May 2, 2021 - Livestream at 4pm
Program VI< Back to Concert Schedule
Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 51
Quintet for Strings in A Major, Op. 39
The virtual season closes with the celebrated Miami String Quartet performing with Eric Kim, former principal cellist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. This vibrant program features a first-half of Slavic works paired with Glazunov’s tresured String Quintet.
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Bohuslav Martinů (1890 – 1959)
Duo for Violin and Cello, No. 1, H. 157
In addition to being one of the twentieth century’s most prolific composers – writing for virtually every genre of vocal and instrumental music – Bohuslav Martinů developed a distinct musical voice that helped establish his reputation as one of the modern era’s most significant Czech composers. Yet despite this substantial legacy, Martinů’s path to success was far from typical. A talented violinist from an early age, he entered the Prague Conservatory at age 15 but lacked the necessary discipline to excel in such a competitive environment. He was eventually transferred to the organ department to allow him to further study composition before ultimately being expelled for ‘incorrigible negligence.’ After years of teaching violin lessons and composing in earnest, Martinů travelled to Paris on a grant from the Czech government to study with Albert Roussel. Here he developed the musical style that would define his career.
Martinů’s Duo for Violin and Cello, No. 1 was composed in 1927 while living and working in Paris. The duo comprises two movements. The opening Praeludium is quietly introspective as both instruments present intertwining chromatic melodies. The movement opens with the cello in the same range as the violin with the two lines diverging as the tempo continually increases. In the movement’s climax, double-stopped chords in both instruments expand the duo’s texture to a four-voiced chorale.
The second movement is a spirited, folk-like rondo. The main theme is propelled by barreling triplets that lead to a lively cadenza in the cello. As the cello rises to tremolandi in its highest register, the violin rejoins to expand on the cadenza material. As this interplay moves ahead the instruments find their way back to the rondo’s primary material as the duo builds to its fortissimo conclusion.
Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904)
Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 51
Dvořák first attracted significant attention as a composer with a special talent for folk music and dance. His early career was aided by Brahms, who recognized Dvořák’s talent in these areas and recommended him to his own Viennese publisher, Simrock. From this relationship came a rapid stream of early successes that helped Dvořák’s reputation grow rapidly. Today’s quartet, opus 51, is known as the “Slavic Quartet” because of its genesis – Jean Becker of the Florentine Quartet commissioned the work, requesting a quartet “in the Slavic style.” For the young composer, this work proved to be his first well-known success.
The quartet opens with a warm, lyrical sonata built upon a rolling, hurdy-gurdy-like texture in the lower instruments. Here Dvořák intones the quick two-step beats of the Polka which become more pronounced with the transitional material and the second theme. The development section features Dvořák’s characteristic “flickering” between the major and minor modes, while also shifting briefly into something more reverent in the manner of a church hymn that Dvořák achieves by slowing the main theme to half its speed.
The second movement is one of Dvorak’s famous “Dumka” movements, a Czech form without a real parallel in other national traditions. Here the main material is sorrowful, as the title “Elegy” implies, but with a brighter, songful second theme, and an utterly contrasting Scherzo-like dance section that interrupts the movement in two places. The third movement, titled “Romanze,” lives up to its name by eschewing strict form, choosing rather to wander among melancholy ideas; the focus here is on shifting textures, alternation between major and minor, and a mood of quiet rumination.
The languid interlude is a perfect foil for the rollicking finale, a sunny, folk-like rondo, whose main idea is distinguished by its syncopated rhythm. Brilliant throughout, this movement often demands an orchestral scale of sound from the quartet, most notably in the coda, where the music at first dwindles teasingly before a triumphant conclusion.
Alexander Glazunov (1865 – 1936)
Quintet for Strings in A Major, Op. 39
A student of Rimsky-Korsakov and teacher of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Alexander Glazunov was a key figure in the transition of Russian music history. His career spanned Russia’s trends through a nationalist emphasis on folk idioms to a preference for western forms and styles and eventually to the Soviet era of control over artistic and cultural life that defined the middle twentieth century. Glazunov’s ability to adapt to these shifting tastes helped the composer remain at the forefront of Russian music throughout his career, and in his lifetime earned him a reputation as Tchaikovsky’s successor as the country’s top composer.
The quintet puts Glazunov’s adaptability on full display by presenting an amalgam of western and Russian nationalist influences. The form and content of the first three movements lack a distinct Russian character, opting instead for western styles, but the quintet’s final movement explores Russian folk rhythms and color throughout. Notably, the quintet features two cellos instead of the more traditional doubling of the viola, which lends the piece a darker, richer sound.
The viola begins the opening Allegro with a lilting melody, as the rest of the ensemble provides lush harmonic support. The first cello emerges with a contrasting theme, a stately yet soaring line placed in the instrument’s upper register. The movement showcases Glazunov’s talent for counterpoint as he weaves together five parts without relegating any one to an accompanimental role for too long, culminating in a forceful conclusion. The following scherzo begins with the viola playing a drone as the two violins exchange playful pizzicato phrases above. As the cellos join, the quintet settles into a chipper march pattern. The contrasting Trio passage trudges forward as the cellos pluck out plodding chords and the upper strings’ meandering lines intertwine before the return of the viola drone below a folk melody signals the return of the cheery pizzicato theme to close the movement.
A rhapsodic solo from the second cello opens the Andante sostenuto before the passionate main theme arrives in the first violin. The mood brightens as the first cello takes up the melody, but the heavy sentiment of the opening ultimately overtakes the movement. The finale begins like a feisty Russian folk dance, but Glazunov reveals a more sophisticated plan when the viola initiates a fugue based on the rustic melody. As the other instruments enter one by one, the texture becomes thick and complicated. Suddenly, everything falls into place for an idyllic Più tranquillo passage before the dance takes off. Again, Glazunov shows off his technique by shifting the emphasis of the meter while maintaining the boisterous momentum, concluding in triumph.