Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Shostakovich and his 9th Quartet: Na zd'rovie!

The Calidore & Emerson Quartets playing Mendelssohn's Octet
Who: the Calidore Quartet
What: Haydn, Beethoven, and Shostakovich
When: Saturday, April 28th, 8pm
Where: Market Square Church, downtown Harrisburg
Tickets: $35, $30 seniors (65+); $5 college students, free admission for K-12 age students with $10 ticket for one accompanying adult.

Though most recent in terms of chronology – written in 1964 – Shostakovich's 9th String Quartet ends the first half of the Calidore Quartet's program this Saturday at Market Square Church. And while you don't need to know all the background behind the music – I've saved the historical material for later, after the videos – there's more to it, here, than there would be with the Haydn or the Beethoven quartets on the program (you can read about these two works on the earlier post, here).

Shostakovich in 1964 (credit:Leonid Lazarov)
Shostakovich's 9th Quartet is one of those works that may make you think “there's something more than just entertainment” going on here. It is a dramatic work, full of contrasts and some of Shostakovich's signature “starkness” that we find in most of his symphonies, that “darker” psychological element that makes it so easy to believe there's a “hidden story” in here somewhere. By that, I don't mean a literal tale where things represent characters or events, but where the composer's emotions may (or may not) have influenced what you hear. And, as often happens, what you hear may very well be different (or the opposite) of what someone else “hears.”

I've included three different videos for you to choose from (or compare): the first is with the Parker Quartet who've appeared with Market Square Concerts several times over the years (winners of the Cleveland Quartet Prize in 2009, btw). A live performance from the Library of Congress, the video lighting is a bit off, but this seems to be standard with other performances I've seen recorded there.

The second is from a live performance but audio only with the Emerson Quartet who have often played all fifteen of Shostakovich's quartets the way many quartets play a “Beethoven Cycle.” In addition to being one of the great quartets today, the Emerson has also mentored, among others, the Calidore Quartet.

The third is a recording with the Fitzwilliam Quartet, a highly regarded British ensemble who've recorded the complete Shostakovich quartets as well. But the main reason I've included it, here, is because the audio is posted with the score. I have reservations about their interpretation as being the “one I'd recommend” (I'll discuss this later), but it's a viable performance and, whether you read music or not, there's always something (many non-musicians tell me) about following along and seeing what the printed music looks like.

It was written in 1964 over a period of 26 days in May, though he had started – and scrapped – a new quartet, presumably complete, intended to be #9, a few years earlier, in 1961 which he admitted he burned in his stove. Next, he talked about a new quartet which he entitled “Toys and Excursions” which he also tossed in the wastebasket. Even though Shostakovich died in 1975, it wasn't until 2003 that an unfinished first movement of a string quartet was discovered among a pile of sketches. It could be this was yet another attempt at starting the 9th Quartet or it could be a surviving remnant from either the burned one or the chucked one. Regardless, it bears no resemblance to the quartet he composed in May of 1964. That alone should tell you something about what was going on “behind” the music: it also merely underscores the fact that “a work of art” requires “the work of art.” Sometimes it doesn't come easy.

It was dedicated to his wife, Irina, whom he had married in 1962. The fact their meeting and subsequent happy marriage coincided with the genesis of this quartet may also say something about the creative process.

The String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat Major, published as Op. 117, is a five-movement piece – a standard “arch” form around the central “scherzo” similar to what Bartók used in his several of his quartets in the '20s and '30s – with all the different, contrasting sections “played without pause,” no movement breaks but that doesn't make it a “one-movement piece.” Even the final Allegro breaks down into a few contrasting segments. The nature of these contrasts may seem unexpected, even violent – especially given the opening's calmness – and it makes some of the quieter passages seem like “calm before storm” in any good psychological drama. By the time we reach the ending, we have experienced a wave of emotions, but whether they're the dramatic gestures of an interior monologue or a pivotal plot or merely the various possible ways one can handle notes in and around E-flat Major is not something the music will answer for you.

