Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

The Miró Quartet

Daniel Ching, violin
William Fedkenheuer,
John Largess,
Joshua Gindele,

Saturday, August 8, 6 pm


String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, Op. 161 (posth.), D. 887 (1826)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Allegro molto moderato
Andante un poco moto
Scherzo: Allegro vivace — Trio: Allegretto — Scherzo
Allegro assai


String Quartet No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 131 (1826)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
Allegro molto vivace
Allegro moderato
Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile
Adagio quasi un poco andante


Sunday, August 9, 4 pm | Danish String Quartet
Music of Shostakovich, Carl Nielsen, and Thomas Adès (b. 1971)

next week

Saturday, August 15, 8 pm | Julian Lage, jazz guitar,
with Scott Colley, bass, and Billy Mintz, drums

Sunday, August 16, 4 pm | Trio Solisti
Music of Schubert, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff




Now in its eighteenth year, the Miró Quartet (Daniel Ching, violin; William Fedkenheuer, violin; John Largess, violist; and Joshua Gindele, cello) is consistently praised for its deeply musical interpretations, exciting performances, and thoughtful programming. Each season, the Miró Quartet performs throughout the world in the most important chamber music series and on the most prestigious concert stages, garnering accolades from critics and audiences alike. Of a recent performance, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: “Throughout the concert, the Miró gave lessons in the art of the string quartet, shaping each of the night’s scores with a blend of refinement and vibrancy that drew the listener deeply inside the sonic arguments.”

Concert highlights of recent seasons include a highly anticipated and sold-out return to Carnegie Hall to perform Beethoven’s complete Opus 59 Quartets (which they also recorded); collaborations with award-winning actor Stephen Dillane as part of Lincoln Center’s White Lights Festival; and festival appearances at Chamber Music Northwest, the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, Music@Menlo, and the Ottawa ChamberFest.

The 2013-2014 season brought the Miró Quartet back to Alice Tully Hall under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, in addition to North American performances in Cincinnati, Houston, Baltimore, and Vancouver to name a few. The Quartet will also premiere a new Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts with the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra, and subsequently perform the work with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra.

Internationally, the Quartet performed at the Chamber Music Today Festival in South Korea, as well as undertaking a multi-city tour of Japan. Additionally, the Quartet made its debut at the Hong Kong Chamber Music Festival. The Miró Quartet regularly collaborates with pianist Jon Kimura Parker, percussionist Colin Currie, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (whom they recently collaborated with on the quartet’s Schubert Interrupted recording).

Formed in 1995, the Miró Quartet took first prizes at several national and international competitions including the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition. In 2005, the Miró Quartet became the first ensemble ever to be awarded the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant. The Miró Quartet has served as the quartet-in-residence at the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music of the University of Texas at Austin since 2003. Deeply committed to music education, members of the Miró Quartet have given master classes at universities and conservatories throughout the world. Based in Austin, Texas, the Miró Quartet took its name from the Spanish artist Joan Miró, whose surrealist works—with subject matter drawn from the realm of memory and imaginative fantasy—are some of the most original of the twentieth century.

Of all the major composers of the Classical era, Franz Schubert was the only one born and raised in Vienna. The city was filled with musical and artistic activity, gatherings, and parties, and in general Gemütlichkeit—joy and well-being. He spent many an evening at the homes of friends making music and enjoying drinks and conversation, and in fact these get-togethers became so centered around his music that they ended up being called Schubertiaden—Schubert evenings.

This congenial atmosphere stands in sharp contrast to the circumstances of Schubert’s life. He never found a way to make a living. He was too distracted to teach, and not enough of a virtuoso to tour as a performer. Despite the fact that he was extremely prolific, publishers continuously rejected his music, and only a very few of his many compositions were ever published during his lifetime. He identified with Beethoven, whose late works were garnering puzzled looks and raised eyebrows. Beethoven said that those who did not understand his works would eventually do so; Schubert must have felt the same way. The String Quartet in G Major, Op. 161 (posth.), D. 887, was his last work in this genre, and was not published or even performed for more than twenty years after his death. It is now considered a major masterpiece, and is known as the “Great G Major” quartet.

