ACMF 2022 – The Music

Webern: Langsamersatz for string quartet
Dutilleux: Sonata for solo cello
Gordon Jacob: Four Fancies for flute and string trio
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68
Mozart: String Quartet in C Major, K 465 “Dissonance”
Kurtag: 12 Microludes for string quartet, Op. 13
Brahms: String Quartet in A Minor, Op.51, No.2
Vignieri: Suite Americana for saxophone and string quartet
Sergio O. de Vasconcellos Correa: Divertimento a Dois for flute and cello
Mozart: Flute Quartet in A Major, K.298
Arvo Pärt: Psalom for string quartet
Andrzej Panufnik: Hommage a Chopin for flute and string quartet
Prokofiev: Sonata for solo violin in D Major, Op. 115

Webern: Langsamer Satz for string quartet

The Langsamer Satz may come as a surprise to those who know Webern as an avant-garde composer of sometimes baffling difficulty; for this early work, written in 1905 when he was twenty-one, gives us a romantic quarter-of-an-hour. Webern was studying music at Vienna University and enjoying the rich life of the capital in literary, art and musical circles. Significantly, he had opted out of some courses to study independently under Schoenberg, joined by two or three forward-looking young composers including Alban Berg. At this time the innovative composers who inspired them all, including Schoenberg, were the late Romantics – Liszt, Wagner and Mahler. But there are other aspects of the romantic in Langsamer Satz below and beyond musicological observations.

Webern came from Carinthia, that lovely country around Graz, and Klagenfurt where he was educated, and where he spent free days and holidays at Preglhof, his grandfather von Webern’s country estate. His love of Nature, walking and climbing in the mountains, matches Wordsworth’s. In the spring of 1905 he went on a walking tour with his young cousin Wilhelmine in Lower Austria. Five blissful days recorded in his diary in truly lyrical style. Not only does he evoke the countryside and Nature in all her moods, but a growing sense of personal rapture in his relationship with Wilhelmine. All this he seems to have expressed in his own medium of music, when he composed the Langsamer Satz the following June. He did indeed marry Wilhelmine some six years later. That was about the time when he conceived his Six Bagatelles Opus 9, a totally revolutionary work based on the twelve-tone scale, and minimalist in duration – two minutes. 

The Langsamer Satz is a luscious work, yet economically written without embellishments, its changing moods from serene happiness to passionate ecstasy achieved through the interplay of a minimal number of core motifs notably an ever-rising but lilting figure, opening with a dominant-tonic fourth complementary descending sequence; and a short four-note phrase – three descending notes and a rising fifth. All four instruments are fully exploited in fascinating ebb-and-flow relationships. Notes by K. Davis.

Dutilleux: Sonata for solo cello from “3 Strophes sur le nom de Sacher”

Henri Dutilleux is one of the most celebrated French composers of the late twentieth century. following in the footsteps of Ravel and Debussy, but strongly influenced by Bartók and Stravinsky. His output includes two symphonies, concertos and chamber music in a style distinctly his own. This work is part of a group of six pieces commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich from various contemporaries; it celebrated the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher’s birthday in 1976 and consists of a set of variations based on theme constructed from the letters of Sacher’s name SACHER, or, Es (Eb), A, C, H (B), E, and Re (D). In this sonata contributed by Dutilleux for the commission a curious requirement is for the lowest strings of the ’cello to be tuned down: the G string to an F♯ and C string to B♭. 

Gordon Jacob: Four Fancies for flute and string trio 

Folk Dance

Gordon Jacob was born in Upper Norwood, South London, in 1895 and studied at Dulwich College before seeing active service in World War I. He was captured and during his time in prison camp he ran a small orchestra for which he composed and arranged music. After the war, he decided against a career in journalism, and entered the Royal College of Music where he studied with Vaughan Williams among other teachers. “These four miniatures have all the qualities that distinguish Jacob’s music – fresh, tuneful, and written with absolute understanding of the colours and characteristics of the four instruments. They’re what Vaughan-Williams would have called “household music” – pieces of elegant and practical musical craftsmanship, designed to do no more than give pleasure to listener and performer alike” wrote RG Bratby. 

Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68

Recitative and Romance
Thema with variations

Shostakovich’s Second String Quartet was composed in 1944. Perhaps in token of the release from the horrors and terrors of the siege of Leningrad, the mood established by the work’s first movement is one of ebullience and new life. Although Shostakovich called it an overture it is in a clear sonata form, even down to using a repeat of the exposition. The second theme is loud and energetic, like the first, but can be distinguished by its use of dotted rhythms on repeated neighbouring notes. At the development – a lengthy section by comparison, which rises to a big climax – the two themes are calmed down, the first in longer notes with pizzicato accompaniment, the second with dotted notes ironed out of its alternations. The recapitulation is uncomplicated and quite short.

In the next movement it is the first violin which delivers the recitative. The ’cello taking the motive over as a sign that the romance, mainly waltz-like, is at hand. When the recitative recurs at the end it uses the eighteenth-century full-stop formalities. All are muted for the very characteristic fast ghostly waltz which follows, but this does not preclude a hammered and wild climax which seems momentarily to hark back to the first movement (but without changing speed).

There is an introduction to the final variations. The theme is announced by the viola – and for British audiences it may be useful to note that it begins, quite accidentally, with the same rise of that of The Oak and the Ash. The tune is delivered plain in turn by the other three, and then is sometimes varied in rhythm and key without making the music harder to follow. As the variations unwind there are muted violin descants over a fast, thrumming waltz-rhythm, and the work is crowned by a reference back to the introduction and a fortissimo restatement of part of the theme. Notes by I. Keys.

Mozart: String Quartet in C Major, K 465 “Dissonance”

Andante cantabile
Menuetto: Allegro

Dating from 1785, this quartet in C major is the sixth, and last, of the set dedicated to Haydn. It was after hearing these works that Haydn wrote to Mozart’s father, Leopold: “I tell you before God, as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer known to me, either personally or by name”. The quartet sums up the artistic evolution of the set, and it has an instrumental brilliance far exceeding that of its predecessors. It was the opening Adagio – in itself unusual in the quartets – which brought about the name Dissonance. Here chromatic cross relations and an ambiguity of key provide an enigma for it bears no relation to the rest of the movement, as the Allegro bursts out in C major, clearing the air and continuing with lyricism, vigour, and a fittingly Haydnesque vein. Early performers in the 1780s were so perplexed by the ’wrong’ notes that they returned the scores to the publishers to be corrected. Even Haydn expressed shock but finally defended the music saying, “If Mozart wrote it, he must have meant it”. Other defenders have suggested that this was the composer’s way of setting the brilliance of the rest of the movement in bold relief. 

The main theme of the Allegro has a restless, forward momentum. Three repeated notes, taken by the violins, herald the second theme, as tension lessens, and then the steady, buoyant, vigorous drive returns in the development. After all this the coda ends the movement surprisingly quietly. The charming Andante opens with a sustained cantilena of operatic character. The crackling energy of the Minuet, with its mixture of harsh unisons and gentle melodies, looks forward to a Beethoven scherzo. Wit and mischievous good humour mark the final movement as it tumbles through a seemingly unending sequence of happy themes. Notes by J. Dalton.

Kurtág: 12 Microludes for string quartet, Op. 13 “Hommage à Mihály András”

György Kurtág is a contemporary Hungarian Jewish composer in his mid-eighties living in France. He has written much chamber music, a genre in which Kurtág also coaches. This work composed in 1977, and dedicated to the Hungarian musician, composer and conductor Mihály András, consists of twelve short pieces, some just 90 seconds long, both dense and brief, in affectionate homage to the Viennese modernist composer, Anton Webern whose work greatly influenced Kurtág. Kai Christensen wrote “Like a set of tiny Zen koans, each of Kurtág’s twelve microludes exacts the utmost of the modern “sound byte” attention span, or, in the best sense of a twelve-course tasting menu, a delicious series of sound bites. But these are not extracts but complete works in miniature. Micro-moods, micro-gestures, micro-textures, micro-quartets, Kurtág’s compositions explore a wide range of instrumental and ensemble techniques for chamber music that is rarefied indeed. It is difficult, but essential to let each one come and go in a surprisingly vast journey of tiny, vivid experiences. The concentration to grasp every note must be matched by the will to relinquish each impression to prepare a mental tabula rasa for the next.”