Not to push the point, but it opens with a kind of “once upon a time” gesture heard in the second violin, this meandering, almost constant ostinato like someone writing. If you were a Russian or familiar with Mussorgsky's historical opera Boris Godunov, you would immediately recognize this as “being very similar to” (“influenced by”) the scene where the monk Pimen is sitting in his cell, writing his chronical of the times (around 1600 in old Moscow) and as he writes, this meandering line accompanies Pimen's pen. Now, we don't need to know whether what Shostakovich is going to be writing about has anything to do with what Pimen was writing about – how the reigning tsar, Boris, became the heir by murdering the last son of Ivan the Terrible – either as fact or allegory. It is, in the sense of a pen moving across paper, in this case writing down music instead of words, the mere idea of being a scribe, of committing thoughts to paper. The music is understated, almost whispered: even the contrast may be one of reflection.

But that is one thing about the language of music: it may be universal but it also defies definitive translation.

Next is an almost hymn-like Adagio followed by a Scherzo marked Allegretto (not too lively) though it can be described as a “mad polka,” one of Shostakovich's trademark wild dances (is that rhythmic motive familiar?).

While Shostakovich is fond of quoting his own music – the 8th Quartet is practically a “name-that-tune” anthology of some of the key works of his output, especially his signature DSCH Motive (his initials turned into a four-note musical motive) – he has used this rhythmic motive in other works, usually to evoke the world of the “toy shop” (often slightly unhinged, sometimes with a sense of innocence and nostalgia). The merest hint of this “diddy bum, diddy bum, diddy bum dum dum” motive is enough to bring Rossini's William Tell to mind – the cavalry-comes-to-the-rescue at the end of the Overture or, since it's almost unavoidable, “The Lone Ranger” theme. And remember, one of the earlier, discarded sketches for what became the 9th Quartet was called “Toys and Excursions.” (It would also figure prominently in the 15th Symphony of 1974, an enigmatic and often unsettling work.)

Shostakovich working on score for Hamlet, February 1964
Whatever the significance of the “William Tell Galop,” this is followed by another Adagio where this “scribe motive” returns, considerably slower. The dark mood of the music also reflects film music he wrote in February 1964 for the film of Hamlet, for Ophelia's Mad Scene. The pizzicato lines appear fragmented, “searching,” perhaps the result of free-associations as the music unfolds (if, in fact, “unfolds” is what it's doing).

The finale, Allegro, is the longest, most substantial and most intense of the five movements with its own subsections bringing back the “scribe” motive, the pizzicato lines, and of course, the rocking “William Tell Galop” but within an increasingly violent context till it ends, grinding away over repeated chords and bass-line figures, in chords that are both E-flat major and minor.

– Shostakovich 9th Quartet in E-flat, Op.117 w/the Parker Quartet:

– a live recording w/the Emerson Quartet:

I'm no great fan of the Fitzwilliam Quartet's interpretations of most of Shostakovich's quartets but I include their performance here because it's the one that comes with the score:

Compare, for instance, the Fitzwilliam's concluding minutes, beginning at 24:38 with either the Emerson's at 22:07 or the Parker's at 22:20 to hear the difference a choice of tempo can make. It's not just how fast it goes but it's how the music breathes and moves forward!

Now, the opening of the last movement is marked Allegro with the metronome marking for the dotted half-note = 116 but already the Fitzwilliam Quartet is slower than the marked tempo. When it changes to 4/4 (at 24:00 in the video with the score), they're even slower, and it completely changes the whole impact of the music. It's not just one of those “I like it faster” kind of reactions because, you know, anything faster and louder is more exciting. It's a matter of sounding, with the Fitzwilliam, “determined,” and with the other two, “hair-raising.”

Shostakovich & the Borodin Quartet, 1962
On the other hand, there's the well-known anecdote of the composer suggesting the members of the Borodin Quartet play a particular passage at a different tempo. When one of them said that contradicted the printed metronome marking in the score, Shostakovich said “Well, you see, my metronome at home is out of order, so pay no attention to what I wrote.” Hmmm....

