Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

A quarter century of musical conviction

The Schoenberg Quartet celebrates a milestone

Niek Nelissen

Prestigious television projects

A little over a month after the Schoenberg Quartet Foundation was formed, the quartet began one of its most prestigious television undertakings to date. The Incentive Fund for Cultural Broadcast Productions made it possible for the quartet and the NOS to record Schoenberg’s five string quartets, the String Trio and Verklärte Nacht. Directed by Hans Hulscher, who had previously worked with the quartet on a two-part documentary about their study and concert tour to Los Angeles, filming began in 1991 of the first three works, namely op.7, op. 37 and Verklärte Nacht. A year later followed the recordings of the Quartet in D Major, op 10, op 30, and the String Trio. This splendid series was appended to in 1994 when Michael Grandage recorded the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte. Ad ‘s-Gravesande is still in awe of it. “It really was masterly. Visually it was stunning. It’s one thing having the idea for such a series, it’s quite another getting the right people together at the right time. That’s something Henk is always really good at. The funny thing is that although the series was also broadcast in other countries, from Spain to the United States, where it was also repeated, it wasn’t in the Netherlands.” The chances of such a series being repeated or such a project being continued have diminished, he says. “It is incredibly expensive and, moreover, aimed at a relatively small audience. A programme of that kind is therefore shown either very early or very late, preferably in the middle of the night. Not entirely unjustifiably of course, the profit issue gets raised. Must so much money really be set aside for something that attracts no more than 50,000 viewers? That’s really what we’re talking about. At the time it was broadcast at 11 o’clock in the evening, something that would now be much more difficult. I always used to check the viewing figures on teletext to find out whether we scored as well as Han Reiziger. A number of times we came pretty close. Whatever the case it’s good to sometimes ignore those figures and just go ahead and do something. Fortunately, that is what happened.”

Another major accomplishment in the audiovisual field was the recordings the Schoenberg Quartet made in London in September 1991 for My War Years, a documentary about Schoenberg’s life and work during the years 1906 to 1923, conceived and made by the Canadian company Rhombus. This handsomely made film, subsequently issued by Philips on videotape, alternates dramatised scenes played by actors with filmed performances of his music. Taking part in the latter were celebrated names such as the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the baton of Pierre Boulez, and the pianist Stefan Vladar. The Schoenberg Quartet’s contributions were Verklärte Nacht and, with Arleen Auger as soloist, the Second String Quartet, as well as Die eiserne Brigade and Schoenberg’s own arrangement of Johan Strauss’s Kaiserwalzer.