leave a comment

The Tetzlaff Quartet is one of today's most compelling ensembles, amazing audiences with its "dazzling palette of sounds" (The Washington Post). Guided by violinist Christian Tetzlaff's artistry and insight, the Quartet presents a Viennese program, including Schubert's final quartet, a work of profound depth.

“…the Tetzlaff alternated refinement and aggression in dramatic, energetic playing of clean intensity.” —The New York Times

Please note that this concert will take place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  Learn more here.


    Tetzlaff Quartet

    Christian Tetzlaff, violin
    Elisabeth Kufferath, violin
    Hanna Weinmeister, viola
    Tanja Tetzlaff, cello

    Praised by The New York Times for its “dramatic, energetic playing of clean intensity”, the Tetzlaff Quartet is one of today’s leading string quartets. Alongside their successful individual careers, Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff, Hanna Weinmeister and Elisabeth Kufferath have met since 1994 to perform several times each season in concerts that regularly receive great critical acclaim.

    The 2016-17 season sees the quartet perform in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Leipzig, Aachen, Lörrach, Amsterdam, Bern, Gent and Wimbledon as well as at the Festival Heidelberger Frühling.

    They are frequent guests at international festivals such as the Berliner Festwochen, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and Bremen Musikfest. Other recent highlights include performances at Kölner Philharmonie, Konzerthaus Berlin and Paris’ Auditorium du Louvre, as well as a North America tour with concerts at Carnegie Hall, in San Francisco and Vancouver. The quartet has also performed at Brussels’ BOZAR, Wiener Musikverein, Herkulessaal München, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

    The quartet’s first recording, unusually pairing Schoenberg's String Quartet No.1 with Sibelius’ Voces intimae, was released by Cavi in 2010, while a recording of Berg’s Lyric Suite and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No.2 was released in November 2014 and was an Editor’s Choice of Gramophone Magazine. 

    "They produce a dazzling palette of sounds, roaring like a full symphony or whispering at near-inaudibility " —The Washington Post

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quartet in E-flat major, K.428

View Notes

Mozart’s legendary virtuosity on the piano is amply attested. Less well known is his additional talent as a child prodigy on the violin, the instrument on which his father built his reputation. (The author of a famous textbook on violin playing, Leopold Mozart was a violinist in the orchestra of Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg.) Young Wolfgang seems to have learned his way around the violin by a kind of osmosis. A family friend told of playing string trios with the untutored seven-year-old wunderkind. They started out doubling the second-violin part, but the older man “soon noticed with astonishment that [he] was quite superfluous” and bowed out. Relishing his moment in the sun, Wolfgang decided to try his hand at the first-violin part. “For a joke we made the experiment,” the friend recalled, “and we almost died for laughter when he played this too, though with nothing but wrong and irregular positioning, in such a way that he never actually broke down.”

Leopold, ambitious and domineering, frequently berated his son for neglecting the violin. Yet by age thirteen Wolfgang was playing alongside his father in the court orchestra; three years later he was promoted to concertmaster. As a young man, he often performed on the violin in public. But despite his brash self-confidence—in one of his cockier moments he boasted that he was equal to “the finest fiddler in all Europe”—Mozart never felt as comfortable playing string instruments as he did the keyboard. Over time he seems to have given up practicing altogether and took his violin out only in the privacy of domestic chamber music sessions. The Irish tenor Michael Kelly attended a memorable quartet party in Vienna at which Mozart played viola to Joseph Haydn’s first violin. He judged that “the players were tolerable,” although “not one of them excelled on the instrument he played.” Even so, Kelly added, “a greater treat, or a more remarkable one, cannot be imagined.”

Mozart wrote the first of his twenty-seven string quartets in 1770, at the tender age of fourteen. By the early 1780s, he had completed his informal apprenticeship in quartet writing under Haydn. If the elder composer had brought the Classical quartet genre to full maturity, the younger one invested it with unprecedented emotional depth and musical complexity. Nowhere are these qualities more apparent than in the six quartets composed between late 1782 and early 1785, known collectively as the “Haydn” Quartets. In dedicating the set to his esteemed mentor, Mozart reciprocated the magnanimous gesture Haydn had made several months earlier when he famously proclaimed to Leopold Mozart that his son was “the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.”