But certainly it changes the “mood” of the ending. In the first two performances, there's a manic urgency, perhaps even maniacal, to the final bar. At the slower tempo, while it sounds “measured” and still dramatic, it's a different kind of drama, lacking that visceral edge the faster, printed tempo gives it.

What does it do to your reaction to the performances?

And do you realize that these two very different approaches come from the same printed notes on the page? It's not the music you're reacting to, but their interpretation of the music. Very different!


While the political problems of Shostakovich's career are well known in the West (I'll write about them in the final segment of this post), when you look into what was going on his life at the time he wrote his 9th Quartet, you realize that it's not the politics that was casting its shadow over his artistic world as he approached his 60th birthday: it was his health.

Shostakovich had been ill frequently in his youth – a bout with tuberculosis was one thing, but he nearly missed his final piano exam at the conservatory in June 1923 due to throat surgery, playing Beethoven's “Waldstein” Sonata along with works by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Liszt, his throat heavily bandaged. In January 1927, the year after his 1st Symphony was premiered, Shostakovich was competing in Warsaw's Chopin Competition in Warsaw when during the first night's opening ceremony, he suffered an attack of appendicitis! Amazingly, he would still make it to the finals where he played Chopin's E Minor Concerto but did not place among the winners.

After this, Shostakovich decide to focus on composition and rarely played the piano in public except in his own works – his Piano Quintet, for one, which he joked he'd initially composed as an excuse to be able to travel on tour.

Then, when he went on a concert tour and played both his piano concertos in France in 1958 – recording them in Paris – he started having trouble with his right hand. It would become weak, full of that pins-and-needles pain but when he went to the doctors, they were unable to find out what was causing it. His hand got tired from writing and it was a challenge to brush his teeth or hang up his coat, he said, but he could grip a suitcase. He could only play the piano “slowly and pianissimo.” A month in the hospital yielded no help.

In 1960 while in Dresden (which had been nearly destroyed by the Allied bombs at the end of World War II) to work on a film score, he wrote the 8th String Quartet which is officially "dedicated to the victims of Fascism" though in a letter in July, he joked it could be "dedicated to the author of this quartet." After playing it through at the piano for his friend, the musicologist Lev Lebedinsky, Shostakovich told it, with tears in his eyes, it would be his last work. He had been "coerced into joining the Party" – it is amazing that he had not had to join it before 1960! – and he associated this with a moral as well as physical death. He admitted he had purchased a large amount of sleeping pills and hinted at committing suicide. Lebedinsky was able to slip the pills out of his pocket and give them to the composer's son Maxim, warning him not to let his father out of his sight. Lebedinsky then spent as much of the next few days as possible with the composer until he felt the danger of suicide had passed.

Also in 1960, at his son's wedding, Shostakovich lost his balance when his left leg went out from under him and he fell, fracturing it badly. More hospital stays again were unhelpful. Wondering when an attack of weakness might get in the way of his performing again, he gave his last public performance in February of 1964 (he composed the 9th Quartet in May, 1964, remember). But he agreed to accompany two of his favorite singers on a program of his newest music in 1966, but the strain on his nerves was so bad he suffered a heart attack the following night and spent another month in the hospital.

Shostakovich & his wife Irina in 1972
It wasn't until three more years would pass that he was officially diagnosed as having a rare form of poliomyelitis, something we know as “Lou Gehrig's Disease.” And while that's in the future as far as this quartet is concerned, it is the disease that would kill him in 1975.

At the time he was composing his 9th Quartet, he was dealing with the initial symptoms and finding it difficult to write because of the problems with his right hand. (Again, pure speculation, but could this physical concern be the reason behind the music motive inspired by Pimen's "scribe" motive at the beginning of the Quartet?) He soon concocted a kind of cradle to support his hand while he composed but it was still painful and he could only work for short periods of time.