The opening Allegro molto moderato is a tour de force that makes extensive use of tremolo triplets (three notes to a beat, with rapid bowing on each note) played against a grand dotted theme. Dramatic juxtapositions abound: intense crescendos followed by pianissimos, high melodies echoed by the cello, lyrical passages contrasted with stormy sections, and a continuous interplay of major and minor modes. Schubert employs every possible compositional technique to instill emotional expressiveness into the music, but makes it sound completely natural and unaffected, as if each phrase were the inevitable consequence of what came before.

In the slow second movement (Andante un poco moto), the cello starts by singing a wistful, eastern European-inspired tune high in its range (in B minor) as the other instruments accompany. The high drama of the first movement continues, with sharply accented lines, dotted rhythms, and quick changes of mood. Minor and major feelings alternate up to the last minute, when the phrase is put into the major for a gentle ending.

The Scherzo (Allegro vivace) begins with a driving rhythm, contrasted in the middle trio (Allegretto) section with a sweet dialogue between the cello and the violin. Once again, the extreme contrast is emphasized when the Scherzo section is repeated to close the movement.

In the Finale (Allegro assai), a galloping dotted figure is followed by triplets (techniques used extensively in earlier movements), and the themes alternate between major and minor (also found in earlier movements). The music, however, is fresh and completely original, as if the artist wanted to show how many different things can be done with just a few colors. The piece ends with a dramatic decrescendo and a final flourish.

Beethoven’s music is traditionally divided into early, middle, and late periods. Up to 1800 or so, Beethoven’s music was influenced by the prevailing styles of the era. In his middle period, Beethoven came into his own personal, non-derivative style. Compositions from this period include his Second and Third Symphonies, the Violin Sonatas of Op. 30, and piano sonatas including the “MoonlightSonata.

Between 1813 and 1816, his output lessened as he went through a period of poor health and family problems. Beethoven was disillusioned with the kind of music the Viennese public wanted him to write. By 1814, his deafness was so severe as to make performing in public impossible. When he got back to composing, his music started to become more daring, more iconoclastic, more spiritual, and more incomprehensible to audiences.

Much of Beethoven’s music expressed the individual’s struggle with fate, and the emergence out of despair into a place of hopefulness. In his late period, the angst lessened somewhat, and the need to follow conventions or to please his public disappeared. The music is stark, confident, and philosophical. String quartets were the only compositions Beethoven worked on for the last few years of his life. This was the genre in which he felt had the most to say.

The String Quartet in C Sharp Minor, Op. 131, is said to have been Beethoven’s favorite. In this piece, he breaks with Classical tradition in several ways. Instead of four movements, he has seven. The breaks between movements are either nonexistent or carefully timed, so the work is a unified whole. It is longer than all but one of his quartets (Op. 132 in A Minor, “Heiliger Dankgesang”). And, most remarkably, instead of the ubiquitous sonata-allegro form, he starts with a grand, slow fugue (Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo) on a mournful theme.

The final note of that first movement is the C sharp of the quartet’s minor home key, but it is immediately followed, without preparation, by the opening of the second movement (Allegro molto vivace) in D major, simply raised a half step and put into the major mode. This is a lively, dancing movement with dotted rhythms, punctuated by periodic ritardandos (slowing down). These ritardandos are used in every subsequent movement.

The last notes are two soft repeated chords, and where we expect the third repeat of the final (D major) chord, that chord becomes instead the opening chord (B minor, the relative minor) of the third movement (Allegro moderato). This movement is only a few bars long, and serves as the slow introduction to the fourth movement (Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile), a lyrical song shared by the upper three voices while the cello plays pizzicato (plucked), building to a thicker texture.

This fourth movement has six separate tempo markings, each of which might have been considered a movement in itself. The section marked Andante moderato e lusinghero (moderately slow and coaxingly) is a theme and six variations on a halting, dotted theme. In many of the variations, the theme is difficult to recognize, until the final variation reestablishes its melody.

The fifth movement (Presto) serves as the Scherzo. It is fast, lighthearted, and full of special effects such as staccato pizzicato, whole measures of rest, and ponticello (playing near the bridge for a shrill sound). The fast sections are punctuated by more legato passages that serve as trios.

There is a true break before the sixth movement (Adagio quasi un poco andante), which is another short slow introduction to the following seventh and final movement (Allegro). The galloping dotted theme is followed by a second theme with an exotic descending scale. These themes are masterfully developed, then combined in the exciting and fairly lengthy coda.

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 © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg