In indie rock and metal, there is an old trope amongst uppity fans that goes something like, “I prefer their earlier work,” but when it comes to Beethoven, devotees largely seem to sway toward the late quartets. The good news is that no one has to choose, but for 2018/19, we’re making our first foray into Ludwig van’s final composition, the enigmatic String Quartet Op. 135.
This is definitely the quirkiest of the late quartets, and you might find yourself wondering how this squares with the typical notion of a classical composer of old penning his or her most profound or spiritually enlightened work on their deathbed. Not here. You’re going to hear buoyancy and levity, and of course, dramatic left turns.
Which brings us to the other three pieces on this program. We love connecting the dots across centuries, so we’re pairing Op. 135 with a recent works by Hans Thomalla, as well as two…not recent…works by Mozart and Carter. Hans’s Bagatellen is a magical series of musical vignettes that at its heart is all about seemingly trivial bits of historic pieces, like say, unassuming eighth notes from a viola line in a Beethoven quartet. It has the entertaining effect of looking through a microscope from the wrong end, and often these historic references send you, the listener, on a tiny scavenger hunt.
To pull Hans’s piece further into context, we’ll be bringing you the sublime Andante cantabile movement of Mozart’s String Quartet in G major K387. It’s primo slow-movement-Mozart stuff, and if you listen closely to the accompanimental lines, you’ll hear whispers of the building blocks to Bagatellen. And, since we’re getting all Germanic-heritage here, we’ll include Elliott Carter’s two Fragments for string quartet, the harmonics of which create an illuminating bridge between the composers long dead (Beethoven and Mozart) and our friend, Hans.
Two Fragments for String Quartet (Elliott Carter)
String Quartet No. 14 in G Major, K. 387 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart )
II. Andante cantabile
Bagatellen (Hans Thomalla)
String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135 (Ludwig van Beethoven)