What all this could mean to his future – he was, after all, only57 when he wrote this quartet – was scary enough: imagine trying to create something that would not be affected by all this?

While the doctors advised him to give up vodka and cigarettes – he did not – he also could not give up composing, something else he was eventually advised to do less of. Even when he was in the hospital, he found ways to continue writing new pieces even up to the end. He completed the Viola Sonata a month before he died, and he was still working on sketches for a new opera, inspired by Dostoievsky, called The Black Monk.


Shostakovich, w/Nina (his first wife) & friends, 1930s
After his initial success as a child prodigy premiering his First Symphony when he was still a teenager, things didn't, one might say, go as planned for Dmitri Shostakovich. He was 29 when Mr & Mrs Stalin went to the opera and saw his latest success, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Unfortunately for Shostakovich, they hated it, and the infamous attack, “Muddle Instead of Music,” appeared in Pravda in January, 1936, accusing him not just of writing harshly dissonant music to an immoral story (written by Leskov in 1865) that ran counter to Soviet ideals, but also of more generic and fairly abstract charges of “Western formalism,” one of those great buggaboos of anti-Western communists. With such a tirade against the young composer originating from Stalin himself (if he didn't write it, it was said he'd dictated it – this, in the days before they had Twitter accounts), it wasn't long before performers shied away from performing any of his works or commissioning new ones.

And given the political fear at the time, particularly regarding Party Loyalty and maintaining the political ideology of the Soviet government, the purges that Stalin initiated where political foes as well as artists who did not live up to Party expectations, soon found themselves arrested in the middle of the night and summarily “disappeared” into the prison infrastructure that had been the standard government recourse to dealing with the opposition since the early days of Russian history, going back centuries (which is not necessarily a specifically Russian custom).

Shostakovich was able to work his way back into “official favor” by composing his 5th Symphony – which, by any standards, would be considered one of his masterpieces and one of the great works of the orchestral repertoire. After its wildly successful premiere in November, 1937, an article in the press written under the composer's by-line described it as “a Soviet Artist's reply to just criticism” though since Shostakovich wrote few of his own speeches and articles during his career, the phrase probably originated either with some departmental official who wrote it for him to sign his name to, or perhaps inserted on the advice of friends with more political savvy than he. Anyway, former friends and colleagues like Dmitri Kabalevsky who had distanced themselves following Stalin's attack, congratulated him on giving up his “former erroneous ways.”

Having survived the 2nd World War – the Soviets called it “The Great Patriotic War” – Shostakovich then had to deal with another government condemnation in 1948 when Stalin's Minister of Culture, Zhdanov, accused not just Shostakovich but also other prominent Soviet composers like Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian, including writers and theatrical figures like the director Yuri Lyubimov who, being told his arrest was imminent, spent the night on the landing by his building's elevator “so at least his family would not be disturbed.”

This time, Shostakovich lost his teaching position at the Conservatory and he lost income because no one would commission new works and royalties that paid the bills dried up because no one would perform the old ones. He was able to make enough by writing film scores and “official party hack-works” like “The Song of the Forest,” praising Stalin's environmental policies. Any “serious works,” he wrote “for the desk drawer,” putting them away unpublished and unperformed, until a safer time. His true rehabilitation came in the spring of 1953 only when Stalin died and he composed his eventually triumphant 10th Symphony which ends with a victory lap on the musical motive representing his name, DSCH – as if to say, “I survived!”

All of that is merely prologue to understanding Shostakovich's string quartets. He wrote 15 of them – he also wrote 15 symphonies, but that's pure coincidence. However, he didn't seriously begin these quartets until his symphonies fell afoul of government politics. The first one was written in the summer following the premiere of the 5th Symphony, and the 3rd in 1946 after the denunciation of his “disappointing” 9th Symphony (at the end of World War II, everyone expected a paean to Stalin following a Soviet victory over the Nazis).

But following the Zhdanov Decree of 1948, Shostakovich composed five quartets by 1960. The 9th and 10th then followed in 1964, and the remaining five between 1966 and 1974, a year before his death.

