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The Schumann Quartett

The Schumann Quartett

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Program

Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Quartet No. 3 in E-flat minor, Op. 30

Dmitri Shostakovich
Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108

See program notes

APRIL 14th, 2018

Saturday at 6:00 p.m.

The Schumann Quartett

The Schumann Quartett is comprised of brothers Eric, Mark and Ken Schumann and violist Lissa Randalu. The brothers, who were born in the Rhineland, started playing together six years ago. In 2012 Lissa Randalu, who grew up in Dusseldorf, joined as violist. The Quartet studied with the Alban Berg Quartet and had a long-term residency in Robert-Schumann-Sall in Dusseldorf.

The Schumann made their American debut in the 2015/2016 season in Washington D.C. They are currently based in Berlin and are in residence with Chamber Music of Lincoln Center. Their latest recording is titled Mozart Ives Verdi which offers a glimpse of the breadth of their musical interests.

The Schumann Quartett

Program Notes

String Quartet No. 3 in E- Flat Minor, Op. 30
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

While Tchaikovsky is most known for his symphonic music, concertos, operas and ballets, his contribution to the chamber music literature was also significant. His most notable works include three string quartets, his piano trio in A minor and a sextet for strings, Souvenir de Florence. His first quartet in D major, Op. 11 dates from 1871 and is famous for the Andante cantabile, based on a folk song. That movement took on a life of its own with the composer’s arrangement for solo cello and strings. His second quartet, Op. 22 in F major, was composed in 1874 and the third quartet, Op. 30 in E- flat minor was composed in 1877.

Tchaikovsky began work on his Third String Quartet while in Paris in January, 1876. Like its two predecessors it was written quickly in little more than a month. The quartet is dedicated to and commemorates the death of the Czech violinist Ferdinand Laub, who settled in Moscow in 1866 and led the group that had premiered Tchaikovsky’s earlier two quartets. The key of E- flat minor is not one friendly to string instruments but signifies the funereal intent of the piece (think of the solemnity of a brass funeral march or of Chopin’s second piano sonata a funereal movement in the key of E- flat minor). The Third Quartet was given a private performance during a soirée at Nikolay Rubenstein’s home on March 14, 1876, and its first public performance two weeks later at a concert at the Conservatoire in honor of the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich. The funereal second movement was said to have brought members of the audience to tears and would serve as a tribute to its creator seventeen years later during memorial concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

A slow introduction frames the first movement. The main body is an immense valse triste of a pervading melancholy that touchingly hallows the memory of Tchaikovsky’s departed friend.  A violin/cello duet crowns the introduction.

The scherzo is simply a brief interlude between the weightier utterances of the first movement and the burdensome grief of the slow movement. While the Andante funebre e doloroso is framed by conventional funereal rhetoric, it is the middle G- flat major cantabile section that provides a true expression worthy of the departed colleague. The Finale: Allegro non troppo e risoluto, a rondo, dissipates the mood of tragedy with its scherzo-like character. A fleeting reminiscence of the slow movement shortly before the end is swept away by the coda.

Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

As Beethoven’s cycle of seventeen string quartets represented the seminal achievement in this genre during the 19th century, it was duplicated by Dmitri Shostakovich’s cycle of fifteen quartets in the 20th century. Like Beethoven, Shostakovich delayed writing his first string quartet until he was thirty-two years old (1938) having already achieved a high degree of compositional mastery. The string quartet was the form in which he communicated his most intimate and private feelings and again like Beethoven, the genre occupied him throughout his life. He composed his fifteenth quartet in 1974 shortly before his death. The seventh string quartet lies at the midpoint of this cycle. It was composed in memory of Nina Vazar, the mother of his children who had died in 1954.

The first and the third movements of the Seventh Quartet end in the key of F- sharp major, the same key in which the composer wrote the love theme in his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District which also was dedicated to his first wife. The Seventh Quartet is the shortest of Shostakovich’s fifteen string quartets and the three movements are played without a pause. Shostakovich also uses the pattern of his personal four-note musical cipher, “DSCH,” for the notes D, E flat, C and B in German musical notation in all three movements.

The first movement, Allegretto, opens with a short violin solo answered by the ensemble with a short-short-long (an anapest) rhythm characteristic of Shostakovich. This rhythm is used in a second theme introduced by the cello and is extended as a duet with the first violin.  The first theme returns transformed into a sort of pizzicato waltz followed by a recapitulation of the second theme and a short coda built on the anapest rhythm. The second movement, Lento, begins with the second violin playing arpeggios, then joined by the first violin and later the cello and viola in playing a melodic duet against the accompaniment of the second violin ~ perhaps suggesting the composer and his deceased wife. The quartet is weighted toward the finale marked Allegro. It opens with an ascending violin figure that is an inversion of the violin solo that began the quartet. A furious fugue is launched by the viola with an extended theme based on the DSCH pattern. Following a transitional passage recalling the opening of the quartet, the fugal theme is transformed into a sinuous waltz-like section that gradually dies away merging into a coda that was heard at the end of the first movement.

Program notes by James L. Franklin, M.D.

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