CDE84560 Leoš Janácek String Quartets 1&2

String Quartets 1&2

String Quartets 1&2

Product Description

Leo Jancek
String Quartets 1&2
Dante Quartet

Violin Sonata
Krysia Osostowicz - violin
Ferenc Rados - piano

Sound Sample
The Czech composer Leoš Janácek was born in 1854, one of fourteen children of an impoverished but musical schoolmaster in the Moravian village of Hukvaldy. A renowned teacher, folklorist and music theorist, he did not achieve substantial recognition as a composer until his sixties. His creative output was most fruitful in the last fifteen years of his life (Janácek died in 1928), and works from this time include his most celebrated operas, as well as his string quartets and violin sonata.

As a person, Janácek was difficult, tender, and extreme, while possessing immense energy and an overwhelming capacity for love. All of these characteristics pervade his music. He was adamant that a composer should deal not only with ‘mere beauty’ but also seek ‘truth’. For him, music ‘which seeks only an acoustic quality’ or ‘which depends just on notes and ignores man and his surroundings’, was stagnant and useless. ‘If I grow at all, it is only out of folk music, out of human speech,’ he stated, and these two elements are the main inspirations for his own, distinctive, musical language.

While his Czech predecessors Dvorak and Smetana had been drawn to Western Moravian folk music, Janácek collected folk songs (‘my constant love’) from Eastern Moravia, whose rhythms and melodies were closer in style to those of Hungary and Romania and further from the German- dominated tradition of Western classical music. The development of his own style was greatly influenced by these non-western elements, particularly the modal harmonies and use of ostinato rhythms to build up a texture.

Fiercely patriotic, another of Janácek’s rebellions against the influence of Germanic culture in his home country was his obsession with the Czech language. In countless notebooks he wrote down ‘speech melodies’, precise notations of the pitch and rhythmic structure of spoken phrases. These were, he believed, ‘windows into people’s soul’, and formed a source for much of the melodic material of his composition. He recorded the speech melodies of Smetana’s daughter in order to come closer to the spirit of the composer, and even transcribed the words of his own beloved daughter as she lay dying. ‘Speech melody is joined together with the contents of our consciousness… it is moulded together with the reflection of the speaker’s inner life, and the reflection of the environment in which it is spoken,’ he stated. It is not surprising, therefore, that vocal music - particularly opera - lies at the heart of Janácek’s output, and that the motivic patterns of speech and song also influenced his instrumental works.

Janácek began work on his violin sonata in 1914 “at the beginning of the war, when we were expecting the Russians to invade Moravia”, an event he hoped would liberate the Czech people from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The sonata was not completed until 1921 and in the intervening seven years the first movement was much altered, the third movement completely re-written, and the order of the movements changed.

The single movement Allegro of 1916, recorded for the first time on this disc, was originally a sketch for the last movement of the violin sonata but eventually formed the basis for the third movement. In this Allegro we see Janácek exploring the multiple possibilities of two thematic ideas which would later come to fruition in the completed sonata. The same melodic and rhythmic contours are subjected to changes of tempo, articulation, harmony and texture which transform their character, just as the meaning of a spoken phrase can be transformed depending on how it is said.

The wide variety of expression produced from such a small amount of material is typical of much of Janácek’s music. Throughout the violin sonata, the mood changes frequently, even from bar to bar. However, an overall sense of suspense - reflecting its conception during the First World War - pervades the work. Janácek stated that while writing it he ‘almost heard the clanging of sharp steel in my troubled mind,’ and he wanted the high piano tremolo near the end of the last movement to sound agitated because it represented the Russian armies entering Hungary. The tension is expressed by the charged relationship between the two instruments, which sometimes goad each other on, sometimes contradict one another. The first movement opens with a sustained violin melody accompanied on the piano by a dissonant, tremolo-like rhythm. The roles are reversed for much of the third movement - where the violin’s accented falling motif interjects and disrupts the dance-like piano theme - and the fourth, where the violin is marked ‘ferocious’ in answer to the piano’s lyrical gestures. Only in the expansive melodies of the delicate and tender Ballada do the two instruments complement each other.

In 1917, part way through completing the violin sonata, Janácek met and fell in love with Kamila Stösslová. She provided the inspiration for the intense creativity of his later years, which included the great operas Katya Kabanova, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Makropoulos Case. Despite Kamila’s cool response to his ardour - she was thirty-eight years his junior and happily married with two children - Janácek wrote her over 600 letters, which later gave rise to the title of the second string quartet, Intimate Letters.

Janácek’s first quartet, written in just eight days during October 1923, also explores the many sides of a romantic relationship, although in this case, ‘what I had in mind was the suffering of a woman, beaten and tortured to death.’ This quartet - one of many of Janácek’s works inspired by Russian literature - is based on Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata, which tells the story of a jealous husband who murders his wife because he suspects her of having an affair. In it, Tolstoy condemns the institution of marriage and woman’s position in society, rails against the dangers of passions excited by listening to music - with reference to Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata - and suggests celibacy as the only possible moral solution. Janácek subverts Tolstoy’s message by taking the side of the woman, emphasising the psychological journey rather than the precise details of the plot.

