New Esterházy Quartet - November Newsletter
Our next concert: Haydn & His Students V
The trivial, vulgar, and exalted jostle
Each other in a way to make the apostle
Of culture and right feeling shudder faintly.
It is a shudder that effects the saintly.
lines from J. V. Cunningham sum up the mixed feelings that can still be
elicited by the great works of Shakespeare and of Beethoven. After
supernatural terror, murder, and foreboding have already gripped Hamlet’s audience,
Act 5 begins with the jests of the gravediggers. Some theatergoers
complain that the incongruity of this scene is jarring and inappropriate
to the seriousness of the rest of the play. Likewise, Beethoven’s
clowning and low humor close by his passages of ecstatic transport cause
consternation among those who prefer their musical experiences to rise
above the earth, not to be mixed with the common clay. But Beethoven,
like Shakespeare, defeats such expectations by his inclusiveness: the
high-flown and the low-down meet, as the gravediggers engage Hamlet and
Horatio in banter at the edge of the pit.
With Beethoven’s great—in all dimensions—Quartet in Bb, Op. 130 the New Esterházy Quartet continue our series of Haydn & His Students
in two concerts on Thanksgiving weekend: Saturday, November 24 at 4pm
in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco and Sunday, November 25 at
4pm in All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. The program will be
repeated in Berkeley on Thursday and Friday, November 29 and 30,
presented by Barefoot Chamber Concerts.
a harvest feast, Beethoven’s Quartet features all manner of savory
items, not merely for digestion, but also matter for discussion and
disputation. As for a holiday meal, he has put extra leaves in the
table; instead of the usual four movements we have six, encompassing
song, dance, wit, prayer, and frequent changes of subject. The first
movement has no less than 15 changes of tempo, a lively conversation
indeed, with many subjects, sometimes overlapping and interrupting each
other, and finally summed up together by a kind of Masonic toast,
striking the wine glasses on the table. The second movement is quick,
full of Puckish humor, and gone nearly before you can grasp it. The
third seems to begin in utmost seriousness, which turns out to be just
the introduction to a genial bit of clockwork, with some
coquettish sentimentality mixed in. Toward the end the clock mechanism seems to
“go haywire” and throw gears and springs all over the musical texture,
an hilarious moment in an otherwise genial movement. The next might be
the tipsy dance band come to entertain the guests at table with a waltz
tune that is full of strange lurches and wrong-footed accents. After the
dance ends abruptly, a singer stands and delivers a Cavatina,
a movement that Beethoven declared to a friend “was composed in the
very tears of misery, and that never had one of his own pieces moved him
so deeply, and that merely to relive it in his feelings always cost him
a tear.” Until the Cavatina
everything has been surprising, but more or less festive. This
unexpected onslaught of deep feeling is succeeded by a German
contradance with lyrical interludes, the feast ending perhaps on the
veranda with brandy and cigars, stories, jokes, and snatches of song,
the ladies by no means excluded!
Beethoven was hardly Haydn’s only student. Many of Haydn’s students’ names are lost to us, of some of them we know only
their names, and of others we can’t even be sure that they studied with
Haydn at all. Anton Ferdinand Titz (Nuremberg 1742–St. Petersburg 1810)
according to his 19th
century Russian biographer was in Vienna in the 1760’s where he had
some connection with Prince Lobkowitz before going to Russia in 1771.
And a Parisian reprint of his 1781 set of quartets lists him as Eleve d’Haidn. Problems
abound: Haydn’s activities in the 1760’s were more centered in
Eisenstadt and Esterhazy than in Vienna, Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian
Lobkowitz, the music-loving patron of both Haydn and Beethoven, was not
born until 1772, and a Parisian publisher would have no compunction
about elevating the composer of a set of quartets he was pirating to the
status of “Student of Haydn.” Nevertheless, the fifth of Titz’s 1781
set is an attractive, two-movement work in D minor which furthermore is
dedicated to the Russian ambassador in Vienna, the same Prince Nicholas
Galitzin who commissioned the Op. 130 Quartet from Beethoven.
himself is represented in our program by his theatrical Op. 17, No. 5
in G. The first movement is furnished as a spacious theater set with
grand processions and presentations of pleasant but not frivolous
characters who occasionally turn quite serious and inward before
recovering themselves to appear again unruffled in public. The second
act is a whirling ball scene with a serious interlude, followed by a Scena in which the heroine sings in recitative and arioso of her dreams and sorrows. In the Finale all the characters bustle about, with bursts of coloratura fireworks from the soprano.
note that all these fanciful characterizations are not meant to replace
the choreographies or images that you yourself might mount on the
stages of your imagination. Our composers provide an emotional script,
but our listeners people it with their own characters, movement,
interactions, and settings according to whatever we are able to suggest.
Opera is not merely expensive, it is often too specific, and always
risky. By offering these quartets as theatrical representations we
invite our listeners to experience at our concerts the drama and color
and exaltation of opera, of theater, of life.
Graphic: Hamlet & Horatio in the Graveyard – Eugène Delacroix, 1843
Music America has chosen The New Esterházy Quartet to appear on its
Touring Ensembles Roster, an online resource for concert presenters and promoters.
We hope that this honor will lead to wider exposure for us and our
have asked why we sit the way we do, not as a “normal” quartet but with
the two violin players opposite each other, the cello and the viola in
the back row. The short answer is that is how quartets and orchestras
normally sat until less than a century ago, with the two upper voices in
stereo, the top and the bottom next to each other, the middle voices
next to each other, and the lower voices projecting from behind. Now
that you know this bit of historical information, we are going to
experiment with yet another, this time non-standard, seating. We will
put the back row in front, to strengthen the masculine—oops! we mean the
voices and to allow the violinists to sit closer to one another. Please
feel free after the concert to let us know if this new seating made any
difference to your listening experience.
Our two new CDs will be available at our concerts at a substantial discount if you buy both: Haydn in America and The Seven Last Words. See our website for details, or to order immediately.Look for details soon about our January concert with pianist Eric Zivian, Grand Concert Symphonique. It promises many delights and surprises.
As always, we welcome your comments, your financial support, and
especially your presence at our concerts. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Kati Kyme, Lisa Weiss, Anthony Martin, William Skeen
The New Esterházy Quartet