Brahms: String Quartet in A Minor, Op.51, No.2

Allegro non troppo
Andante moderato
Quasi minuetto, moderato
allegretto vivace – tempo di minuetto
Finale: allegro non assai 

By the late 1860s Brahms was an established figure in musical circles on the basis of such fine works as his German Requiem, the Alto Rhapsody, his First Piano Concerto and a considerable corpus of chamber music. But he had been reluctant to publish his efforts at writing string quartets and claimed to have destroyed twenty drafts. He felt very much in the shadow of Beethoven and it was not until 1873, under constant pressure from his publisher and the encouragement of musical friends such as Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim, that he allowed the two quartets that comprise his Op.51 to be published. The second quartet was the first to be performed, by Joachim’s quartet.

The set Op. 51 was conceived as a contrasting pair, the tenderness of the second contrasting with the ruggedness of the first. The opening theme makes use of an esoteric motto phrase, the four notes A F A E being apparently a combination of Brahms’ own personal motto – F A F representing frei aber froh (free but happy) and that of his violinist friend Joachim – F A E representing frei aber einsam (free but alone). The motto theme is not only a prominent feature of the first movement but pervades the work and it is one way in which Brahms secures its underlying unity. In the second movement we meet Brahms largely in a lyrical mood, though there is a contrasting episode suggestive of the passionate world of gypsy music. In the third movement, a reflective minuet is contrasted with a bustling trio-like allegretto. The use of drone bass effects seems to some ears to add a rustic quality. The highly energetic final movement is full of syncopation and cross rhythms and brings the work to a cheerful close.  Notes by S. Brown.

Vignieri: Suite Americana for saxophone and string quartet (ACMF Commission)

I Want Jesus to Walk With Me (based on a traditional spiritual) – written for ACMF 2019
God Only Knows (based on Brian Wilson’s song for The Beach Boys) – written for ACMF 2021
Third Movement to be revealed – being written for this year’s festival, world premiere on Sat 23 July
This is the suite being composed, one movement per year for this festival by American composer Tom Vignieri, who now lives nearby. Each year he chooses a theme and so far has created two magical new pieces for the this unusual combination of instruments. The third will be delivered just in time for the musicans to rehearse it for the first performance in Concert #4 on 23 July.

Sérgio O. de Vasconcellos-Correa: Divertimento a Dois for flute and cello

Sérgio Oliveira de Vasconcellos-Correa was born in São Paulo, on July 16, 1934. He initially studied piano at Brazil’s Dramatic and Musical Conservatory of São Paulo, then from 1956 he studied composition under Camargo Guarnieri. Soon he acquired great recognition as a composer in Brazil and abroad, having received more than a dozen prizes in composition, including the prestigious “Prêmio Governador do Estado de São Paulo” for his Concertino for trumpet and orchestra. As a pedagogue, he has been a pioneer in using mass media as a vehicle for music education in Brazil, and founded the Academia Paulista de Música, of which he is president, promoting Brazilian music. Currently, he teaches harmony, counterpoint, and composition at the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP).This work was written in 1972.

Mozart: Flute Quartet in A Major, K.298

Rondeaux: Allegretto grazioso

Supposedly, Mozart was not enamoured with the flute as a solo instrument but he could never be less than professional and we find many idiomatic touches in his four flute quartets. Written in 1786 or 1787, the A major is a much later work than the first three. Throughout Mozart has based his music on themes by other composers, thus giving credence to the suggestion that the quartet is a light-hearted parody on the rather perfunctory works based on popular airs current at the time. The opening Andantino is a set of variations on a song by Hoffmeister, set to Becker’s poem An die Natur (To Nature), and the Menuetto is based on an old French song, Il a des bottes, des bottes Bastien (He has some boots, has Bastien). The final movement takes as its theme an aria from Paisiello’s opera Le gare generose (The Generous Rivals), first performed at the time this quartet was written.  Mozart’s heading to this last movement leaves us in no doubt as to his humorous intent – “Rondo-meow/Allegretto grazioso but not too presto, but not too adagio, either. So-so – with much charm and expression.”

