The Principal String Quartet of the KSO will be performing this coming Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou. We will open with one of the most well-known of Haydn’s 83 string quartets, his op. 64 no. 5, The Lark. The second movement of this work is the basis for the song I’m in the Mood for Love, which has been recorded by no less than 120 different artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Chaka Khan to the Sex Pistols. I personally am playing this quartet again for the first time in 34 years. I know, it’s scary. Jimmy Carter was president then, and our first violinist, Gordon “Go-go” Tsai, was just a twinkle in his momma’s eye.
Fast forward a century and a half, cross both the Atlantic and the equator, and you’ll find the roots of the second work on the program, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ 1st String quartet. Really more of a six-movement suite, this work was recently performed on our “Q Series” concert nine days ago at the Emporium Center. For a piece with Brazilian origins, it sure uses a lot of impressionistic musical language. It’s no wonder, considering Villa-Lobos spent four years in Paris.
The grand finale of the concert will be Franz Schubert’s magnum opus for the string quartet, the d minor Death and the Maiden quartet. The quartets Schubert composed as a teenager are definitely youthful works compared to this; he himself dismissed them as such. A more mature quartet was composed concurrently with D&TM, his op. 29 Rosamunde quartet.
Schubert’s lot was an unhappy one during the year this was composed (1824); incredibly, at the time of its composition, he was younger than any of the members of the KSO’s Principal Quartet. He was broke and sickly, and his publisher Diabelli was ripping him off royally. Perhaps he had some inkling that he would only live four more years. This work’s mood, especially its tonality, reflects his frame of mind at this time, but it is by no means morose.
The first movement has a hook that is challenged only by the opening phrase of Beethoven’s 5th symphony for the title of “Most Dramatic Musical Phrase Ever Written.” The subtitle of the quartet is derived from his 1817 lied of the same name, the theme of which is treated with a set of variations that make up the second movement. After a syncopated, dramatic scherzo (with a mood swing into D Major during the trio section), the tarantella finale brings it all home. Its theme is surely the inspiration for the Civil War era song When Johnny Comes Marching Home (aka The Ants Go Marching), although there is no earthly way that either Johnny or the ants could march as fast as this tarantella’s breakneck tempo.