As the musical world prepares to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth, the Calidore String Quartet, University of Delaware's quartet-in-residence, joins in the celebration by presenting the complete string quartets of the great master, over six concerts this coming season, at Gore Recital in the Roselle Center for the Arts:
- Sunday, September 22, 3:00 p.m.
- Thursday, October 10, 8:00 p.m. Friday, February 21, 8:00 p.m.
- Friday, March 6, 8:00 p.m.
- Friday, April 17, 8:00 p.m.
- Saturday, May 9, 8:00 p.m.
Beethoven, born in Bonn, Germany in 1770, remains a household name for good reason. Groomed as a pianist, he moved to the musical center of Vienna as a young man to learn composition from his idol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sadly, Mozart passed away right before Beethoven arrived, so the young man studied with the elder statesman of Vienna, Josef Haydn. While that relationship was turbulent and short-lived, it helped Beethoven make his mark in his new town. Shortly before he turned 30, he began to suffer from hearing loss, and over the intervening years he turned away from performing and more toward composition. His 16 works for string quartet, a form brought to popularity by his mentor Haydn, are still seen as momentous and groundbreaking compositions, stretching the limits of what was possible for this combination of instruments.
Like other genres of Beethoven's music, the string quartets are identified as members of the early, middle and late periods of his compositional career. In the six early quartets of his Op. 18 set, the influence of Mozart and Haydn is clear, and these quartets are Classical in nature: shorter works with greater clarity of form, harmony and texture. But even in these early pieces (published in 1801), one can hear the seeds of what Beethoven ultimately became: a trailblazer who brought in a new era of an expanded compositional language. Embedded in otherwise "polite" music of the early quartets are flashes of more overt emotion, greater dissonance, and a biting, incisive rhythmic character that became the composer's hallmark.
As with his symphonies and piano sonatas of the same time, the string quartets of the middle period were revolutionary. In general, the five middle quartets are notably longer (one as long as 40 minutes), with greater expanse of harmonic language and technical demand for all four players. The first three quartets of this period are nicknamed "Rasumovsky," the name of the Russian oligarch for whom they were written, and in honor of his patron, Beethoven presents a "Thème Russe," or Russian theme, in each of the three works.
The late quartets, written in Beethoven's final years, enter an entirely different realm of composition. Building on the massive length and expanding tonal palette of the middle quartet, the late quartets also delve into a deeper, and more abstract, expression of emotion. At this point in his life, Beethoven's hearing was essentially entirely gone, and his increasing social isolation led him to an even greater degree of musical experimentation. This music still sounds somewhat modern, even 200 years later, and is generally seen as some of the most inward and profound music of Beethoven's life, indeed of the entire 19th century.
Performance of the "cycle" of the 16 Beethoven quartets is a goal and accomplishment for most professional string quartets, and the 2019-20 season marks the inaugural cycle for the Calidore String Quartet. They have performed Beethoven's quartets before, but never as the entire body of work performed in one season.
"Performing the Beethoven Quartet Cycle is the most ambitious and rewarding artistic goal that we've shared over the past decade of performing together," says Calidore Quartet second violinist, Ryan Meehan. "It's is the musical equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. We can think of no greater audience to join us on this journey than our UD family!"
The quartets will be presented over six concerts, mixing works from the three compositional periods in each concert. The opening concert of the cycle, on September 22, will feature the first quartet of the last period (Op. 127, in E-flat Major), the first published quartet of the early period (Op. 18, No. 1, in F Major), and the spirited and innovative third "Rasumovsky" Quartet (Op. 59, No. 3, in C Major).
The second concert of the 6-part series, on October 10, offers the good-natured second early quartet (Op. 18, No. 2 in G Major) and the monumental C-sharp Minor Quartet, Op. 131 (apparently Beethoven's personal favorite of all of them), and includes the Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, of Johannes Brahms, with guest artist, Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov. A pairing of Beethoven quartets with Brahms is a natural one; the great Romantic composer revered the music of Beethoven, and was frequently regarded in his lifetime as the next standard bearer of German composition. His Piano Quintet is one of the true hallmarks of chamber music, a substantial work of great passion and beauty.
"Pavel Kolesnikov is a brilliant and poetic pianist," added Calidore cellist Estelle Choi. "We're thrilled to have him join us in October for the electrifying Brahms Quintet."
The Calidore String Quartet, already a favorite among University of Delaware audiences and students, begins its first official year as quartet-in-residence at UD. Recipients of the 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Calidores enjoy an active touring career, performing internationally (including recent performances in the United Kingdom at the BBC Proms and at Wigmore Hall) and at the most prominent concert halls across the United States. Concert highlights this season include a world premiere of a new work by Anna Clyne at New York's Lincoln Center, a debut at Washington's Strathmore Arts Center, appearances on concert series in Boston, San Francisco, and Kansas City, and a European tour.
In addition to the Beethoven cycle at UD, they will be working extensively with string students and chamber ensembles in the Department of Music. Their work augments the work done by UD's string faculty, and prepares students for performances of major chamber music repertoire every semester. "We're incredibly grateful for the work the Calidore Quartet does for us here at UD," says UD associate professor of violin and chamber music coordinator, Guillaume Combet. "We appreciate the excellent guidance they give our students, and their spirit is infectious when they're here."
For more information about the Calidore String Quartet, visit their website at www.calidorestringquartet.com, and visit music.udel.edu to see the many offerings available throughout the year in the Department of Music.