(At one point, when a member of the Beethoven Quartet mentioned interest in recording his “last quartet,” the 7th, Shostakovich said “when I have written all my quartets, we'll talk about my 'last' quartet!” He said his plan, since to date he had not yet duplicated a tonality in the set, was to write 24 quartets in all, one for each key.)

To Shostakovich, the symphony – with all its historical context, Western or otherwise – was essentially “public music” written for large concert halls to be heard by a large audience and reliant more on popular response if not direct popular appeal. Chamber music, on the other hand, he regarded as “private music,” written for smaller halls or rooms, intended for a small audience. Whether the whole concept of “hidden meanings” in the symphonies, especially the 5th, is true or not – Semyon Volkov's Testimony is still controversial and now many of his assertions, founded or not, have entered the Shostakovich mythology for better or worse – the string quartets, certainly, are devoid of the “populist” element but it is probably truer to imagine that, the string quartet as a medium was of less value aesthetically to the “Revolutionary” the young composer had been before Stalin's attack. If the symphony is a Western form – and “formalism” was an accusation labeled against any Soviet composer straying from Stalin's ideals of “Socialist Realism,” whatever that meant – isn't it unusual that after his denunciations he began writing string quartets, an even more Western form? One of the first things he composed following the Zhdanov Decree about formalism was a set of 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano inspired by Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier – and you can't get more Western or more “formalist” than writing something as rule-bound as a fugue!

Earlier, I'd mentioned how Baroque composers like Vivaldi published works in sets of 12, Haydn and Mozart in the Classical era often in sets of 6 – whether they sat down and wrote all 6 or 12 from start to finish before moving on to other projects. Beethoven, we know from his sketch books, conceived of his symphonies in pairs – given the frequent attitude the Odd-numbered Symphonies are Great and the Even-numbered Symphonies are Not-So-Great – and it's tantalizing to imagine how the 10th Symphony he was sketching at the same time he was working on the Choral Symphony might have turned out.

So here is Shostakovich, composing his 9th quartet (his Op. 117) in May of 1964 and then beginning his 10th quartet (Op. 118) about six weeks later, in July 1964. Both were premiered on November 20th that autumn. While Elizabeth Wilson, in her Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, refers to them tantalizingly in passing as “partners,” there seems to be no indication the plan was to write two contrasting quartets, much as Beethoven might have conceived many of his works. It's quite possible, having completed the 9th with that brutal ending, he needed a contrast simply for his own emotional, if not psychological, release.

Assuming you've listened to the video of the 9th Quartet already, I mention Alan George's liner notes for the Fitzwilliam Quartet's recordings of the complete set describe the 10th as “one of Shostakovich's most serene and untroubled compositions and even if the sustained violence of the second movement [scherzo] creates a momentarily disturbing effect, the composer's state of mind would seem to indicate [again, this is an author's conjecture] that evil, although it cannot be ignored, is no match for deeper human emotions.”

Rostropovich, Oistrakh, Benjamin Britten, Shostakovich (Moscow 1963)
Interesting, also, is the fact the finale of the 10th Quartet is preceded by a passacaglia, one of those old-fashioned rule-bound “Western” forms so hated by the Communist Party, it also includes a new thematic idea that contains all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale as if it were a 12-tone-row, a formalist construct that was the essence behind Schoenberg's concept of what is called “serialism.” In truth, Shostakovich repeats one note; but then he also didn't actually use it as a serial row. Benjamin Britten, a close friend of Shostakovich in the '60s, also occasionally used all-12-note “themes” – for instance, in his opera, The Turn of the Screw and the Cantata Academica, both from the 1950s – but also never actually wrote in either an atonal or serial style.

But by the 1960s, life in the Soviet Union was different than it had been under Stalin. Often called the “Krushchev Thaw,” Shostakovich found himself able to explore elements of “modern music” – especially music associated with Western aesthetics – that would have brought swift condemnation under Stalin. This is Shostakovich, now in his late-50s, beginning to explore new sounds.

