ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET
with Robert Greenberg
The String Quartet in a Time of War: Benjamin Britten and His Contemporaries SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6: “The Gathering Storm” SUNDAY, MARCH 19: “Their Finest Hour” SUNDAY, APRIL 23: “The Hinge of Fate” SUNDAY, MAY 21: “Triumph and Tragedy”
Western Health Advantage Season of Performing Arts
RO B ERT A N D M A RG RI T
FO R T H E PERFO R M I N G A RTS PRES EN TS
ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET The String Quartet in a Time of War: Benjamin Britten and His Contemporaries Zakarias Grafilo, violin Frederick Lifsitz, violin Paul Yarbrough, viola Sandy Wilson, cello SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2016 • 2PM & 7PM SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 2017 • 2PM & 7PM SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2017 • 2PM & 7PM SUNDAY, MAY 21, 2017 • 2PM & 7PM Vanderhoef Studio Theatre Individual support provided by Thomas and Phyllis Farver
2PM Performances: Musicologist, author and composer Robert Greenberg provides commentary throughout the concert. 7PM Performances: The quartet performs this program without intermission, then remains for a Q&A session with the audience.
The Alexander String Quartet is represented by BesenArts LLC BesenArts.com The Alexander String Quartet records for FogHornClassics asq4.com
The artists and fellow audience members appreciate silence during the performance. Please be sure that you have switched off cellular phones, watch alarms and pager signals. Videotaping, photographing and audio recording are strictly forbidden. Violators are subject to removal.
PROGRAM SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2016 “The Gathering Storm” • 2PM & 7PM
Three Divertimenti for String Quartet (1933, rev. 1936) Benjamin Britten Alla Marcia (1913–1976) Waltz Burlesque Intermission (2PM only) String Quartet No. 3, op. 15 (1938) Pavel Haas Allegro moderato (1899–1944) Lento, ma non troppo e poco rubato Thema con variazioni e fuga: Con moto—Allegro vivace
SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 2017 “Their Finest Hour” • 2PM & 7PM
String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114 (1939) Béla Bartók Mesto; Vivace (1881–1945) Mesto; Marcia Mesto; Burletta: Moderato Mesto Intermission (2PM only) String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, op. 25 (1941) Britten Andante sostenuto—Allegro vivo Allegretto con slancio Andante calmo Molto vivace
SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2017 “The Hinge of Fate” • 2PM & 7PM String Quartet No. 2 in C Major, op. 36 (1945) Allegro calmo senza rigore Vivace Chacony Intermission (2PM only) String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor (1946) Allegro Scherzo: Presto Lento Allegro molto
SUNDAY, MAY 21, 2017 “Triumph and Tragedy” • 2PM & 7PM String Quartet No. 3 in G Major, op. 94 (1975) Duets Ostinato Solo Burlesque Recitative and Passacaglia: La Serenissima Intermission (2PM only) String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, op. 110 (1960) Largo Allegro molto Allegretto Largo Largo
P. 6 Britten
William Walton (1902–1983)
P. 7 Britten
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
PROGRAM NOTES Sunday, November 6 “The Gathering Storm” Three Divertimenti for String Quartet BENJAMIN BRITTEN Born November 22, 1913, Lowestoft Died December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh Benjamin Britten entered the Royal College of Music in 1930 at the age of almost 17. It was not a happy match. Carefully trained during his early private lessons with Frank Bridge, Britten found composition instruction from John Ireland impossibly conservative. Soon he wanted to go to Vienna to study with Alban Berg, though that plan was blocked by his family. While at the college, Britten wrote for string quartet. In his first year there he composed a quartet (it would not be performed until 1975, the year before his death), and at the same time he began another, more ambitious work for string quartet. This was to be in five short movements, and for it Britten borrowed an idea from Sir Edward Elgar, another English composer the young man considered hopelessly conservative. In his Enigma Variations of 1899, Elgar had made each movement a portrait of one of his friends, and now young Britten took up that same general idea: each movement of the new string quartet would depict one of his friends from schoolboy days. Britten tentatively titled the new work Alla Quartetto Serioso and gave it a subtitle from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale: “Go play, boy, play.” But the piece gave the young composer a great deal of trouble, and he was able to draft only three of its projected five movements. These were performed on December 11, 1933, just a few weeks after the composer’s 20th birthday. Britten’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter recounts that the composer was so dissatisfied with his own music that he walked out of the hall without saying a word, neglecting to thank the performers for their efforts. Britten revised the score over the next few years, but when a performance in February 1936 brought negative reviews, he lost interest in the project and abandoned it. He never returned to this music, nor did he give it an opus number, but his manuscript survived and was published in 1983 under the title Three Divertimenti. These three short pieces may not be an “official” part of Britten’s catalog of works, but they offer an early example of his writing for string quartet, a medium that would become more important to him later in his career. Britten titled the first movement Alla Marcia and gave it the subtitle “PT” (physical training). This movement, a portrait of his athletic friend David Layton, is the most technically “advanced” of the three—it was heavily revised after the original performance, and the writing now is full of glissandos and harmonics. The name of the dedicatee of Waltz has not survived; Britten’s original title for this movement was “At the Party.” The energetic Burlesque (originally titled “Ragging”) is dedicated to his friend Francis Barton. Rhythmically, this is the most complex of the three movements.
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String Quartet No. 3, Op. 15 PAVEL HAAS Born June 21, 1899, Brno Died October 17, 1944, Auschwitz The short, intense and tragic career of Pavel Haas offers one of the saddest stories in 20th-century music. Haas studied at the Brno Conservatory and then in 1920–22 was a member of the masterclass held there by Leos Janáček at just the moment the older master was embarking on his incredible final period of creativity. Haas was by all accounts Janáček’s prize student, one who assimilated elements of Janáček’s late style—the use of sharply-focused thematic motifs, rhythmic complexity and an awareness of Czech and Moravian song and speech patterns— and fused them with other influences, such as Jewish music and elements of jazz, which was very much in the air in the 1920s. Haas’ output as a composer was small, running only to 18 opus numbers. Among these were his opera The Charlatan (1937), songs and choruses, a few orchestral works and a number of pieces of chamber music, including three string quartets (one of these contains an optional part for jazz band). As the 1930s progressed and the Nazis came to power in his Czech homeland, Haas—a Jew—found his position there increasingly precarious. His efforts to get out of the country failed, and in 1940 he took the extraordinary step of divorcing his wife so that she and their 4-year-old daughter would not be guilty of association. These desperate efforts failed. In December 1941 Haas was detained and sent to Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ “model” concentration camp outside Prague. There, depressed and ill, he was unable to compose until encouraged by a fellow inmate, the composer Gideon Klein. Several works that Haas wrote at Theresienstadt have survived, including one of his late masterpieces, Four Songs on Chinese Poetry. Immediately after a “show” performance staged by the Nazis for a visiting Red Cross delegation, Haas was shipped to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp on October 16, 1944, and gassed the following day. Haas composed his third and final string quartet in 1937-38. The Third Quartet—somber, tense and concentrated—is in three movements. The opening of the Allegro moderato, with its incessantly-pulsing ostinatos and jagged thematic motifs— certainly recalls the music of Janáček, and it establishes a level of tension that will continue almost unabated. The violin’s singing second subject brings a measure of relief, but this lovely idea makes only fleeting reappearances. At the end, its energy spent, the ostinato pulses quietly into silence. The Lento is intense and expressive, and its lamenting violin solo has seemed to many to recall Haas’ Jewish heritage. This solo is taken up by the other instruments and recalled and colored in different ways as the movement proceeds. Longest of the movements, the finale seems at first to be in theme-and-variation form, but its structure is a good deal more complex than that. Violins announce the fundamental theme—long and already varied on its first appearance—and the variations themselves are elaborate, set at different tempos and often based on fugal elements. These eventually develop into a complex double fugue, and—following a full-throated peroration on the movement’s opening theme—the quartet drives to a surprisingly triumphant conclusion. —Eric Bromberger
PROGRAM NOTES Sunday, March 19 “Their Finest Hour” String Quartet No. 6 BÉLA BARTÓK Born March 25, 1881, Sînnicolau Mare Died September 26, 1945, New York One of the paramount qualities of the Bartók quartets as a series is that—like Beethoven’s—they exemplify growth. The problems and possibilities of string quartet writing are not of the kind that imply a single solution, no matter how perfect, nor a single form, no matter how refined. With the composition of the Sixth Quartet, then, Bartók discarded the use of “arch form” and evolved a new way of integrating four broadly contrasted movements. This final quartet was composed in the autumn of 1939, the last composition Bartók wrote while living on Hungarian soil. Its dedication is to the Kolisch Quartet, who gave the premiere performance on January 20, 1941, in New York City. The unifying factor in the Sixth Quartet is a motto theme that appears at the beginning of each of the movements and is marked, each time, Mesto (sadly). At the outset of the quartet it is played by the unaccompanied viola; at the opening of the second movement, in a two-part setting in which the three upper strings play together in octaves; at the beginning of the third movement, in a three-part setting (omitting the viola); and in the fourth, as four independent voices. In each, except the last, the Mesto precedes the movement proper. In the finale, the Mesto continues and becomes the movement itself. By the use of such a technique, Bartók opened the way to greater contrasts between individual movements, and greater independence of thematic material. Motivic relationships are still present, but not insisted upon as previously, and harmony and melody have given up much of their tight, acerbic quality. As pure sound, the Sixth Quartet is far easier to listen to than any of the preceding three, but this relaxation in tension corresponds to no lessening of mastery.
of somber tranquility that brings to mind some of the late works of Richard Strauss. The ending is beautiful but bleak, a somber peroration to this magnificent musical account of genius in its highest estate.
String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 BENJAMIN BRITTEN Born November 22, 1913, Lowestoft Died December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh Benjamin Britten, a pacifist, had left England in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II and set out to establish himself as a composer in this country: the New York Philharmonic premiered his Violin Concerto in 1940 and his Sinfonia da Requiem in 1941. In the spring of 1941, Britten and his companion Peter Pears drove an aging Model A across the United States to Escondido, California, where they spent the summer as guests of the duopiano team Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson. While there, Britten received a visit from the distinguished American patron of the arts Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who commissioned a string quartet from the 27-year-old composer. Britten would receive $400 for the quartet, but there was a time constraint—the premiere was scheduled for the end of the summer. To a friend, Britten wrote: “Short notice & a bit of a sweat, but I’ll do it as the cash will be useful!” The Coolidge Quartet gave the premiere of the String Quartet in D Major in Los Angeles with Britten in attendance on September 21, 1941. The String Quartet in D Major seems to look both backward and forward at the same time. Its form appears quite traditional. It is in four movements, and these seem to conform to the shape of the classical string quartet: a sonata-form first movement, a scherzo, a slow movement and a fast finale. But to describe Britten’s First String Quartet that way is to miss the originality of this music. This quartet is remarkable for the sound-world Britten creates, for the structure of its movements, for the way themes reappear in different guises and for its unexpected key relationships.
After the initial Mesto, the first movement, a sonata, opens Vivace with an augmented form of what is to be the first theme, followed immediately by the theme itself. A second group and a closing group follow and are developed, and the whole is recapitulated in abbreviated form. The movement ends with a coda. The second movement is entitled Marcia. In A-B-A form, the march itself, sardonic, harsh, perhaps even funny, surrounds a middle section of tremolos, guitar-like pizzicatos and a rubato cello line abounding in glissandos.
The unusual sound-world is evident from the first instant of the Andante sostenuto, where the two violins and viola—set very high in their range—play a pulsing pattern that Britten specifies must be both triple piano and molto vibrato; far below, the pizzicato cello has completely different material. These two opening ideas, sounded simultaneously but so unlike each other, will return in different forms later in the quartet. The long opening section gives way to a rhythmic, angular Allegro vivo derived from the very beginning, and Britten shifts back and forth between these two themes at quite different tempos before the movement winks out on barely audible pizzicatos.
The third movement, Burletta (Burlesque), is unquestionably humorous, though the humor is sardonic rather than jolly, and in some ways curiously Beethovenesque. Stomping rhythms abound, violinistic “laughs,” glissandos and intentional off-pitch playing are everywhere. The trio section (the movement is an A-B-A form with coda) is lyrical and rather wistful. With the fourth movement, the Mesto theme enters for the last time, drawing out of itself the entire finale. The sole exception is the entry of two themes from the gay first movement, recollected here in a kind
Briefest of the movements, the Allegretto con slancio (“impetuous”) proceeds along its steady 3/4 pulse, but soon this is bristling with energy: sharp attacks, trills, whistling runs. After the violent end of the second movement, the third movement brings a world of calm (it is in fact marked andante calmo). The 5/4 meter of this movement at first masks the fact that its opening is a subtle variation of the beginning of the first movement. The music grows more animated in its central episode, which is in turn derived from the pizzicato cello of the very beginning.
