With the Saint John String Quartet
Mendelssohn: String Quartet Op. 13 in a minor
Debussy: String Quartet in g minor Op. 10
These three very different examples of sonority in the string quartet each demonstrate a passion for the soundscape. Mendelssohn investigates the beauty of the string sounds creatively but within rules of classical form, while Debussy goes straight for the beauty with minimal consideration of the rules; thus doing his bit in developing the new era of music that is now firmly on its way. Arvo Pärt benefits from the breakdown of classical structures but also reaches back in time to juxtapose simple sounds and repeated rhythms on modern sonorities. This concert is very much a concert of soundscapes, with explorations through musical time of the constants and changes.
Though Mendelssohn was still a teenager when he wrote this quartet, he was already an experienced composer of chamber music. He had already written the string quintet opus 18, the octet for strings opus 20, and three piano quartets, besides several youthful string quartets which remained unpublished.
Mendelssohn wrote the quartet a few months after the death of Ludwig van Beethoven, and the influence of Beethoven’s late string quartets (written only shortly before and some of which had not even been published when Mendelssohn started his composition) is evident in this work.
As a unifying motif, Mendelssohn included a quotation from his song “Ist es wahr?” (‘Is it true?’, op. 9 no. 1) – “Is it true that you wait for me in the arbour by the vineyard wall?” – composed a few months earlier. Mendelssohn includes the title of the song in the score of the quartet, recalling the title Beethoven wrote on the last movement of his Op. 135 string quartet “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?). But, unlike the introspective, existential quality of Beethoven’s quartet, Mendelssohn’s work is passionate and richly romantic. “…This quartet, relying heavily on compositional techniques of late Beethoven, links Classical form to Romantic expression,” writes Lucy Miller.
Debussy’s only string quartet
The quartet’s sensuality and impressionistic tonal shifts are emblematic of its time and place while, with its cyclic structure, it constitutes a final divorce from the rules of classical harmony and points the way ahead. After its premiere, composer Guy Ropartz described the quartet as “dominated by the influence of young Russia: there are poetic themes, rare sonorities, the first two movements being particularly remarkable.”
Debussy wrote that “any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity.” Pierre Boulez said that Debussy freed chamber music from “rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics.”
I have nothing to say,” says Pärt. “Music says what I need to say. And it is dangerous to say anything, because if I’ve said it already in words there might be nothing left for my music.”