Completed in 1783, K. 428 is the third of the “Haydn” Quartets. In presenting the published set to Haydn two years later, Mozart called it “the fruit of long and laborious study,” a statement borne out by the unusually large number of preparatory sketches he made for the works. Needless to say, however, these highly polished masterpieces betray no traces of these labors. One contemporary chided Mozart for seeking novelty at the expense of conventional feeling; the six quartets, this reviewer complained, were “too highly seasoned—and whose palate can endure this for long?” Evidently, the public’s taste was more adventurous: The “Haydn” Quartets were so enthusiastically received in Austria and elsewhere that they had to be reprinted several times to meet the demand. Mozart’s music looks both backward and forward, paying homage to Haydn’s Classical poise and wit even as it anticipates the more overtly dramatic quartets of Beethoven and Schubert.

The opening Allegro ma non troppo sets the tone for the entire work in its cheeky chromaticism: after an octave leap, the unison melody falls to A natural instead of the expected A-flat—a dissonance that would have been considerably more shocking to eighteenth-century ears than it is to ours—then slithers up by half-steps before falling and rising again. This pleasurably unsettling frisson is reinforced by the shifting tonalities and staggered phrases at the beginning of the first movement’s development section. The Andante con moto starts out more conventionally, with sustained chords in the upper voices set against the cello’s “walking” triplets; but the mood is soon darkened by stabbing accents and further unprepared dissonances. The playful Menuetto is characterized by emphatic upbeats and hurdy-gurdy-like drones, an effect echoed in the minor-key Trio section. Mozart has more tricks up his sleeve in the zesty finale, whose stuttering theme keeps popping to the surface, in rondo fashion, amid the swirling freshets of invention.  

—Harry Haskell, © 2017

Alban Berg (1885-1935)

String Quartet, Op. 3

View Notes

A disciple of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg was the most Romantic of the Viennese modernists—“the Puccini of twelve-note music,” as he was dubbed (not altogether flatteringly) by some of his contemporaries. Schoenberg saw a reflection of himself in his prize pupil. “Alban,” he wrote, “had a burning desire to express himself no longer in the classical forms, harmonies, and melodic forms and their proper schemata of accompaniment, but in a manner in accordance with the times, and with his own personality.” Berg’s music, both freely atonal and twelve-tone, stands out for its warm-blooded sensuality and rhapsodic lyricism. The rich vein of expression that he mined in such works as the Lyric Suite and the operas Wozzeck and Lulu have made them popular even with listeners who shy away from “modern” music.

Berg’s first string quartet dates from 1910, the year that marked his “graduation” from Schoenberg’s composition class. (His second quartet, the Lyric Suite, followed in the mid-1920s.) Op. 3 is at once an affectionate homage to his revered “master and friend” and a declaration of artistic independence. As with Schoenberg’s own music, much of the Quartet’s concentrated intensity is due to Berg’s economical method of construction: the entire work is based on a few short rhythmic and melodic motives that are stated and restated, varied, elaborated, and combined in a wonderful example of what Schoenberg would later call “developing variation.” Indeed, the musical structure is so clearly delineated, with ear-catching melodies and periodic resting points, that the listener almost doesn’t notice the absence of traditional key relationships and other familiar tonal landmarks. Although the Quartet’s two movements contrast sharply in form and character—the first is lyrical and contemplative, the second extroverted and excitable—recurrent gestures and patterns provide a sense of organic unity and shapeliness that place it among Berg’s most accessible compositions.     

Schoenberg praised his pupil’s work effusively, writing that it “surprised me in the most unbelievable way by the fullness and unconstraint of its musical language, the strength and sureness of its presentation, its careful working and significant originality.” Berg, while freely acknowledging his debt to Schoenberg, credited his wife Helene with being the primary inspiration for the Quartet. Their courtship coincided with the work’s gestation, and its Vienna premiere took place a few days before their wedding in 1911. Unfortunately, the first performance of the challenging score, by a poorly prepared amateur ensemble, was something of a disaster. This may explain why the Quartet was not published until 1920, and then only at Berg’s own expense. Belated satisfaction came three years later, when the distinguished Havemann Quartet played it at a major contemporary music festival in Salzburg on a program with works by Schoenberg and Bartók. “When I saw they knew my Quartet by heart, felt it themselves as genuine music, and performed it with all that feeling—my heart opened to them,” Berg enthused.

This time the performance was exemplary. In a euphoric letter to Helene written the following day, Berg declared that “it was, artistically, the most wonderful evening of my life, and I am full of sorrow that you couldn’t experience it, you who have spent at my side so many sad decades artistically, you who are just as concerned in the Quartet as I am myself, you to whom it completely belongs.” The performers, he reported, “played with indescribable beauty, and I can tell you, though only you, that despite my great excitement . . . I reveled in the lovely sounds, the solemn sweetness and ecstasy of the music. You can’t imagine it by what you’ve heard so far. The ‘wildest’ and ‘most daring’ passages were sheer harmony in the classical sense. The first movement ended in an elevated atmosphere; complete stillness in the audience, a short breath for the players, and it went on. At the end there was almost frantic general applause. The quartet themselves came back twice, and kept looking for me in the audience. The third time I was called for, stepped onto the platform quite by myself, and was received with terrific enthusiasm by the whole audience—not one sound of booing. The applause continued, and once more the five of us went up onto the platform.