Notes by J. Dalton.

Arvo Pärt: Psalom for string quartet

Psalom was composed as two-part music without specific instrumentation in 1985. Arvo Pärt revisited the music in 1991, when the music publisher Universal Edition commissioned him to write piece for string quartet for the upcoming 90th birthday of its long-time director, Alfred Schlee. The quartet version was premiered by Arditti Quartet on November 1991 at the Konzerthaus Vienna at Schlee’s 90th birthday concert as part of the Wien Modern festival. The work is based on Psalm 112 (113) in Church Slavonic, which, like many other of Pärt’s instrumental pieces, precisely determines the course of music. The nine verses of the psalm are inscribed into music following strict tintinnabuli rules and composed as melodic sentences that are separated from one another by grand pauses, starting silently and fading into silence again. The melody is based on the tone row E-F-G#-A-B-C-D. The composer himself has described the musical material as follows: “The focus is on two elements – stressed and unstressed syllables. They have been given a musical value. The unstressed syllables have been assigned a one-voice melody line, while the stressed syllables are always marked with a third. These two elements exist regardless of the meaning of the word.” Notes from

Andrzej Panufnik: Hommage a Chopin for flute and string quartet

Initially composed by Polish composer Panufnik for soprano and piano in 1949, this work was commissioned by UNESCO to mark the hundred year anniversary of Chopin’s death.  Panufnik reworked it for flute and string quartet in 1966. He wrote “As the only Pole to receive this invitation, of course I accepted. I decided to pay my tribute to Chopin not by making use of his themes or his style of piano writing, but rather by attempting to go deep into his roots, drawing on his love of the rustic melodies and rhythms which inspired him throughout his life. Thus I made use of folk music from Mazowia, the central part of Poland where Chopin was born, and, finding words an encumbrance, I wrote five vocalises for soprano and piano, interweaving the melodies between the two performers. The work is designed symmetrically, both in metre and tempo.”

Prokofiev: Sonata for solo violin in D Major, Op. 115

Tema con variazioni
Con Brio
Allegro precipitato

Prokofiev contributed to the standard classical repertoire more new music than any other composer of his time, and was universally acknowledged as one of the rare twentieth-century composers with a genuine sense of fun.  He studied in St. Petersburg under Rimsky-Korsakov, but after the Russian revolution lived in the United States and then Paris, becoming reconciled with the new Russia only gradually and not returning to live there until the 1930s.  When the country was invaded in 1941, a group of leading artists and musicians including Prokofiev was evacuated from Moscow.  During this period he turned increasingly to instrumental music, and particularly chamber works: both the accompanied violin sonatas date from the 1940s.  In 1943 he returned to Moscow, but shortly before the end of the war was concussed in an accidental fall that drastically affected his health for the rest of his life.  During 1946 his illness became increasingly severe and he made the decision to move out to a large country house in a picturesque forest hamlet.

There in 1947 he composed the Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin or Violins, prompted by the practice of groups of Soviet violinists playing in unison the works of Bach, Handel and other composers.  These groups of twenty or thirty young artists performed at special concerts on festive occasions at the Bolshoi Theatre, and from this Prokofiev derived the idea of writing an equivalent contemporary piece.  The unaccompanied sonata displays the compositional traits that we now associate with his mature style, with concentration on melodic lines strong enough to stand without complex harmonic support.  While many aspects of the work suggest the Viennese classical tradition, the novel tonal digressions and inventive use of dance themes are Prokofiev’s own.

Particularly striking are the mischievous second theme of the first movement, with its accordion-like refrain; the bright, flowing Russian theme of the variations in the second movement; and the bravura main theme of the finale, in mazurka rhythm, with sharp accents and brilliant leaps in double stops.  Although the sonata is now a successful solo item for certain violinists, Prokofiev had envisaged it mainly as a group piece, thinking that few artists would have the breadth of tone to carry it off alone.

Notes D. Rolfe.