This future also, unfortunately, would not turn out to be quite what he had hoped. But then, that's usually how it goes...

Dick Strawser

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Springtime Lark with the Calidore Quartet

The Calidore Quartet - Lookin' Cool on the Streets of the Big City
Who: the Calidore Quartet
What: Haydn, Beethoven, and Shostakovich
When: Saturday, April 28th, 8pm
Where: Market Square Church, downtown Harrisburg
Tickets: $35, $30 seniors (65+); $5 college students, free admission for K-12 age students with $10 ticket for one accompanying adult.

It is officially springtime and while we hope by this weekend we'll be done with the snow (already!), May Flowers cannot be far behind all these April Showers... yes? And so, for those of us enjoying the springtime songs of birds in our back yards – I have a wren serenading my bedroom window (unfortunately at 5am) – we open this last program of Market Square Concerts' current subscription season with one of Haydn's most famous string quartets, nicknamed “The Lark.”

While I couldn't find a video of the Calidore playing Haydn's “Lark,” another bird will have to do: here they are playing the last movement of an earlier Haydn quartet, more generically nicknamed, simply, “The Bird.” It's the 3rd of the set of Op.33 quartets that so inspired Mozart he wrote six quartets which he then subsequently dedicated to Haydn.
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Shostakovich's 9th String Quartet, written in May of 1964, may not be so spring-like. Just as there had been various personal and political crises during the 1930s and '40s that affected his creativity, now, as the composer was in his late-50s, there were new issues to confront – but more of that, later.

To conclude, arguably one of the greatest – and most popular – of the Beethoven Quartets, the third of three string quartets dedicated to the Russian ambassador to Vienna, Count Razumovsky.

This post is about the Haydn and Beethoven Quartets.You can read the post about the Shostakovich quartet on the program, here.

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When music ensembles like a string quartet get together and look for a name to call themselves, the easy way out is simply to name themselves after the first violinist or their location. More challenging is to come up with a musical term that sounds... well, catchy would be good but I'll settle for “not silly.” Others prefer to honor a favorite author or painter – the Emerson comes to mind; the Escher was just in Harrisburg this past February – or even a violin-maker like the Guarneri Quartet. The Cypress Quartet took their name not from the tree, initially, but from a set of works called Cypresses for string quartet by Antonin Dvořák that was part of their core repertoire when starting out. There's even a Lark Quartet which, presumably, takes its name from Haydn's “Lark” Quartet.

Formed as recently as 2010, the Calidore Quartet explains their name this way: Using an amalgamation of “California” and “doré” (French for “golden”), the ensemble’s name represents a reverence for the diversity of culture and the strong support it received from its home of origin, Los Angeles, California, the “golden state.” (Points, here, for uniqueness.)

Looking over the roster of string quartets crisscrossing the world performing gems of the chamber music repertoire and, occasionally – but more frequently, now – adding new works for the future, you might wonder “where are all those young quartets coming from?” Depending on your tone of voice, you might wonder “what's happened to all those great quartets I used to hear?” We forget that, at some point, the Guarneri and Cleveland Quartets were “young quartets” and who knows who the next generation's Juilliard and Emerson Quartets will be?

In the historical line of things, remember all those winners of the Cleveland Quartet Prize we get to present to you? This is a prize founded by the Cleveland Quartet to foster excellence in the wide-open and highly competitive field of new quartets. And the Emerson Quartet mentors young quartets itself – like the Calidore.

So it was pleasant news, coinciding with our March concert last month, when the Avery Fisher Prize announced its 2018 “Avery Fisher Career Grant” went to... the Calidore Quartet.

While they made their Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall earlier this month, April has already seen them traveling from Mainz, Germany, and Barcelona, Spain, to St. Louis and Seattle before arriving in Harrisburg.

