Sunday 20 September 7.30pm
Venue: National Centre for Early Music
Ludwig van Beethoven - String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29
Antonín Dvořak - String Quintet in E Flat Major, Op. 97
Simon Blendiss and Charlotte Scott violins
Matthew Jones and Jon Thorne violas Tim Lowe cello
In his early thirties despite the support of wealthy patrons Beethoven was deeply troubled. By 1801 he was aware that there was no treatment for his failing hearing and his love-life was in tatters when Countess Giulietta Guicciardi declined to marry below her social status. There is no trace of this anguish in this bubbling, attractive quintet. It is a large-scale work using his knowledge of string playing honed writing his string trios and quartets. Like Mozart’s quintets it has a rich sonority due to the addition of a second viola. He had met Mozart fifteen years earlier at a time when he was finishing his own string quintet, so it seems likely that Beethoven used Mozart’s quintet as a model (same instruments, same key).
But apart from the Mozartian slow movement with an unusual depth of feeling this quintet has a voice of its own, or rather voices. The finale inspired the quintet’s nickname, the Storm and includes a dramatic fugato (“little fugue”) with the lower strings on full throttle. We are hearing the seeds of the fifth and sixth symphonies and in the breadth of the first movement clear signposts towards the first ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet, Op 59 No.1 and the Archduke Trio. The string quintet is a key work because it marks the transition out of Beethoven’s so called ‘early period’ and is the harbinger of the thirty-year old composer’s imagination already on a different planet as yet unknown and unheard.
Dvorak took up the post of the Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York in 1892. The following summer he was persuaded by his secretary Jan Josef Kovařík to take holiday in Spillville. The town boasted a large Czech community, and further inducements to Dvořák was the promise of going on the Chicago Express. Dvořák was a keen train spotter! Arriving with his family in Spillville he found it an idyllic setting and soon set to work on a new string quartet, rapidly followed by a quintet. He cherished his time in the countryside of Iowa which reminded him of his native Bohemian landscape. Spillville inspired an outpouring of music, in this case some of Dvořák’s sunniest and most bucolic; a state of contentment that is beyond national identities. Beethoven’s use of the added viola to a string quartet would probably not been too far from his mind. A suitable synergy for our festival and a joyful conclusion.
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