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

Unflagging attention to the sources

A major reason why it clicked immediately between Viola de Hoog and the other three members of the Schoenberg Quartet was their common interest in the sources and in striving for an historically accurate performance practice. She herself comments, “Searching for the source is very important. You never have to be afraid of your own personal input having to take a back seat – that’s unavoidable – though your interest must first and foremost be in the music itself. It’s very inspiring to see the music in the composer’s own handwriting. I am familiar with Debussy’s handwriting from his String Quartet, for example, and recently I also had a look at the Cello Sonata. That has a completely different effect from looking at a printed copy.” Wim de Jong acknowledges her sentiments. “All four of us are interested in what the composer might have intended. That’s something that also impresses me in working with Jos van Immerseel. There we’re talking about different territory obviously, but the search for meaning is comparable. That’s something all four of us share. If I buy a score I go for the Urtext edition. In that respect Henk is the engine behind the quartet. Not when we’re rehearsing, but outside the rehearsals, that’s when he’s our researcher. He’s always hunting for the right notes.”

In this respect Bob Zimmerman describes Henk Guittart to a T. “One of the pieces we recorded a few months ago is the chamber music arrangement of the fifth Altenberglied of Alban Berg, for which I played the harmonium part. That existed only in manuscript. I didn’t feel at ease with just that harmonium part because I wanted to know what the others were doing. As it happens, there’s fantastic software for writing out scores. Actually it was much more difficult than I thought because there’s a lot of information in those 65 measures, but once you’re halfway, you just keep going. When I was finished I faxed the part to Henk, who spotted ninety mistakes. There were things such as a tiny crescendo that was just a bit too far over to the left as well as stuff that just didn’t appear in the manuscript and which could be deduced. Henk is so meticulous about that. Maniacal in a nice way. He won’t rest until he’s combed through all the sources. He’s the ideal musicologist.”

With all his research Henk Guittart has unearthed many new possibilities for the repertoire of the Schoenberg Quartet. A significant step in this direction was his meeting in 1990 with the ninety-year-old Louise Zemlinsky, Zemlinsky’s widow, who spent her last years in a flat in New York. After long conversations about Zemlinsky’s style of conducting, his relationship with Schoenberg and other interesting aspects about his life, she gave Guittart permission to look through all Zemlinsky’s manuscripts in the Library of Congress. “Working solidly for three days,” says Guittart, “I found two unknown works: Maiblumen blüten überall for soprano and string sextet to two poems by Dehmel – clearly inspired by Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht – and two movements of an unknown string quartet.” On March 14 1992, the Schoenberg Quartet gave the world première of Maiblumen blüten überall in the Grand Hall of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, which was broadcast by the Dutch VARA broadcasting company. Guittart has contributed to the expansion of the repertoire not just through his research but also with his arrangements of various works including Schoenberg’s Wind Quintet and the Sechs kleine Klavierstücke op. 19.