Arnold Schönberg String Quartet No. 2 in F Sharp Minor for Soprano and String Quartet
Béla Bartók String Quartet No. 3
Leoš Janáček Quartet inspired by L.N. Tolstoy “Kreutzer Sonata“
This afternoon concert in the recently reconstructed Löw-Beer Villa is dedicated to composers who were active in the countries of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and its successor states. The concert programme shows the varied as well as similar approaches to musical composition that existed in those countries at the time, and also how they influenced one another. All this will be presented by the excellent Škampa Quartet.
Austria is represented by String Quartet No. 2 in F sharp minor for soprano and string quartet by Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951), a composer who in many ways determined the direction of music in the 20th century. The second string quartet is a remarkable piece which was highly novel in 1907. Not only does it feature a soprano part in the last two movements, it also utilises what were then new, previously unknown harmonic relationships that slowly but surely drift away from traditional tonality. The composition, though still tonally anchored in places, offers remarkable sequences of chords that sound as if they’re from “different planets”, as it says in one of the poems by Stefan George which the piece expresses in music, Rapture. It is worth mentioning that this quartet also influenced Brno’s composers – after its performance in 1925, Václav Kaprál and Vilém Petrželka also composed string quartets with a soprano solo.
Hungary is represented by the famous Béla Bartók (1881–1945), who was seven years younger than Schönberg and inspired, as was Janáček, by folk music. His work exhibits a completely innovative approach to modality and instrumentation. String Quartet No. 3 was created in September 1927 in Budapest, and even though it is Bartók´s shortest quartet, it is a serious work in the spirit of the Second Viennese School. And no wonder, as the author wrote it after enjoying the Lyric Suite by Alban Berg. In the four-movement composition, played without a break, he makes use of new harmonic procedures as well as references to Hungarian folk music. Just like Janáček, he also experiments with playing techniques.
Even though Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) was one generation older than Schönberg and Bartók, he stands in one line with these authors as a leading figure of 20th century music. His Quartet inspired by L.N. Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata” was created in 1923. However, the genesis of the composition lies way back in 1908, when Janáček composed the Piano Trio, a work inspired by the same novel by Tolstoy but now lost. Janáček used musical material from the Trio when later composing his first string quartet. He dedicated it to the famous Czech Quartet, which also gave the work its premiere performance on 17th October 1924. The author, who was seventy at that time, had great success with this work. For instance, in 1925 it was performed at the International Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) in Venice.