Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

Anniversary Programme II

Sepp Grotenhuis

Sepp Grotenhuis (1962) studied the piano with Else Krijgsman at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and then spent five years in the United States studying with Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. After making his debut as a soloist in 1978 with the Residentie Orchestra, he has performed in the Netherlands with many of the major orchestras. Concert tours have taken him to the United States, Russia and other European countries and Japan. Grotenhuis has collaborated closely with the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti and studied the music of the Second Viennese School with Leonard Stein and Alfred Brendel. Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto occupies a major position in his repertoire. Grotenhuis won first prize of the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia Competition and was awarded by the Bartók Society and the Curtis Institute (Festorazzi Prize). He can be heard on several CDs, some of which include pianist Ellen Corver, with whom he forms an internationally active piano duo. Since 1991 Sepp Grotenhuis has worked with the Schoenberg Quartet, performing the complete chamber music repertoire with piano by Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Zemlinsky on several occasions in various European countries.

Programme notes

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifteenth String Quartet is one of a kind. The mere fact that it is written in the key of E-flat minor is problematic for string instruments: by its very nature, this tonality hampers the natural resonance of the open strings. Radiance, however, was the last thing that the composer was trying to achieve in this lustreless work, which he completed in 1974, a year and a half before his death. Shostakovich deliberately chose this key as tonic to create a unique sound, which emerges most noticeably in the first and by far the longest movement of the quartet, the Elegy. This ever-sustained lament occasionally calls to mind a gamba consort from the late Renaissance or early Baroque period. At the beginning of the second movement, the tones have such a piercing impact on the listener that these can almost be mistaken for sirens. In the other movements, one is occasionally reminded of earlier compositions by Shostakovich but because of the context in which they are heard, the impression they give is quite alienating.

Every element of temptation has been banished by the sternest of hands from this composition, which could actually be described as six adagios, which for the most part, are connected seamlessly (only after the fourth and fifth movements can a clear break be distinguished.). If this music calls to mind an image, it is that of a dying man who, despite the oppression he suffers, tries to impart his innermost thoughts to humanity. One often has the impression that the thematic material is disintegrating, an effect Shostakovich has deliberately set out to achieve; due to the resulting uninterrupted tension, which the listener perceives as taking place just beneath the surface, his concentration does not lapse. Shostakovich has designed the piece in cyclical form. In the final movement, for instance, elements from the Elegy return. Another characteristic is that thematic development is limited several times to a single line, which considerably underscores the vulnerable quality that the piece has, imparting to the listener the idea that this quartet can be heard as a deeply probing exercise for four soloists.

Arch form
Just as the uninviting Fifteenth String Quartet would appear a chamber-music companion piece to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Symphonies, the utterly dramatic Piano Quintet can be considered a small-scale recollection of the richly varied Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. Shostakovich completed the work in question in 1940, by which point the Second World War, although it had already broken out, had not yet shaken Russia to its core. Not that this matters much in itself, as the toll taken by Stalinism was just as great as that of national socialism or fascism elsewhere. Although the Piano Quintet is made up of five movements, there are actually only four, as the prelude and fugue are joined together seamlessly. The prelude is heard as a cri de cœur, its purpose being to make way for the larger fugue, which is conceived in arch form. Arch form indeed, as is evident from the despairing climax, which takes place roughly in the middle of this approximately nine-minute-long section. Particularly the relationship between the exceedingly resigned coda to the fugue and the forced Scherzo with its feigned cheerfulness is clearly similar to that of the Largo from the Sixth Symphony, which progressively turns in on itself, and the immediately ensuing scherzo-like movement, which breezes past in a quasi-lighthearted manner. During the Intermezzo, the melancholy of the two-part first movement descends again, the dreary atmosphere and internalised sound both reminiscent of Schubert. In the finale, an abrupt alternation between oppressive and lighthearted passages is of central importance. The conclusion appears carefree, although it falls short of convincing the listener entirely; this is witnessed in the hesitance with which the Piano Quintet concludes-Shostakovich would later try this formula out again in his charged Eighth Symphony.

Maarten Brandt

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet no. 15 in E flat minor, Op. 144 (1974)

Funeral March


Dmitri Shostakovich

Piano Quintet in G minor, opus 57 (1940)


Schoenberg Quartet
Sepp Grotenhuis – piano

21 November 2001, 8:15pm

  Groningen, De Oosterpoort

25 November 2001, 11:45am

  Bloemendaal, Gemeentehuis

9 December 2001, 3:30pm

  Venray, Theehuis St. Odapark

15 December 2001, 8:15pm

  The Hague, Nieuwe Kerk

16 December 2001, 11:30am

  Roosendaal, De Kring

18 December 2001, 8:15pm

  Utrecht, Vredenburg Music Centre

22 December 2001, 8:15pm

  Amsterdam, Concertgebouw