately, he died in 1848 at the age of thirty-eight. He never got to see the extraordinary changes that music underwent in the second half of the nineteenth century.

In the String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 44, No. 1, Mendelssohn starts with an unusually fast opening movement (Molto allegro vivace). A strongly accented galloping theme alternates with a continuous flow of notes that is imbued with a more relaxed, unrushed feeling.

The Menuetto (Un poco allegro) is a dance in the old style—gently swaying, a bit waltz-like. The central Trio offers a contrast, with the violin high above the B minor chords of the lower three instruments. As usual, the opening Menuetto section returns, but instead of adhering to the string ABA format, Mendelssohn brings the Trio melody back in, and, at the last minute, combines the two themes.

In the slow movement (Andante espressivo ma con moto) we hear a violin melody, again in B minor, over a plucked cello and flowing inner voices. The forward momentum keeps the music from getting overly sentimental. Near the end, the first violin plays a short solo, like the cadenza in a concerto. The movement ends with soft plucked chords.

The Finale (Presto con brio) mirrors the brilliance of the first movement. Two themes are offered—the first bright and uptempo, the second more cantabile (song-like). As the themes are developed, Mendelssohn continues to explore the juxtaposition of a faster-moving line with one that is more lyrical. The quartet ends with an exciting flourish.

The String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135, is the last string quartet Beethoven wrote. In this work, after the innovation and experimentation of many of his late quartets, Beethoven turns back to the norms of Classical style. The result is evocative of Haydn and Mozart, the composers whose works he had studied so diligently as a young man.

The first movement (Allegretto) starts with a cheery theme with decorative trills. This theme is tossed back and forth among the instruments, played in unison, put into imitative counterpoint, and punctuated with rests—the variety of techniques used extensively by Haydn to give his music a light, airy feeling. The second theme is in even notes, and fits nicely with the main subject.

The second movement (Vivace) is the scherzo, with the usual repeats—those repeats that Beethoven had begun to leave out of his late quartets, preferring instead to compose every single note to his specific expressive needs. Staccatos and cross accents make this a lively dance. And just in case we were missing the humor (scherzo, after all, means "joke"), Beethoven gives the lower three voices an ostinato figure (a repeated pattern of, in this case, five notes) that goes on for forty-seven measures, while the first violin plays in the stratosphere.

In the third movement (Lento assai cantante e tranquillo—fairly slow, singing, and calm), a gentle song is played through four times, in a sort of theme and variations. First the violin takes the solo; then all four play together, even more slowly, with lush harmonies; then the violin and cello sing in dialogue; and finally, the violin plays a decorated version of the song, with the other instruments accompanying with arpeggios and subdued syncopation.

Before the start of the finale (Grave ma non troppo tratto—slow but not too drawn out), Beethoven appended the words “Der Schwer Gefasste Entschluss”—“The decision made with difficulty,” along with the notes of the movement’s theme and the lyrics “Muss es sein? Es muss sein! Es muss sein!” (Must it be? It must! It must!). If this were a different quartet, it would be reasonable to see this as one of Beethoven’s confrontations with destiny. But in this unusual quartet, we have to wonder. We know that Beethoven wrote a comic canon using these words. So this might reflect a cheery nonchalance rather than a deep spiritual quest for answers. Despite his troubles, despite his expressions of angst, Beethoven is also able to see the lighter side of his situation, and even to make fun of his own seriousness. Beethoven told his publisher that this would be his last quartet, so this—whether fatalistic or humorous—was apparently his final word on the subject of life.

During his lifetime, César Franck was renowned as a teacher and as an organist. His students at the Paris Conservatory (including Ernest Chausson and Vincent d’Indy) became known as La bande à Franck, or the Franckists. As a composer, however, Franck was largely unappreciated for most of his life. The String Quartet in D Major, written in the last year of his life, was the first of his compositions to receive enthusiastic public acclaim. The novelist Marcel Proust was so taken by it that he asked for a private performance at his home.

In the introduction (Poco lento), the violin sings the melody, accompanied by full, sustained chords. This song becomes a motto theme, used in various forms later in the work. Franck was especially known for this cyclic form. After a pause, the Allegro proper starts, using the same thematic materials speeded up and handed off to the other instruments. This fairly long movement has various tempo changes, including a slow fugato (fugue-like) treatment of the song, another dramatic Allegro, and a final return to the aria-like treatment.

The Scherzo: Vivace makes only veiled references to the motto theme. The opening and closing sections employ fast bowing for a frenetic but at the same time hushed and mysterious sound. The central section provides a more relaxed legato counterbalance.

In the slow third movement (Larghetto), Franck makes allusion to the rhythmic and melodic contours of the motto theme. It is easy to lose oneself in the violin’s tune, but this movement is full of intense part writing, with each instrument making an important contribution.

The Finale (Allegro molto) opens with unison strings in a brief but forceful statement, followed by the song from the first movement, then the strong unison again, followed by the theme of the Scherz, and so on, until all the basic themes are recalled and redeveloped. In a final remembrance of themes past, the tune from the Larghetto returns, after which the unison strings provide the powerful final cadence.

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 miriam@hvc.rr.com Program Notes © 2012 by Miriam Villchur Berg