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Anton Webern, Arnold Schönberg, Alexander Zemlinsky

Brodsky Quartet

Music From Vienna 1

  • Type CD
  • Label Challenge Classics
  • UPC 0608917204025
  • Catalog number CC 72040
  • Release date 26 December 2012
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About the album

Alexander Zemlinsky - String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4

During his lifetime, Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) was very highly regarded not only as a composer but also as a teacher and conductor. His works are an authentic testimony of the turbulent developments in music between 1890 and 1940. He stands between times and styles but in this intermediary position he found a rich, unmistakable, musical language. His personality and work epitomize one of the most fascinating epochs of art in Europe.
String Quartet No.1 dates from 1896 and is unquestionably one of the most important quartets written before the advent of the Second Vienna School and 12 tone music. Brahms was so impressed by the quartet that he recommended it to his publisher Simrock. In this work, Zemlinsky has freed himself from much of Brahms' influence, which can only really be felt in some of his use of rhythm. The bright Allegro con fuoco opens almost abruptly. Characterized by highly accented and syncopated rhythms, a more lyrical second theme smoothes some of the rough edges away. The main theme to the second movement, Allegretto, is a naive, and simple folk melody. Suddenly, a stormy middle section full of excitement and interesting rhythms blossoms forth into a wild and ferocious gypsy dance. The third movement, Breit und Kraftig, is exactly as described by the title, broad and powerful. The theme thrusts forth only to proceed in a rather soft and diffident fashion, leading to a lovely and highly romantic second theme. The heroic and buoyant finale, Vivace e con fuoco, is one of the glories of late romantic chamber music, full or original thematic ideas and wonderfully executed.

Anton Webern - Langsamer Satz: Langsam Mit Bewegtem Ausdruck

Anton Webern (1883-1945), of course, is well-known and needs little introduction as one of the founding fathers of the Second Vienna School and leading proponents of the 12 tone system. However, what is not well-known is that he did write at least two short tonal movements for string quartet. 
The Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) dates from 1905 and was said to have been inspired by a hiking holiday in the mountains outside of Vienna Webern took with his soon to be fiancée and later wife. He intended to write an entire quartet but put it aside after completing this one movement. Not surprisingly, the Langsamer Satz is a highly charged work, clearly rooted in post-Brahmsian romanticism and tonality. A medium length quartet movement, the Langsamer Satz expresses a plethora of emotions from yearning to dramatic turmoil to a tranquil peaceful denouement. It shows that Webern, like Schönberg and Berg, was capable of writing very fine music in a tonal idiom if he chose.

Arnold Schönberg - String Quartet in D Major

Arnold Schoenberg's development as a composer must have begun while he was taking violin lessons: "As a child of less than nine years, I had started composing little, and later large pieces for two violins, in imitation of such music as I used to play with my teacher or with a cousin of mine. When I could play violin duets of Viotti, Pleyel and others, I imitated their style. So I learned to compose to the extent that I learned to play the violin." With the money that Schoenberg had earned teaching German, he bought the scores to works by Beethoven: "[...] they were the Third and the Fourth Symphonies, two of the Razumovsky quartets and the Great Fugue, Opus 133. From then on, I had a desire to write string quartets." A decisive encounter was with the violinist and later doctor Oskar Adler, Schoenberg's schoolboy friend from their time at Realschule, who not only provided him with a first foundation in theory of harmony and ear training but with whom he also played the classic string quartet literature up to the 19th century in a circle of friends. From then on, Schoenberg tested his compositional skills in numerous quartet projects, completing the String Quartet in D Major in 1897, his first surviving composition on a larger scale. Schoenberg named Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven and Dvorak as his models of that period. Playing music with his friends must have played an important role in this. Dvorak, who otherwise can hardly be considered one of Schoenberg's models, featured very prominently on the concert programmes of that time. So it is hardly surprising that his style, along with that of Johannes Brahms, is most clearly heard in the String Quartet. Schoenberg acquired his compositional skills largely through self-study. Nonetheless, a reliable partner in discussion was his friend and later brother-in-law, Alexander Zemlinsky, whom Schoenberg repeatedly consulted when he was having difficulties. In response to Zemlinsky's criticism, he extensively revised the D Major Quartet.. Schoenberg completely rewrote the first and last movements and replaced the second movement and probably the third as well. Zemlinsky appeared to be completely satisfied with the result, and with his support the work was premièred privately on 17 March 1898 by Vienna's Tonkünstlerverein, which was dedicated to the promotion of contemporary music. Several months later, on 20 December of the same year, it was given a public première by the Fitzner Quartet, playing in the Bösendorfer Hall of the Society of the Friends of Music. A critic for the Neue Freie Presse was decidedly positive in his review of 24 December: "A very pleasant surprise was provided by the first quartet concert this year by Mr. Fitzner and his associates. [...] a new string quartet by Arnold Schoenberg was not only an unusual success but also gave all the music-lovers present the impression that its author is a genuine talent who has spoken his first important word." The quartet begins with a lively sonata movement, with a rather broadly structured secondary theme. Developmental tendencies are noticeable from the first; individual motifs of the theme are split off and developed further. Nevertheless, Schoenberg is still a long way from the complicated thematic development of his later works; all in all, the structure of the movement is decidedly regular. The Intermezzo that follows is captivating in its distinctive, restrained sonority. The slow movement is a series of variations in which the theme is first presented in a cello solo, and then seconded by imitative figures in the viola. These polyphonic statements are more intensively developed over the course of the movement. Here Schoenberg early demonstrates his skills in continuing the compositional tradition of Brahms. The Finale has more points in common with the first movement than just its motivic similarities. The rousing main theme - which is introduced following a short, motto-like figure - is again more strongly reminiscent of Dvorak in its touch of folk-music elements. In the form of a sonata rondo this music provides a brilliant conclusion to Arnold Schoenberg's earliest string quartet, which can hardly be viewed as the exercise of a student but rather must be seen as a completely valid work of chamber music.

Description of the string quartet in D Major by Schoenberg is written by Eike Feß:

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