Philomusica To Play Rare Beethoven Piece

Quartet will play piece Monday at Wisconsin Lutheran College

By - Feb 16th, 2017 12:16 pm
Philomusica String Quartet. Photo from Facebook.

Philomusica String Quartet. Photo from Facebook.

The Philomusica Quartet, will continue their season next Monday evening with a concert featuring quartets by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Philomusica (violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun) completed an ambitious Beethoven quartet cycle last year. But they have located a “new” one very infrequently played. Few are even aware that more than 18 quartets exist. But Beethoven arranged one of his piano sonatas, Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14, No. 1 as a string quartet, String Quartet in F, Hess 34 (1801-2). He made the arrangement just after completing his “early” quartets – six works known as Opus 18.

The 9th Piano Sonata and the arranged string quartet offer two very different listening experiences. The sonata is modest compared to others Beethoven wrote. (The 9th follows the more known “Pathétique” in the sonata series.) The sonata provides a personal sound. Quiet passages and breaks in the music enhance that feeling. Beethoven adjusted the work to fit the chamber concert experience.

Mandl observes a basic structural difference. The piano sonata is more vertical. “Strings provide an harmonic fill-in that creates a certain darkness in the sound.” The result is “more linear and layered.” Mandl feels that Beethoven was influenced by Mozart when he wrote this work. “The approach we are taking is more like what a pianist would do.” We seek to “produce a thinner, relaxed tune.” The continuity of string playing, a change of key and the presence of four players transforms the experience. At first hearing of recorded music, I prefer the piano sonata. But I am grateful to experience another Beethoven quartet.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote little chamber music and only three string quartets. The third quartet is most often programmed, but Tchaikovsky claimed the second as his favorite. His String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 22 is no small work; lasting a full 35-40 minutes. The work is almost symphonic in its reach, compacting complex ideas that could be well served by scoring for a full orchestra. Yet it feels entirely comfortable with strings alone. One reason Tchaikovsky felt comfortable with it is that he was able to incorporate ideas from his symphonies and ballets.

The influence of Tchaikovsky’s favorite, Mozart, is also clear. The quartet even opens with an unusual, somewhat dissonant musing similar to Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet. Mandl suggests that the opening was also influenced by Richard Wagner’s recent composition of Tristan und Isolde. The chromanticism develops densely, but then in contrast to Wagner, is resolved to allow a more melodic, dance-centered perspective to emerge.

The evening’s program includes a set of three miniatures by early 20th century English composer Frank Bridge, Novelletten for String Quartet, H.44. ‘Songs without words’ compositions by Felix Mendelssohn and others are easily recognized as ‘vocal’ melodies. These Novelleten serve as well to seem to the listener as ‘stories without words.’ The touches of drama, the exclamatory phrasing and rapid development could be thought to be telling a story. Bridge, however, has shared no program or story line to accompany the music. Mandl finds the music to be very British. The composition reveals “a refined British wit” and ends with “an elegant, grandiose and regal sound.”

A program with three little known compositions provides the opportunity for both the Philomusica and the listener to expand their perspective on well-known composers. I trust the Philomusica to bring well thought through interpretations to their performance.

Monday’s concert begins at 7:30 p.m., February 20 at Wisconsin Lutheran College’s Schwann Concert Hall – located at 8815 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee. General admission tickets ($25) may be purchased at the door or in advance through the Wisconsin Lutheran College box office web site or at 414-443-8802. Student tickets are available for $12. A new three story parking garage has opened just east of Schwann Concert Hall. Parking is free!

Philomusica will close its season Monday May 8 at Wisconsin Lutheran College with a performance of Ernest Bloch, Johannes Brahms and Ernö Von Dohnányi. Pianist Eli Kalman will join the Philomusica for a Dohnányi piano quintet.

2 thoughts on “Classical: Philomusica To Play Rare Beethoven Piece”

  1. P L C Nakamura says:

    what is the date of the Beethoven concert?

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @P L C February 20. And the story has been updated. Thanks

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