“Quite an important success for Salzburg and for such a small work of chamber music,” Berg crowed. “The rest of the program, surprisingly, rather fell off in comparison. General opinion was that I carried off the prize that night.” Indeed, the Salzburg concert was an important turning point in the composer’s career, leading to performances of his music all over Europe.

—Harry Haskell, © 2017

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet in G major, D. 887

View Notes

Schubert’s youthful appetite for chamber music was whetted by the happy circumstance of having a family string quartet under his own roof in Vienna. His brother Ferdinand recalled the “uncommon pleasure” of playing first violin to young Franz’s viola during school holidays, with their brother Ignaz and their father rounding out the foursome. There was, it seems, no standing on seniority in the Schubert household. According to Ferdinand, “Whenever a mistake was made, were it never so small, [Franz] would look the guilty one in the face, either seriously or sometimes with a smile; if Papa, who played the cello, was in the wrong, he would say nothing at first, but if the mistake was repeated, he would say quite shyly and smilingly: ‘Sir, there must be a mistake somewhere!,’ and our good father would gladly be taught by him.”

The comparatively modest demands made by the dozen or so string quartets that Schubert wrote in his teenage years presumably strained neither his father’s instrumental technique nor domestic harmony. But when Schubert returned to the quartet medium in December 1820, after a hiatus of roughly four years, his musical language had evolved far beyond the capacities of the average amateur musician. Indeed, he himself seems to have been somewhat overwhelmed by his newfound range and dramatic power. After completing the first movement of a quartet in C minor and drafting some forty bars of a slow movement, he either set the score aside or abandoned it. Unpublished for more than four decades after the composer’s death, the so-called Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) has remained a tantalizing torso.

In any case, by the time he reached his late 20s, Schubert had moved far beyond the prodigious facility of his teenage years. Toward the end of his short life, he became fixated on the idea of writing a “grand symphony” on the scale of Beethoven’s Ninth. Although that project never got off the drawing board, Schubert hinted at its epic nature in the three great string quartets that he produced between 1824 and 1826. The G-major Quartet, like its two predecessors—D. 804 in A minor (“Rosamunde”) and D. 810 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”) —is a work of majestic proportions, elaborate thematic development, and great emotional complexity. Schubert's capacity for work and concentrated inspiration remained undiminished in spite of the deteriorating health, debilitating bouts of depression, and financial worries that had plagued him since he contracted syphilis in late 1822.

The last of Schubert’s fifteen string quartets, D. 887 is also arguably the greatest. In its grandiose scale and intensity of expression, the G-major Quartet stands in the rarefied company of Beethoven’s late-period quartets. Regrettably, most of Schubert’s contemporaries found the work too challenging—or perhaps simply too exhausting—for their taste. The composer had no success in finding a publisher, and only the first of the four movements was performed in public during his lifetime. Not until 1850, nearly a quarter-century after it was composed, did this late masterpiece receive its long-overdue premiere. Clocking in at nearly forty-five minutes (closer to an hour, if the conventional repeat of the first-movement exposition section is observed), the G-major Quartet demands considerable stamina on the part of both listeners and players. To modern ears, however, the music is hardly “difficult” in the same sense as, say, Beethoven’s knotty Op. 131, also written in 1826. Schubert’s seemingly bottomless fund of melody and the supple piquancy of his harmonies never fail to leave one hankering for more.

It is true that a tendency to latch onto a musical idea and repeat it at “heavenly length,” with only subtle variations, was one of Schubert’s shortcomings as a composer of large-scale works. Yet his ideas are so inspired that they rarely become stale with repetition. In the Allegro molto moderato, for example, the jaunty dotted rhythms of the opening bars are seamlessly absorbed into the first violin’s gently insistent tune, wafted above the shimmering tremolos in the lower voices. Fluid oscillation between major and minor modes—one of Schubert’s stylistic trademarks—enhances the sense of drama and tension within a fundamentally lyrical framework. The slow movement, with its plangent E-minor theme introduced by the cello, is even more intensely dramatic. After a helter-skelter Scherzo, with a waltz-like Trio section inserted by way of contrast, the Quartet culminates in a brilliant finale characterized by nervously propulsive triplet rhythms.

—Harry Haskell, © 2017

Program Subject to Change Without Notice