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The finale, marked Molto vivace, demands virtuoso performers. It begins with what seems an isolated fragment, a quick twomeasure phrase for the first violin. But quickly the other instruments pick this up and treat it to some blistering contrapuntal extension. The energy never lets up in this movement, which races to its resounding close on a firm D-major chord.
The massive final movement–nearly as long as the first two movements combines—brings the tribute to Purcell. Britten calls this movement Chacony, the English name for the chaconne. This is a variation form: a ground bass in triple time repeats constantly, while a composer spins out variations above each repetition. As noted, Britten very much admired Purcell’s Chaconne in G Minor, and in tribute to the older composer he writes a chaconne as his finale. It is built on 21 repetitions of the nine-bar ground —Eric Bromberger bass, which is presented in unison (in B-flat major) at the start of the movement. Britten groups his variations imaginatively: the first six are followed by a cello cadenza, the next six by a viola PROGRAM NOTES cadenza, the next six by a violin cadenza and the final three drive to a conclusion that ringingly affirms C major.
Sunday, April 23 “The Hinge of Fate” String Quartet No. 2 in C Major, Op. 36 BENJAMIN BRITTEN Born November 22, 1913, Lowestoft Died December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh
String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor WILLIAM WALTON Born March 29, 1902, Oldham Died March 8, 1983, Ischia
On November 21, 1945, an unusual concert took place in London’s Wigmore Hall. That day was the 250th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell, universally acclaimed England’s first great composer, and one of those represented on the program was Benjamin Britten. Britten, whose opera Peter Grimes had been triumphantly premiered six months earlier, had a lifelong passion for Purcell’s music. The following year he would write his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, based on a great Purcell theme, and he would make arrangements of Purcell’s vocal music throughout his career, as well as a string orchestra version of Purcell’s Chaconne in G Minor. That anniversary concert saw the premiere of an original work by Britten that paid tribute to the earlier master, the String Quartet No. 2. Britten’s tribute to Purcell in this quartet is oblique: he quotes no music of Purcell, but the last movement–which dominates the structure–makes use of a technique that Britten associated with the earlier composer.
Walton spent World War II writing film scores, including the music to Henry V (he had originally wanted to serve as an ambulance driver, but after he landed several ambulances in the ditch, the government decided that he would be more useful as a composer). In the summer of 1945, months after the end of the war in Europe, Walton set to work on a string quartet. He had written no major works since the Violin Concerto of 1939, and Walton–a careful craftsman–required nearly two years to complete the quartet. The first performance, by the Blech String Quartet, took place on a BBC broadcast on May 4, 1947.
The quartet is in three movements, and it is original from its first instant. Rather than adopting a standard sonata form, which opposes and contrasts material, Britten builds the opening Allegro calmo senza rigore on three themes, all of which are announced in the first few measures and all of which are similar: all three themes begin with the upward leap of a tenth. The movement is centered around the key of C major, and the first statement of the theme begins on middle C, with each successive statement rising higher in the quartet’s register. The exposition of these three themes becomes so complex that a clear division of the movement into development and recapitulation is lost, and at the climax Britten is able to make all three themes coalesce into one simultaneous statement before the music falls away to a quiet close. The Vivace is a blistering—and very brief—scherzo in ternary form. Britten mutes the instruments throughout and moves to C minor for the outer sections; the music feels consciously nervous, skittering and driving constantly ahead. The central section, in F major and based on a variant of the scherzo theme, brings little relaxation–the sense of nervous energy continues even in the major tonality.
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All of Walton’s considerable virtues are evident in the String Quartet in A Minor: a clear sense of form, incredible rhythmic energy and virtuoso instrumental writing. The quartet is remarkable for the central role it assigns to the usually-neglected viola—much of the characteristic sonority of this quartet originates with mid-range sound of that instrument, which announces a number of the quartet’s main ideas. The opening Allegro is in sonata form. It begins with the two central voices— second violin and viola—in two-part counterpoint, from which the viola spins out the long and haunting main idea that will dominate this movement. At some points this music spills over with a nervous, almost pointillistic energy, and for extended periods Walton changes meters every measure. The development is built around a fugato introduced by the viola and derived from that instrument’s opening statement. In its closing moments, this movement seems to lose its energy and glides to silence on the lonely sound of the second violin’s sustained fourth. The second movement, a scherzo, goes like a streak. Marked Presto, it is barred in 3/8, and each of those brief measures seems to whip past in a micro-second. This is virtuoso music, full of leaps, trills and accidentals; its pace broadens slightly at the ringing climax, and suddenly it has vanished. Walton mutes his instruments for the Lento, with the viola laying out the long opening idea, marked espressivo; over pizzicato accompaniment from the cello, the viola also introduces the theme of the central episode. This is an extended movement, and matters play up to a great climax, performed without mutes, before falling away to the quiet close. The concluding Allegro molto returns to the energetic manner of the second movement, but there is a hardedged brilliance about this finale: long passages are written in
unison, and the blistering pace of non-stop sixteenth-notes gives this music the feel of a perpetual motion, with the melodic line whipping around between the four instruments. This is a ternary form movement, with the lyric central episode (quite brief) introduced by the second violin. The opening material quickly returns, and the Quartet in A Minor flies to its exciting close on unison hammered A’s.
