Classical Weekend 2019
We’re delighted to be performing as part of the Classical Weekend 2019, in which the city of Sheffield will come alive with music in nine different venues. Our concert is on Saturday 9th March at 3:15pm in Channing Hall.
Haydn – String Quartet in B minor op.33 no.1
Haydn’s set of six quartets opus 33 was composed in 1781. The works were dedicated to Grand Duke Paul of Russia (later Emperor Paul I) who at the time was travelling through Western Europe. The quartets are thought to have been premiered on Christmas Day in Vienna in the Duke’s wife’s apartment. These were the first quartets Haydn had composed since his opus 20 set in 1772, and he declared that they were ‘written in a completely new and special way as I haven’t composed any for ten years’.
Opus 33 no. 1 is in B minor, a key rarely used by Haydn. The opening is somewhat deceiving, as the music tries to establish itself in the relative major before settling in the home key. The relationship between B minor and D major is prominent throughout the quartet. The whole first movement has a feeling of uncertainty, with frequent silences between phrases, as though it’s deciding which direction to go in next, and abrupt changes of mood.
The second movement is a scherzo and trio, and this is the first set of quartets in which Haydn uses this in place of the traditional minuet. The movement has a slightly frantic feel, which is offset by the spacious, open texture of the Trio section in B major.
The Andante which follows is in D major and has a sedate and gentle feel. As in the previous movement the instruments frequently work in pairs (the two violins against the viola and cello). Towards the end Haydn’s expressive use of chromaticism in the first violin part is notable.
The work concludes in an extremely lively fashion, with a gypsy-style part for the first violin. In order to produce the necessary tone quality Haydn specifies that the main theme should be played entirely on the G string.
Jenny Jackson – Focus Pull
Focus Pull was composed in 2017 as a companion piece for Haydn’s string quartet op. 33 no. 1 in B minor (one of the six ‘Russian’ quartets). The relationship between the two pieces relies heavily on three bars taken from the first violin melody in the 3rd movement, which is used as a kind of tone row for the entire piece. Apart from sharing the same DNA, however, the piece is rather like the exuberant distant relative and, although the quartet strives hard to pull focus and reveal its identity, an erratic display makes the family resemblance hard to perceive.
Fanny Hensel – String Quartet in E-flat major
Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn, was the eldest of four children, and showed a great aptitude for both performing and composing from a young age. In 1818 she was described by Carl Friedrich Zelter as having “something of Sebastian Bach. This child is really something special.”. Despite having talent equal to that of her brother Felix Mendelssohn she was discouraged by many around her – including her father – from pursuing music as a career, due to attitudes towards women at the time. She married the painter Wilhelm Hensel in 1829, and he was very supportive of her composing, resulting in many of her works being performed in a Sunday concert series in Berlin, alongside those of Felix. Her brother described her as his ‘guiding light’.
Fanny composed her String Quartet in E-flat major in 1834, and she acknowledged the great influence of the quartets of Beethoven. The first movement opens with a warm and rich sound. It is unusual for a quartet to begin with a slow movement, though it is notable that Beethoven’s quartet op. 74 in the same key has a slow introduction and a similar opening phrase shape. Here, however, Fanny’s use of tonality is very different, as the harmony immediately shifts to the relative C minor and the majority of the movement is centred around this key. In the final few phrases the music settles into E-flat major, but this visit to the home key is short-lived, as the second movement Allegretto is once again in C minor. This a lively scherzo-style movement, with obvious similarities to Felix’s work. It is in ternary form, with a central section in C major. This is followed by the Romanze, in G minor, which is really the emotional heart of the quartet. There is a feeling of melancholy, with frequent use of a falling semitone motif. Fanny is said to have had a very passionate personality, and this is clearly reflected here. The finale is in sonata form and contains a whirlwind of semiquavers in all four instruments, bringing the quartet to an exciting conclusion.
For more information about the Classical Weekend and to book tickets visit the Classical Sheffield website.
Later in the Spring we have a number of concerts in venues in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire – more information to follow, so please come back and take a look!