The Complete Beethoven Cycle 3 Book Tickets

Thursday 23 November

RTÉ Contempo Quartet – Beethoven Music for a Later Age

Beethoven String Quartet No. 3, Op. 18 No. 3 in D

Kevin Volans String Quartet No. 1, ‘White Man Sleeps’

Beethoven String Quartet No. 9, Op. 59 No. 3 in C, ‘Razumovsky’

Beethoven’s Third Quartet finds him negotiating old and new with nimble dexterity while pushing against conformity. The virile Ninth Quartet heralds newness still to come. Influenced by African traditional music, Kevin Volans’ White Man Sleeps situates the string quartet in wholly new territory.


Beethoven’s lyrical Third String Quartet straddles the old and the new – which Beethoven himself would usher in. While showing considerable respect for an heritage epitomised by Mozart and Haydn, it also tests the boundaries between past and present with delightful poise and precision.

By the time of the Ninth Quartet, musical muscles are being flexed with greater confidence and pointing more determinedly towards astonishing new directions. Its powerful opening and forceful finale (boasting a complicated but dazzlingly executed fugue) underline its Heroic nickname.

Originally composed for two harpsichords, viola da gamba and percussion, Kevin Volans’ First String Quaret, White Man Sleeps (1986), makes liberal use of African folk music to colour and shape a traditional Western form and imbue it with a uniquely contemporary personality.

Beethoven’s sixteen quartets and the Grosse Fugue still stand today as some of the most extraordinary and innovative music ever composed. Written over a span of thirty years in roughly three blocks, Beethoven took the form, perfected by “Papa Haydn” and developed further by Mozart , completely revising and transforming it.

Nos. 1-6, written when he was in his late twenties were early explorations into the form and although lighter than many of the later works there is always a dark side too. The Middle Quartets have at their core the three Razumovskys, commissioned by Count (later Prince) Razumovsky which included Russian themes. Already aware of his deafness, he wrote on one of the sketches:

“Make no secret of your deafness, not even in art!”

The five Late Quartets and Grosse Fugue undoubtedly represent the ultimate in quartet writing, the very best of Beethoven’s genius, described by him to his musicians as:

“music not for you, but for a later age”

Ten Irish works complement each of the nine programmes, with works dating from 1934 to the present day, including three new RTÉ commissions.


The RTÉ Contempo Quartet is one of the most exciting and vibrant chamber ensembles performing today. The members studied together in Bucharest, formed a quartet in 1995 and were appointed as Galway Music Residency’s Quartet in Residence in 2003 and RTÉ’s Quartet in Residence in May 2014. They have given over 120 performances for RTÉ so far with another 40+ planned for the 2017-18 season.

“Full of telling detail…this was a performance undertaken out of love for the music” (Irish Times, 2016)

In its three previous seasons for RTÉ the Quartet has focused on the core repertoire of Haydn and Bartók in particular, with the complete Beethoven Cycle to perform during 2017-18 including three new commissions by Irish composers. At the heart of every performance is the desire to communicate to its audience both the love of, and delight in the music, and the Quartet has gained many new fans with its fresh and enthusiastic approach to a wide variety of repertoire. They continue in their role as educators with quartet workshop sessions in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin as well as one-to-one teaching in the RIAM and DIT colleges.

Season At A Glance