The String Quartet No. 3 is in five unrelated movements, and Britten at first thought of titling this music Divertimento rather than Quartet; he finally became convinced that it had sufficient unity and seriousness to merit the latter name. Though Britten’s Third String Quartet does not sound like Bartók, it has some of the same arch-structure favored by the Hungarian master: the three odd-numbered movements are at slower tempos, while the two even-numbered movements are fast. Each of the five SOME NOTES: Listeners may discover that they already know movements has a descriptive title. The opening Duets is built this music, but in another form. In 1972, a quarter-century after it on a series of pairings of instruments in different combinations, was written, Neville Marriner asked Walton to arrange the quartet beginning with the rocking, pulsing duet of second violin and for string orchestra. This he did (with considerable revision of viola. The movement, in ternary form, offers a more animated the first movement), and it is performed (and has been recorded) central episode. Ostinato, marked “very fast,” drives along a under the name Sonata for Strings. Also, Walton wrote a string ground built on a sequence of leaping sevenths; lyric interludes quartet as a teenager, and as a result this Quartet in A Minor is intrude into this violence, and the movement eventually comes to only sometimes referred to as the String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor a poised close. The title of the third movement, Solo, refers to the and sometimes simply as String Quartet in A Minor. The early central role of the first violin, which has the melodic interest here, quartet made something of a splash at the 1923 ISCM festival, but often above minimal accompaniment from the other three voices Walton withdrew it, pronouncing it “full of undigested Bartók and far below. Britten marks the opening “smooth and expressive,” Schoenberg.” The Quartet in A Minor is the only one he wanted but the central sequence is cadenza-like in its virtuosity; the performed. movement comes to a calm close on a widely-spaced C-major chord. In sharp contrast, the Burlesque is all violent activity, and —Eric Bromberger this movement has reminded more than one observer of the music of Britten’s good friend Shostakovich. Longest of the movements, the finale also has the most unusual structure. It begins with a PROGRAM NOTES Recitative that recalls a number of themes from Death in Venice, and after these intensive reminders, the music settles into radiant Sunday, May 21 “Triumph and Tragedy” E major (a key identified with the figure of Aschenbach in the opera), and the first violin launches the gentle Passacaglia theme String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94 of the final section. Britten marks this cantabile and names this BENJAMIN BRITTEN section La Serenissima. That sounds like a conscious invocation Born November 22, 1913, Lowestoft of Beethoven, who gave the finale of his String Quartet in B-flat Died December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh Major, Op. 18, No. 6 the title La Malinconia, but here it refers to the musical motto associated with the city of Venice in Britten’s In 1973 Benjamin Britten—frail and facing a heart operation— opera. The Passacaglia proceeds calmly to its close, where the composed his final opera, Death in Venice. Based on Thomas ambiguous concluding chord dissolves as the upper three voices Mann’s 1913 novella, the opera summed up many of the themes fade away, leaving the cello’s deep D to continue alone and then of Britten’s artistic career: as the aging novelist Aschenbach drift softly into silence. Britten’s comment on this ending was embarks on a quest for spiritual redemption in a city assaulted succinct: “I wanted the work to end with a question.” by the plague, he is torn between his search for beauty and the corrupting force of his own physical desires. Two years later, in the fall of 1975, Britten composed his String Quartet No. 3. It String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 110 would be (except for a short choral piece for children) his final DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH composition, for Britten died of heart failure the following year. Born September 25, 1906, St. Petersburg The Amadeus Quartet gave the official premiere of this quartet Died August 9, 1975, Moscow on December 19, 1976, two weeks after the composer’s death, though Britten had heard this music played through shortly after In the summer of 1960 Shostakovich went to Dresden, where he he completed it. was to write a score for the film Five Days, Five Nights, a joint East German and Soviet production. The devastation of Dresden In the course of composing the quartet, Britten returned to by Allied bombing in 1945—the event