The first movement, which has an oppressive and sometimes aggressive atmosphere, juxtaposes a tragic sigh of despair and foreboding with a spiteful tune, marked in the second half to be played ‘sharply’. The second combines a polka-like motif that has been said to represent ‘the foppish seducer’ with a pleading melody depicting the woman’s first declaration of love. The third movement opens with a quotation from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and contrasts the warmth of love with the violence of jealousy, a conflict also apparent in the finale. As in every movement of this quartet, after a wild and terrible climax the last movement ends softly. Rather than aggression and violence, one is left with an overwhelming sense of human tragedy.

Since its first performance on 17th October 1924, there have been various editions of this quartet that contain not only different tempo markings and dynamics but also some discrepancies of notes. Between hearing the piece first performed by the Bohemian Quartet and working on it with the Moravian Quartet, Janácek himself changed his mind about many details. The music is somehow too alive to allow for a strictly definitive reading. The Dante Quartet have studied both main editions of the work and where there were differences chose purely on the grounds of what they felt most effectively expressed the essence of the music.

While Janácek’s first string quartet is tragic, his second, though equally intense, is more joyful. Again written with feverish haste in the course of ten days in February 1928, just six months before the composer’s death, its original title was to be Love Letters. Janácek at first intended to replace the viola in the quartet with a viola d’amore: ‘A special instrument will particularly hold the whole thing together. It’s called the viola d’amore - the viola of love. Oh how I’m looking forward to it! In that work I’ll be always only with you! You know, don’t you, that I know no world other than you!’ Eventually he realised that the sound of the viola d’amore was too weak, and abandoned its use. Nonetheless, the viola retains a prominent part throughout the quartet, often making the first statement of important themes.

Although not particularly long, this work is huge in scale, as exemplified by the first movement which opens with an impassioned fortissimo melody - ‘the impression when I saw you for the first time!’- juxtaposed immediately with the eerie sound of a solo instrument playing sul ponticello. These two opening ideas form the basis of the entire movement. The second movement again illustrates Janácek’s exploratory use of material, spending three and a half minutes on transforming one two-bar motif before moving into an animated dance-like section. The third movement is dominated by a rocking, berceuse-like theme, representing Janácek’s fantasy of Kamila as mother of his child. The fourth, framed by a stamping rustic dance, is extremely wide-ranging in its use of different string sounds - ponticello, trills, huge intervals, tremolo, pizzicato - expressing an enormous variety of emotions. Janácek refused to accept any limits, either to an individual’s technique, the possibilities of the string quartet medium, or the force of his own passions. ‘You know,’ he told Kamila, ‘sometimes feelings on their own are so strong and powerful that the notes hide under them and escape…a great love can deliver a weak composition…but I want it to be a great love - a great composition.’ Intimate Letters remains one of the most extraordinary and intense pieces in the whole quartet repertoire.

Daisy Gathorne-Hardy

Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Chamber Music in 2007, the Dante Quartet is known for the emotional intensity of its performances, and combines imaginative programming with a keen dedication to the core repertoire. The quartet was founded in 1995 on friendships made at the International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove, Cornwall, and chose the name of Dante to reflect the idea of a great and challenging journey.

The Dante Quartet plays at the major concert halls, music societies and festivals throughout the UK - including Wigmore Hall, Aldeburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Spitalfields and City of London Festival - broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 and has also performed in France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Poland and Finland.

In 2001 the Dante Quartet won critical acclaim for its recording of Edmund Rubbra’s quartets. Other recordings include romantic Russian works by Lyapunov and Gretchaninov (Dutton Epoch), a collection of English works for string quartet and tenor with Andrew Kennedy (Signum Records) and in 2008, the quartets of Franck and Faure for Hyperion.

In 2004 the quartet inaugurated its own annual Dante Summer Music Festival in Cornwall, a thriving and eclectic event where quartet concerts in barns and churches alternate with folk music, dancing, art exhibitions and children’s workshops.

The Dante Quartet enjoys a special association with King’s College, Cambridge, where it collaborates with the renowned King’s College Choir, gives masterclasses and attracts new audiences to quartet concerts combining music with poetry.

Several new commissions for the Dante Quartet are under way in connection with the quartet’s “Divine Comedy Project”, an invitation to composers to write pieces of music inspired by various aspects of Dante’s epic trilogy.

Ferenc Rados was born in 1934 in Budapest, and taught piano and chamber music for many years at the Franz Liszt Academy. He is widely respected as both teacher and musician, and his collaboration with Krysia Osostowicz arose from their acquaintance at the International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove.

String Quartets 1&2