Franz Schubert - String Quartet in G Major
At the end of May in 1826, Schubert wrote to two friends:
“I am not working at all. – The weather is really appalling, the Almighty seems to have forsaken us altogether, for the sun simply refuses to shine. It is May, and we cannot sit in the garden yet. Awful! appalling!! ghastly!!! and the most cruel thing on earth for me!”
One month later, he had finished the monumental G major Quartet, com-posed over a period of only eleven days. For anyone familiar with the scope and complexity of this work, the timeline is almost inconceivable. A look at the autograph manuscript, inscribed, “20. Juny 1826” on the first page and, “30. Juny 1826” on the last, is equally mind-blowing. Corrections and reworked passages are sparse, and Schubert writes for many pages at a time with no revisions whatsoever. Perhaps the enforced idleness of May served as a time of creative fortification and physical rejuvenation, allowing the Quartet to be composed almost as swiftly as it could be penned.
With a searching first movement longer than many complete quartets of the period, the work is a titanic voyage through realms of light and darkness. The haunting lyricism of the Andante is shattered by outbursts of jagged, brutal dotted rhythms and tortured shrieks. A Scherzo almost too serious for the name gives way to one of Schubert’s most meltingly lovely Ländler, and the Finale is a devilish major/minor Tarantella complete with fiendish arpeggios. How will it all end? - Lisa Weiss
Producer’s note: Since I first heard Schubert's G Major Quartet performed on period instruments it’s been something of a Holy Grail for me. I immediately recognized that what in modern performance is a bright and cheerful explosion of color and sound was absolutely contrary to what the composer provided in the first movement’s shimmering, fluttering tremolo texture: indeed, Schubert was instead opening a doorway into a world of deepest reflection and introspection. This piece opened a door for me, too, into a world of music interpretation based on the sound itself. Returning to the sounds that might have been in the ears of the composers and performers of the early 19th century provides a completely new perspective on the meaning of their works.
This is not to say there’s no validity in modern performances of classical-period music. But it informs our understanding so much just to know what possibilities lie in the gestures and sonic flavors that instruments of the period can provide. It’s a whole different palette with just as vast a selection of colors, but they’re different tones painted with different brushes. I hope you’ll hear the power of Schubert’s great music in a whole new way, as I have, with this wonderful performance by the New Esterházy Quartet. - Lolly Lewis