that drove Kurt Vonnegut Venice—a city he loved—and in fact he composed the quartet’s to write Slaughterhouse Five—was still evident in 1960, and it final movement there. Inevitably, that visit reawakened memories stunned the composer. He interrupted his work on the film score of his opera, and this quartet makes explicit references to Death and in the space of three days (July 1214) wrote his String Quartet in Venice: specific themes, key relationships, and mottos that No. 8, dedicated “To the memory of the victims of fascism and had appeared in the opera return in the quartet. This all raises a war.” question: does one need to know Death in Venice to understand the Quartet No. 3? The answer to that question must be no—this The Eighth Quartet has become the most-frequently performed quartet will stand on its own merits—but it may help to know of Shostakovich’s 15 quartets, but this intense music appears to that this was Britten’s final instrumental work and that it draws on have been the product of much more than an encounter with music about a spiritual quest. the horrors of war—it sprang straight from its creator’s soul. In
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it Shostakovich quotes heavily from his own works: there are quotations from the First, Fifth, Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies, Piano Trio in E Minor, Cello Concerto No. 1, and his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, as well as from several Russian songs. The quartet also uses as its central theme Shostakovich’s musical “signature”: he took the letters DSCH (D for Dmitri and SCH from the first three letters of his last name in its German spelling) and set down their musical equivalents: DEs (E-flat in German notation) CH (B in German notation). That motto—DEb-C-B—is the first thing one hears in this quartet, and it permeates the entire work. Why should a quartet inspired by the destruction of a foreign city (and an “enemy” city, at that) have turned into so personal a piece of music for its composer? Vasily Shirinsky–second violinist of the Beethoven Quartet, which gave the premiere—offered the official Soviet explanation of so dark a work: “In this music, there is a portrait of Shostakovich, the musician, the citizen and the protector of peaceful and progressive humanity.” But in Testimony, Shostakovich’s much disputed memoirs, the composer strongly suggests that the quartet is not about fascism but is autobiographical and is about suffering, and he cites his quotation of the song “Languishing in Prison” and of the “Jewish theme” from the Piano Trio as pointing a way toward understanding the quartet. In her recent biography of the composer, Laurel Fay suggests an even darker autobiographical significance. In the spring of 1960, just before his trip to Dresden, Shostakovich was named head of the Union of Composers of the Soviet Federation, and the Russian government clearly expected such a position to be held by a party member. Under pressure to join the party, the composer reluctantly agreed and then was overwhelmed by regret and guilt. There is evidence that he intended that the Eighth Quartet, a work full of autobiographical meaning, should be his final composition and that he planned to kill himself upon his return to Moscow. Five days after completing the quartet, Shostakovich wrote to a friend: “However much I tried to draft my obligations for the film, I just couldn’t do it. Instead I wrote an ideologically deficient quartet nobody needs. I reflected that if I die some day then it’s hardly likely anyone will write a work dedicated to my memory. So I decided to write one myself. You could even write on the cover: ‘Dedicated to the memory of the composer of this quartet.’ ” Was the Eighth Quartet to be Shostakovich’s epitaph for himself? The quartet is extremely compact and focused—its five interconnected movements last 20 minutes. The brooding Largo opens with the DSCH motto in the solo cello, which soon turns into the fanfare from the First Symphony, followed in turn by a quotation from the Fifth Symphony. The movement, somber and beautiful, suddenly explodes into the Allegro molto, in which the first violin’s pounding quarternotes recall the “battle music” from the composer’s wartime Eighth Symphony. At the climax of this movement comes what Shostakovich called the “Jewish theme,” which seems to shriek out above the sounds of battle. The Allegretto is a ghostly waltz in which the first violin dances high above the other voices. Each of the final two movements is a Largo. The fourth is built on exploding chords that some have compared to gunshots, others to the fatal knock on the door in 8 | MondaviArts.org
