Charles Ives (1874-1954): Quartet No. 2 (1907-13) Discussions: Andante moderato Arguments: Allegro conspirito "The Call of the Mountains:" Adagio
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Quartet in F major, K. 370 for oboe and strings Allegro Adagio Rondo: Allegro
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Quartet in C minor, Op. 51, No. 1 Allegro Romanze: Poco adagio Allegretto molto moderato e comodo Finale: Allegro
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
The phenomenon of performed music is by necessity a social art in almost every instance. One is hard pressed to conceive of its surviving culturally if hermetically relegated to a lonely attic or remote cave under the fingers of a lone practitioner. The very act of creating music with more than one performer is a social act in itself, requiring all the communicative and interactive techniques that would be used in bringing about a community action at any societal level. In chamber music, particularly, the analogy to social intercourse is relevant and easily perceived by an audience. There is yet one more dimension, however, that the audience rarely sees: the communication effected by the composer whose symbols must be interpreted in sound. The notes themselves and any expressive markings form one level of this communications; sometimes there are other features--specific shapes in which the score is cut, or "pictures" outlined by the notes themselves, or verbal instructions or "asides" from the composer--which a Augenmusik might not be translatable into sound but simply bring a massage of sorts to the performers from the composer about what he or she has written. And no matter whether the chamber piece is intended to be heard by one or several or many, there is a degree of privateness about it that hardly fails to give a special insight into the more personal realm of the composer.
Charles Ives' musical life--that is, aside from his quite successful career in insurance--suggests a parallel with that of Thomas Edison: both were inveterately curious about the nature of their "art" and realized extraordinary results from looking beyond the conventions of their times. Ives' Connecticut upbringing and Yale education were supplemented by the "freethinking" musical training he received from his father. While he certainly knew traditional style and techniques and composers, Charles' own works ranged well ahead of the European "avant garde" of his time in the use of polytonality, atonality, and quarter tones. His aural representation of simultaneous events, such as two bands playing at either end of a town common, found a variant in the abstract with the presentation of tonal foreground and atonal background (and vice versa) in a single musical experience.
Ive's Quartet No. 2 is fully a part of his unconventional expression, and to some degree one should know something of a New Englander's temperament to enter into the sense of the work. Written over a period 1907-1913, the work evokes the interaction of four individuals who have known each other for a long time, who have their decided personalities and yet know and respond to the idiosyncrasies of the others. In Ives' words, the work is"...for 4 men--who converse, discuss, argue (in re 'politics'), fight, shake hands, shut up--then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament." There is a terseness, a stubbornness to the individuals' statements, and personalities do emerge in the course of the work.
In the first of the three movements, "Discussions," ideas are proposed by the individuals, mulled over briefly, countered, transformed, and abandoned for new. Some hymn-like tunes of military genesis emerge and fade away like thoughts of a long-past war. Ideas are brought forth seemingly randomly, as in a conversation casually undertaken by four people passing the time, reflecting; and thus the conversation takes its own inimitable shape, with its unique pacing.
Movement two, "Arguments," reveals Ives' astonishing sense of humor and a very personal homage to the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; this is also a good example of the kind of hidden communication a composer can have with performers, and which might be conveyed in performance to the audience. The score reveals Ives' scenario of the four participants in a political wrangle, complete with the forming and reforming of coalitions (visually clear in the alignment of bar lines for the violins as distinct from those of viola--cello faction). In the midst of the confusion of differentiated rhythms and meters marked "forte, spirited tempo," is a three-measure passage for the second violin marked "fortississimo (solo)!" Immediately thereafter, the first violin, viola, and cello drop out while the second violin provides a "burlesque cadenza" marked "Andante Emasculata." The sugary cadenza is rejected with a fff "allegro con fisto," only to surface once more in the second violin, with yet another rejection and an unctuous mock-cadenza labelled "Largo Sweetota." Another "Allegro con fisto" reconfirms the rejection, and the second's final intimidated attempt at the cadenza is simply overridden by the viola's entrance with an acerbic motive that turns into a fugue--which even the sentimental second finally joins. After a rousing free-for-all, the first violin and viola exchange heated exclamations, marked "Allegro con fuoco--con fuoco (all mad)," and the entire foursome sets off again. The argument comes to a halt with the violins rolling up their sleeves for a definitive closure, "Andante con scratchy (as tuning up)," leading to an abrupt "Allegro con fisto swatto (as a K. O.)." Fortississimo, of course.
