Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

Anniversary Programme III

Susan Narucki

The soprano Susan Narucki has received international acclaim for her performances of the music of our time. She has appeared in the United States with such orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Baroque. In Europe she has appeared with Concentus Musicus Wien, Ensemble Modern, the Schoenberg and Asko Ensemble, London Sinfonietta, the Opera Orchestra Lyons, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, RAI Turin and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra. Her discography includes Louis Andriessen’s opera De Materie, works by Claude Vivier and George Crumb’s Quest. The latter CD was awarded in Cannes in 1998. Susan Narucki is also an active chamber musician. 1994 saw the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with the Schoenberg Quartet. On numerous occasions they appeared together in the United States and Europe performing works by Schoenberg, Webern, Zemlinsky and Hindemith. She has taken part in CD recordings of the complete repertoire of the Second Viennese School.

Programme notes

Alles ist hin
Although the musical language of the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke differs substantially from that of the Austrian master Arnold Schoenberg, both composers look back to the past, as is unmistakably apparent in Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet and Schnittke’s Third String Quartet, which he completed in 1983. He does this, however, in a way that many of the “spiritual composers” currently so in vogue would consider uncustomary. In both Schoenberg’s and Schnittke’s œuvre, elements from the past function as “material” that is exposed to far-reaching and often outright complex modifications. This is unmistakably apparent in Schnittke’s dramatic Third String Quartet. During the opening of the first movement, three musical quotes file past: a motif from Orlando di Lasso’s Stabat Mater, the main subject from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge and the musical initials of Dmitri Shostakovich, the renowned D-S (= E-flat)-C-H (= B) motif. The Beethoven and Shostakovich quotes in particular allow for all sorts of intriguing interplay. Furthermore, because of their tonal ambivalence, they lend themselves surprisingly well to insertion into both tonal and atonal environments. Of primary importance, both in this three-part work and in Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, is the side-by-side and interwoven existence of tonal and atonal elements. Additionally, nostalgia plays a part in Schoenberg and Schnittke looking to the past in their quartets. As regards Schnittke, this is apparent in the second movement with its charming Schubertian theme, which is soon completely trampled by developments that are in total opposition to it. Nevertheless, the third section is even more typical of Schnittke, due to its lamenting character; this is equally the case in the last measures, in which the D-S-C-H motif disappears into a “black hole.”

Field of tension
Schoenberg completed his Second String Quartet in 1908 during a period in which his first marriage had been plunged into turmoil, a period also in which the emergence of a new musical style was inevitable. Just as Schnittke underscores his predilection for the past by means of the Schubert-like theme in the second movement of his Third String Quartet, Schoenberg does much the same thing by, among other things, quoting verbatim part of the well-known folksong O mein lieber Augustin, alles ist hin as an accompanimental figure at a crucial moment during the fast-paced second movement. Of course, this quartet is both a postlude to the old and a prelude to the new period. The lyrics of Stefan George’s poem Entrückung must also be interpreted in this regard: Ich fühle Luft von anderem Planeten, Schoenberg unable to resist concluding this composition with an unambiguous F-sharp major chord. It’s all in the game! Although many a critic has associated the first two movements with Brahms-an extremely concentrated Brahms, to be sure-the curves are rounded so sharply that the idiom is sometimes perceived as less accessible than in either of the following movements, which are tonally freer. In these movements, the composer has sought refuge in the vocal element, which he decided on only after having completed the first movement; incorporating a soprano solo did not figure in his initially conceived plan. That Litanei and Entrückung are both more accessible is due to the greater transparency of a “sound image” that, arguably, could be said to reveal Claude Debussy’s influence on Schoenberg. Thus, this work concerns itself not only with the field of tension between tonality and atonality, but also the one between late Romantic / early expressionist and Impressionistic approaches.

The Three Songs for soprano solo and string quartet-written in 1989 by the Korean-American composer Earl Kim who, in addition to Ernest Bloch and Roger Sessions, studied with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles-are of a distinctly French flavour. Kim has always possessed an independent spirit and his multi-faceted œuvre defies classification under a single heading. His Caprices, which he wrote for Itzhak Perlman, as well as his Violin Concerto, are his most widely known works. His music has also been performed in the Netherlands, albeit only occasionally. His one-act Footfalls was performed as part of the Second International Samuel Beckett Festival in The Hague in 1992. Open-minded listeners unfamiliar with his music might mistake the Three Songs set to texts by Verlaine and Baudelaire as a newly discovered work by Ernest Chausson, while the work as a whole is occasionally reminiscent of Debussy’s Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire and Pelléas et Mélisande, the latter particularly as regards the speech-inclined treatment of the vocal part. It goes without saying that, again, throughout all of this, nostalgia plays a central role. All the more why this perfectly realised and fabulous-sounding pastiche, despite its obvious differences with the other compositions here, fits marvellously with this programme.

Maarten Brandt

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)

String Quartet no. 3 (1983)


Earl Kim (1920)

Trois chansons, to texts by Verlaine and Baudelaire, for soprano and string quartet (1988-89) Dutch première

En sourdine
Colloque sentimentale


Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

String Quartet no. 2 in F sharp minor, Op.10 (1907-08)

Sehr rasch
Litanei (Stefan George)
Entrückung (Stefan George)

Schoenberg Quartet
Susan Narucki – soprano

4 February 2002, 8:15pm

 Arnhem, Musis Sacrum

5 February 2002, 8:15pm

 Utrecht, Vredenburg Music Centre

6 February 2002, 8:15pm

 Amsterdam, Concertgebouw

9 February 2002, 8:15pm

 The Hague, Nieuwe Kerk