Axiom Quartet presents its
Hindsight is 20/21
The Axiom Quartet goes digital for their 2020-2021 season Hindsight is 20/21, a series of weekly videos that look at several string quartets up close! The first half of our season starts in October, and goes through December. What unifies these unique works is the concept of ‘hindsight”, or looking backwards to learn or inspire the future. This fall we will feature three quartets that are presented in weekly installments, and premiering at 5:00pm on Sundays every month on Facebook Premiere:
Beethoven "String Quartet in A Major, Op 18 No 5"
Brahms "String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67"
Jalbert "String Quartet No. 3"
Beethoven in Four Parts
Our first mini-concert series looks at the connection between Beethoven and Mozart. Compared to the direct influence of Beethoven’s Viennese composition teacher and mentor, Franz Joesph Haydn, the influence Mozart would have on him would be through admiration, study, and assimilation Beethoven made of Mozart’s oeuvre. The year Beethoven arrived in Vienna (1792) was also the year of Mozart’s death. Mozart and Haydn were the two shadows Beethoven lived under upon his arrival as Viennese audiences were well versed with their symphonies, operas, and chamber music.
Beethoven was in his late 20s when he started to write his six string quartets, Op. 18. He had already spent five years or so developing a network of patrons and establishing himself as a tour de force pianist of uncanny abilities. His chamber music works already included sting trios and piano trios, but his first venture into the string quartet took Beethoven’s compositional powers to new heights.
The String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18 No. 5 could be viewed as a direct homage to Mozart as so much of the work shares similarities to Mozart’s quartet K. 464 is the same key. Not only do both quartets share the same basic structure: Minuet in the second spot, Theme and Variations in the third, but the opening bars of both works also highlight a three note rising A major scale (A-B-C#) treated both piano and staccato that will be part of key thematic treatment over the course of the movement. Both works also place the third movement, a Theme and Variations, as a central part of the work.
There are a lot of quotes and misquotes about Beethoven from biographies written by friends who knew him. Whether true or not, the admiration Beethoven had for Mozart, and particularly this quartet can be summed up with Beethoven reportedly saying about K. 464, “That’s a work! That’s where Mozart said to the world: Behold what I might have done for you if I had lived longer!”
Brahms in Four Parts
For November, the Axiom Quartet looks at the last string quartet of Johannes Brahms. Like the Beethoven quartet we examined last month, this Brahms quartet also looks back to Mozart for inspiration. The first movement in particular has strong ties to Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet, sharing both the same key signature (B-flat major) along with the same character references to peasant characteristics, most notably the horn call of the hunt.
The work is dedicated to the prominent physician (and amateur cellist) Dr. Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann. In a letter Brahms wrote to Dr. Engelmann, he said that, “I am publishing a string quartet, and may need a doctor for it...It’s no longer a question of a forceps delivery; but of simply standing by. There’s no cello solo in it, but such a tender viola solo that you may want to change your instrument for its sake!”
We often think of Brahms and his music, rightly or not, as complicated, heavy, and dark. This quartet stands in contrast to that image presenting a quartet that relies on simplicity of both harmony and texture.
Jalbert in Three Parts
We end 2020 with a work by Houston-based composer Pierre Jalbert. Among his many honors are the Rome Prize, the BBC Masterprize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Fromm Foundation commission, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's Stoeger Award, given biennially "in recognition of significant contributions to the chamber music repertory", and an Academy award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The first movement “Prelude” is a homage to the famous chronicler of folk tales and writer Hans Christian Anderson. Jalbert cleverly uses Anderson’s initials “h.c.a.” as the notes “b”, “c”, and “a” (in German the pitch “b” can also be written as “h”) as a thematic idea that is appears throughout the prelude movement.
The anchor to this quartet is the second movement, “Scherzo in 15 scenes”. This movement is the central part of the original work in 21 scenes with narration that Jalbert composed for the Maia Quartet in 2007. The original work was a narration of stories by Hans Christian Anderson (thus the first movement use of the motive h.c.a.) and the different scenes from the stories, the characters and storylines are quite audible still in this reworking even without the original narration.
Garrop in Three Parts
Axiom’s first streaming performance of 2021 explores a work by Chicago-based composer Stacy Garrop. Garrop herself will join the quartet in presenting the work. Her String Quartet No. 2 is subtitled “Demons and Angels” and dates from 2004-2005
The work is an expression of Garrop coming to terms with the knowledge that the first person she ever truly loved so many years ago had been involved in the horrific killing of five people. It attempts to reconcile how someone, once so good, can go down such a dark path… the angel fallen. Regarding the quartet, Garrop said in an interview, “I hope people hear a piece that makes you realize how intense something can be loud, how intense it can be soft, and how it builds up and finally reaches this point where it almost feels like it's heaven…”
The second movement is titled " Song of the Angels" and represents Garrop's remembrance of the goodness in her ex-boyfriend before he became transformed. This is paired with "Inner Demons" where Garrop depicts him as he loses his mind. In the final movement "Broken Spirit", Garrop writes from the point of view of her ex who now faces a life in prison. A place where she imagines his fleeting thoughts alternating between chaos and the hope of finding redemption by the grace of an angel.
Tailleferre in Three Parts
Tailleferre attended the Paris Conservatory alongside composers such as Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, and Arthur Honegger. Her String Quartet,
dating from 1919 would grab the attention of these composers and others and would become her ticket to joining what would eventually be known as the French modernist group "Les Six."
Of her craft, Tailleferre said, "I write music because it amuses me. It’s not great music, I know, but it’s gay, light hearted music which is sometimes compared with that of the ‘petitsmaitres’ of the 18th century. And that makes me very proud.’’
The second movement of her string quartet truly embraces this ethos with its scherzo-waltz style and indeed "light hearted" character.
The final movement is composed in a time signature of 6/6, and is based on the saltarello (a traditional Italian dance) rhythm and shows the polytonality and contrapuntal skills that caught the attention of Parisian society.