In "Call of the Mountain," dense chords and meandering melodies suggest that the four participants are not thinking in anything like a unity, but there is with the "rugged individualism" a willingness to let each other simply be. The final event refers to the hymn-tune "nearer my God to Thee" in the stratospheric first violin, dissolving into the change of the Westminister chimes. The work ends with a seeming F-minor tonality created by polytonal means (the "A flat" is written as G sharp).
Mozart's F-major quartet for oboe and strings, while written in Munich in early 1781, is more properly the product of the composer's associations with the Mannheim orchestra, which by 1780 had been transplanted to Munich with Elector Carl Theodor's court. The Mannheimers had already had a significant influence on Mozart's symphonic style, both in the expansion of his woodwind writing and his new reliance on expressive devices and dynamic effects. In addition, Mozart had the eye- and ear-opening experience of having heard the first-rate performing skills of the Mannheim orchestra, whose virtuosic precision and cohesiveness as an ensemble were legendary. Mozart had developed a friendship with several of the orchestra members, whose support of his music probably generated the commission for and certainly ensured the stunning success of the production of his Idomeneo in Munich in January 1781. Shortly afterward came the F-major quartet, Mozart's tribute to the artistry of Friedrich Ramm, oboist with the court orchestra.
The quartet is in three movements of usual tempo and structural properties, but the content is, as one might expect with Mozart, remarkable. The oboe, while certainly the most obvious member of the ensemble, is provided excellent companionship and contrast in the violin, and occasionally the viola and cello, also become intensely conversant with the reed in true concertante style. In the first movement's sonata form, the exposition closes with alternating "forte" and "piano" dynamics. The development begins with not one but two sections of exact imitation in all four voices before allowing the oboe and violin to run off in merry duets of scales.
The second movement, in D minor, yields to the oboe's intensely plaintive quality for one of the most poignant works of this period of Mozart's career. The strings introduce and form bridges between sections, and otherwise accompany the oboe's rangy material. An opportunity for a cadenza appears for the oboe close to the end of the movement.
The third movement has the stamp of Mozart's irrepressible humor. The oboe's merry opening theme is contrasted twice by new material. The second contrasting section places the oboe in a simple-duple meter against the given 6/8 of the strings. The result is a complexity of sound not to be duplicated by Mozart until six years later in the triple-dance overlay of the first-act finale of Don Giovanni. It would seem that, in the quartet, Mozart was having his own private poke at Ramm, challenging him to survive the metrical scramble of the passage while yet showing every confidence that he would do so!
Brahms' Quartet in C minor was written over a period of eight years and completed at the end of 1873. If ever there was a private composer, it was Brahms, whose indirection in most personal matters was a hallmark of his character. This quartet, for instance, might well have been dedicate to the violinist Joachim, whose motto is so prominent in the companion piece to this quartet, Op. 51, No. 2. Yet Brahms rather dedicated the pair of works to Theodore Bollroth, a physician and talented amateur cellist with whom Brahms shared years of friendship. The C-minor quartet is a product of Brahms' maturity and "new life" in Vienna. It is a thoroughly intense work, dense with rhythmic complexity and unified by motivic as well as rhythmic devices.
The first movement, in an "archaic" 3/2 meter, begins with a long arpeggio in an urgent dotted rhythm with agitated accompaniment and frequent hemiola (apparent metrical shifts). A shadow of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony's rhythmic motto is woven into the theme. Hidden chains of suspensions and chromatic key changes contribute to the driving, restless feeling of the movement.
The second, in 3/4, begins as if floating harmonically without the chordal foundation of the lowest note. The rhythmic issue of the movement seems to be whether the themes occur on the beat, as in the first section, or off, as with the pulsating chords of triplets in the second section. The effects of both types of rhythm are particularly haunting.
The third movement, in simple duple meter, is in two sections roughly like a scherzo. The first features an off-beat accent, with a viola countermelody. One thematic aspect is a descending melody, first diatonic, then chromatic, like a long wail. The second section is characterized by a repeated pitch in the second violin, rocking between a harmonic on one string and full tone on another, pointing up a swaying, ländler-like melody in the first violin. The first section is repeated.
The alla breve fourth movement begins with an intense unison outcry and is linked to the earlier movements by the rocking duple division of the beat and the melodic material harkening back to the first movement. The conclusion, a masterpiece of driving rhythm, dramatic sweep, and powerful multiple-stop chords, is anything but indirect.