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So, let's begin with Haydn's “Lark” Quartet, the Quartet in D Major, Op.64/5, performed here by the Jerusalem Quartet.
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In the 18th Century, composers were expected to be like craftsmen, turning out works for their patrons' entertainments, private performances for specific occasions, perhaps, but all before the days of public concerts much less commercial recordings. So, Haydn's prince wanted a new symphony for the visit of a good friend to his summer estate or maybe a string quartet for a special dinner and Haydn would oblige, preparing the musicians for the performance and often being a performer himself. (In those days, musicians were not only on the aristocrat's payrolls, they wore livery like any servant, and ate their dinners with the servants “downstairs” after their “upstairs duties” had been discharged.)

Composers were expected to “produce” as an apple tree produces fruit – quartets by the handful, usually six to a set, just as, in the earlier years of the century, Vivaldi or Corelli would publish their concertos or sonatas by the dozen. They might then be subsequently gathered into these collections and published. In this way, a good court composer like Haydn might become well known beyond the estates of his employer.

Later in the century, following the cultural challenges of the French Revolution and the rise of the Middle Class, these might be offered to a particular patron or marketed with a “subscription” to wealthy music-lovers.

While working on what became the Op.64 set of six quartets in 1790, Haydn was, essentially, eased into retirement, granted a pension and given the opportunity to travel around Europe to enjoy his international fame, rather than remain stuck at the prince's estate living out his Golden Years in further isolation. Like his last dozen symphonies (produced as two sets of six each), Haydn also wrote his last string quartets for the London audiences in the 1790s.

One such “wealthy music-lover” was the Viennese cloth merchant, Johann Tost, considered “newly rich” by Imperial traditions rather than born of the aristocratic “old money” – he had been a musician in his former life, in fact a violinist at Prince Esterhazy's who'd worked with Haydn. So Haydn dedicated his Op. 64 set of new quartets to Tost, largely out of genuine gratitude for Tost (and his new-found wealth and influence)'s help in finding a publisher to help him navigate these new and challenging waters.

(In a future side-light, it's interesting to note that Herr Tost commissioned some new chamber music for his social events from Ludwig Spohr, a young German violinist and composer. Since Tost offered to pay him “by the instrument” as a cloth merchant might sell fabric “by the yard,” Spohr set about writing Tost, to begin, an octet and a nonet.)

A Lark
The nickname "The Lark" is not Haydn's, presumably, and like many “titles” associated with Haydn's works, was probably short-hand so the Prince didn't have to say which quartet he'd want to hear that evening (“you know, the one that starts off like...”) by humming a few bars. And at the time, it hadn't been published, so he could hardly say “you know, the D Major, Op.64 No. 5.” So since the violin's melody in the opening reminded someone of a bird-like song soaring over the accompaniment, it became “The Lark.” Listening to this video of a “skylark” or “song lark,” the similarity between the two is not especially obvious.

Whether Haydn may have had Shakespeare's Sonnet #29 in mind – “the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate" – is also doubtful, but a beautiful image.

The Lark was, for that matter, as likely to appear on the menu back in the day: while considered a delicacy when eaten whole (with bones intact), they were more often broiled or made into a meat pie. I hate to think how many birds it took to make a decent dish of “larks' tongues” – no thanks, I'll pass...

Curiously, in England, where people apparently thought the last movement of this quartet was just as memorable,  it is often called "The Hornpipe" Quartet, given the nature of the final dance. That works, too.

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Considering the Haydn was written in 1790 and Beethoven's three Razumovsky quartets were composed in 1806, it's interesting to listen to these two works and think “they were written only 16 years apart!” In fact, Haydn was still alive when Beethoven composed these comparatively revolutionary – certainly “modern” for the time – quartets.

Here's the Jasper Quartet – who've performed on our series in previous years including this past January – with Beethoven's Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3, a live recording from the studios of New York City's WQXR:

I've written about Beethoven and his Razumovsky Quartets in the past: in this post, you can read about the quartet itself as well as find the answer to that age-old question, “just what is a Razumovsky, anyway?”

I've written about the Shostakovich quartet in the next post which you can read, here.

- Dick Strawser