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Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3 Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827

Andante con moto

Katherine McLin, violin              Joël Belgique, viola
Inés Voglar Belgique, violin        Victoria Wolff, cello

OSU’s superb Amadeus Festival reminds us of Antonio Salieri, twenty years Beethoven’s senior and one of his teachers when he wrote the Opus 18 quartets. Although their relationship was not really close (Salieri merely edited and corrected Beethoven’s vocal works in matters of style), Beethoven dedicated three piano-violin sonatas to the “Court Composer” in 1799 and, ten years later, again sought his counsel in writing for voice.

When Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna in 1792, his patron Count Waldstein charged him to “receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.” The impetuous young musician studied composition with Haydn, not very happily. He most certainly studied Mozart’s chamber music. By 1798 Beethoven felt ready to challenge the older masters on their own ground. He spent the next two years on the six quartets of Opus 18, just as earlier Mozart at the same age had spent two years on his six quartets dedicated to Haydn.

Two relatively complete sketch books that were essentially musical diaries document Beethoven’s compositional process in 1798 and early 1799. Whereas most of the time Beethoven was working on several different compositions simultaneously, he spent over a year concentrating virtually all his efforts on these quartets. He apparently started and finished the one we hear tonight before embarking on the F Major, which became No. 1 in the series, while the D Major became No. 3. Why he chose to place them in that order is unknown.

Some musicologists regard the D Major as the most traditional and balanced of the Opus 18 quartets. The broad opening theme is similar to the mellifluous openings of quartets by Haydn and Mozart, quite different from the short motif that introduces Opus 18 No. 1, composed just a few weeks later, but much more like the later Beethoven.

Craig B. Leman, for the Friends of Chamber Music performance by the Bartók Quartet January 29, 1986.

String Quartet No. 12, Op. 202  (Post Scriptum) Tomas Svoboda b. 1939

Initial portion, Op 202a, commissioned in 2011 by the Chintimini Chamber Music Festival

l. Andantino
ll. Adagio
III. Allegro

Ami Campbell, violin           Kenji Bunch, viola
Erik Peterson, violin             Noah Seitz, cello

Svoboda’s parents were Czech refugees who spent World War II in Boston, returning to Prague in 1946. His father, a professional timpanist and an excellent pianist, encouraged him to practice, to read scores, and to compose. In 1954 he entered Prague Conservatory as its youngest student. Ten years later the family managed to emigrate to America, where Tomas enrolled at the University of Southern California to study composition. On graduation he chose an academic career, sent out 200 applications for professorship, was offered two, and turned down Honolulu for Portland State, where he taught for the next 30 years. He spent his first year there house-sitting for the poet William Stafford in Lake Oswego.

Despite a heavy teaching load he has produced a steady flow of successful compositions. Asked for a program note for this new work, he responded: “ … frankly, my language is music, not words … the quartet has its motto: the longer you live, the more precious friends pass away. There is a hidden appreciation that I am still alive even as I have experienced so much pain and sadness about perished souls. Eventually the full quartet will be String Quartet No.12 with all three movements … (the) last movement being energetic and positive with the strong message that life goes on …”

Craig B. Leman, for the June 17, 2011, premiere of the original portion, performed by Erin Furbee and Erik Peterson, violins, Phillip Stevens, viola, and Anne Ridlington, cello

Octet in E flat Major, Opus 20   Felix Mendelssohn 1809-1848

Allegro moderato con fuoco
Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo

Erik Peterson, violin                Joël Belgique, viola
Inés Voglar Belgique, violin     Kenji Bunch, viola
Ami Campbell, violin                Victoria Wolff, cello
Katherine McLin, violin             Noah Seitz, cello

Born in the year of Haydn’s death, Mendelssohn was a child prodigy who was given a superlative education by his cultured, wealthy parents. At age 12 he met and established a lifelong friendship with the poet Goethe. He eagerly bought and studied Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and quartets as soon as they were published. In October 1825 he produced this Octet, as a birthday gift for his teacher Eduard Rietz with the inscription: “The Octet must be played by all instruments in symphonic orchestral style.” One can only wish that the aging, totally deaf Beethoven, who had long before written a popular Septet, could have heard this delightful music.

Their contemporary, Ludwig Spohr, had written String Octets, but he had simply doubled the four parts, whereas Mendelssohn gave each instrument an individual voice. This piece broke new ground; no composer, before or since, has written such a masterpiece so early in life.

Mendelssohn’s beloved sister Fanny wrote of the scherzo: “To me alone he told his idea: The whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo, the tremulandos coming in now and then, the trills passing away with the quickness of lightning; everything’s new and strange and at the same time insinuating and pleasing. One feels so near the world of spirits, carried away in the air, half-inclined to pick up a broomstick and follow the aerial procession. At the end the first violin takes a flight with a feather-like lightness, and all has vanished.”

Craig Leman for our most recent performance, in 2012. The festival theme was “Generations:” family influences and teacher-student connections, which Craig pointed out for each work. For this one he wrote: EVERYONE relates to his Octet!