the middle of the night. At the climax of this movement come the quotations from the prison song and—in the cello’s high register—from Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth. The fifth movement returns to the mood and music of the first. The DSCH motto enters fugally and many of the quartet’s earlier themes are recalled before the music closes very quietly on a chord marked morendo. TWO NOTES: The film for which Shostakovich was to write the score that summer was a typical product of Cold War propaganda. A joint work by Russian and East German filmmakers, Five Days, Five Nights told the politically-correct confabulation that heroic Russian troops had entered Dresden in February 1945 and helped preserve the city’s artistic treasures from Allied bombing. (In fact, Russian troops were nowhere near Dresden during the bombing.) Shostakovich’s score for the film is unremarkable except that it too makes use of quotations: in the course of the music, the theme from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony gradually breaks in on Shostakovich’s own music. And for the record: on September 14, 1960—two months after composing the Eighth Quartet—Shostakovich officially became a member of the Communist Party. —Eric Bromberger
ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2016, the Alexander String Quartet has performed in the major music capitals of five continents, securing its standing among the world’s premier ensembles. Widely admired for its interpretations of Beethoven, Mozart and Shostakovich, the quartet’s recordings of the Beethoven cycle (twice), Bartók and Shostakovich cycle have won international critical acclaim. The quartet has also established itself as an important advocate of new music through over 30 commissions from such composers as Jake Heggie, Cindy Cox, Augusta Read Thomas, Robert Greenberg, Martin Bresnick, Cesar Cano and Pulitzer Prize-winner Wayne Peterson. A new work by Tarik O’Regan, commissioned for the Alexander by the Boise Chamber Music Series, had its premiere in October 2016 and a work for quintet from Samuel Carl Adams is planned for premiere in early 2018 with pianist Joyce Yang. The Alexander String Quartet is a major artistic presence in its home base of San Francisco, serving since 1989 as Ensemble-inResidence of San Francisco Performances and Directors of the Morrison Chamber Music Center in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at San Francisco State University. The Alexander String Quartet’s annual calendar of concerts includes engagements at major halls throughout North America and Europe. The quartet has appeared at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City; Jordan Hall in Boston; the Library of Congress and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington; and chamber music societies and universities across the North American continent. This past summer, the quartet returned as faculty to the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, a nexus of their early career. Recent overseas tours have brought them to the U.K., the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, France, Greece, the Republic of Georgia, Argentina, Panamá and the Philippines. They returned to Poland for their debut performances at the Beethoven Easter Festival in 2015.
and Brahms piano quintets with Joyce Yang (“passionate, soulful readings of two pinnacles of the chamber repertory” —The New York Times). Their recording of music of Gershwin and Kern was released in the summer of 2012, following the spring 2012 recording of the clarinet quintet of Brahms and a new quintet from César Cano, in collaboration with Joan Enric Lluna, as well as a disc in collaboration with the San Francisco Choral Artists. An album of works by Cindy Cox was released in 2015. Their recording of the Mozart “Prussian” Quartets was released in Fall 2016. The Alexander’s 2009 release of the complete Beethoven cycle was described by Music Web International as performances “uncompromising in power, intensity and spiritual depth,” while Strings Magazine described the set as “a landmark journey through the greatest of all quartet cycles.” The FoghornClassics label released a three-CD set (Homage) of the Mozart quartets dedicated to Haydn in 2004. Foghorn released the a six-CD album (Fragments) of the complete Shostakovich quartets in 2006 and 2007, and a recording of the complete quartets of Pulitzer prizewinning San Francisco composer, Wayne Peterson, was released in the spring of 2008. BMG Classics released the quartet’s first recording of Beethoven cycle on its Arte Nova label to tremendous critical acclaim in 1999. The Alexander String Quartet was formed in New York City in 1981 and captured international attention as the first American quartet to win the London International String Quartet Competition in 1985. The quartet has received honorary degrees from Allegheny College and Saint Lawrence University, and Presidential medals from Baruch College (CUNY).
Among the fine musicians with whom the Alexander String Quartet has collaborated are pianists Joyce Yang, Roger Woodward, Anne-Marie McDermott, Menachem Pressler, Marc-André Hamelin and Jeremy Menuhin; clarinetists Joan Enric Lluna, David Shifrin, Richard Stoltzman and Eli Eban; soprano Elly Ameling; mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato; violinist Midori; cellists Lynn Harrell, Sadao Harada and David Requiro; and jazz greats Branford Marsalis, David Sanchez and Andrew Speight. The quartet has worked with many composers including Aaron Copland, George Crumb and Elliott Carter, and has long enjoyed a close relationship with composer-lecturer Robert Greenberg, performing numerous lecture-concerts with him annually. The Alexander String Quartet added considerably to its distinguished and wide-ranging discography over the past decade, now recording exclusively for the FoghornClassics label. There were three major releases in the 2013–2014 season: The combined string quartet cycles of Bartók and Kodály, recorded on the renowned Ellen M. Egger matched quartet of instruments built by San Francisco luthier, Francis Kuttner (“If ever an album had “Grammy nominee” written on its front cover, this is it.” —Audiophile Audition); the string quintets and sextets of Brahms with Toby Appel and David Requiro (“a uniquely detailed, transparent warmth” —Strings Magazine); and the Schumann MondaviArts.org | 9
ROBERT GREENBERG Robert Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1954, and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1978. Greenberg received a B.A. in music, magna cum laude, from Princeton University in 1976. His principal teachers at Princeton were Edward Cone, Daniel Werts and Carlton Gamer in composition, Claudio Spies and Paul Lansky in analysis, and Jerry Kuderna in piano. In 1984, Greenberg received a Ph.D. in music composition, with Distinction, from the University of California, Berkeley, where his principal teachers were Andrew Imbrie and Olly Wilson in composition and Richard Felciano in analysis.
Harvard Business School Publishing, Kaiser-Permanente, the Strategos Institute, Quintiles Transnational, the Young Presidents’ Organization, the World Presidents’ Organization and the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. Greenberg has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, the Times of London, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the University of California Alumni Magazine, Princeton Alumni Weekly and Diablo Magazine. For 15 years Greenberg was the resident composer and music historian to National Public Radio’s Weekend All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, Sunday with Liane Hansen.
Greenberg has composed over 50 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles. Recent performances of his works have taken place in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands, where his Child’s Play for String Quartet was performed at the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam.
In May 1993, Greenberg recorded a 48-lecture course entitled How to Listen to and Understand Great Music for the Teaching Company/Great Courses Program of Chantilly, Virginia. (This course was named in the January, 1996 edition of Inc. Magazine as one of “The Nine Leadership Classics You’ve Never Read.”) The Great Courses is the preeminent producer of college level courseson-media in the United States. Twenty-five further courses, including Concert Masterworks, Bach and the High Baroque, The Symphonies of Beethoven, How to Listen to and Understand Opera, Great Masters, The Operas of Mozart, The Life and Operas of Verdi, The Symphony, The Chamber Music of Mozart, The Piano Sonatas of Beethoven, The Concerto, The Fundamentals of Music, The String Quartets of Beethoven, The Music of Richard Wagner and The Thirty Greatest Orchestral Works, have been recorded since, totaling over 550 lectures. The courses are available on both CD and DVD formats and in book form.
Greenberg has received numerous honors, including being designated an official Steinway Artist, three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and three Meet-The-Composer Grants. Notable commissions have been received from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Alexander String Quartet, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, San Francisco Performances and the XTET ensemble. Greenberg is a board member and an artistic director of COMPOSERS, INC., a composers’ collective/production organization based in San Francisco. His music has been published by Fallen Leaf Press and CPP/Belwin, and recorded on the Innova label. Greenberg has performed, taught and lectured extensively across North America and Europe. He is currently music historian-inresidence with San Francisco Performances, where he has lectured and performed since 1994. He has served on the faculties of the University of California at Berkeley, California State University East Bay and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he chaired the Department of Music History and Literature from 1989-2001 and served as the Director of the Adult Extension Division from 1991-1996. Greenberg has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony (where for 10 years he was host and lecturer for the Symphony’s nationally acclaimed “Discovery Series”), the Chautauqua Institute (where he was the Everett Scholar-in-Residence during the 2006 season), the Ravinia Festival, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Villa Montalvo, Music@Menlo and the University of British Columbia (where he was the Dal Grauer Lecturer in September of 2006). In addition, Greenberg is a sought-after lecturer for businesses and business schools. For many years a member of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania/Wharton School’s Advanced Management Program, he has spoken for such diverse organizations as S.C. Johnson, Canadian Pacific, Deutsches Bank, the University of California/Haas School of Business Executive Seminar, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, 10 | MondaviArts.org
In February 2003, The Bangor Daily News (Maine) referred to Greenberg as the “Elvis of music history and appreciation,” an appraisal that has given more pleasure than any other.
Greenberg’s book, How to Listen to Great Music, was published by Plume, a division of Penguin Books, in April, 2011. Greenberg lives with his children Lillian and Daniel, wife Nanci, and a very cool Maine coon (cat) named Teddy in the hills of Oakland, California. Robert Greenberg is an official Steinway Artist.