THE LIR QUARTET
In association with the National String Quartet Foundation
Sat 19 September 2020
Patrick Rafter, violin
Siobhán Doyle, violin
Ed Creedon, viola
Killian White, cello
The Lir Quartet was founded in 2017 by some of Ireland’s foremost musicians. They were invited by Barry Douglas to perform at the Clandeboye Festival for two consecutive years and have toured on three occasions for the National String Quartet Foundation, including concerts at Triskel Christchurch, Cork, Belltable, Limerick and at the National Concert Hall. In February 2019 the quartet performed at Aesynth; a festival of music, art and synaesthesia that was curated by violinist Siobhán Doyle and artist/synaesthete Jane Mackay.
Beethoven’s String Quartets have been described as ‘setting this form of music-making at the pinnacle of Western art’. Nowhere else did the composer ‘dramatise his life-long struggle with his music so starkly, or reveal his innermost being more completely’. The US composer and violinist Elaine Fine maintains the ‘Beethoven Quartets are to string players what the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) is to theologians – a complete source of study and wonder. Each one is like a complicated person who becomes an intimate friend’.
The sixteen quartets fall into what has been termed Beethoven’s early, middle and late periods. The six of the Op 18 set date from 1798 to 1800 when he was in his late 20s. The five quartets – Opp 59 Nos 1, 2, and 3 with 74 and 95 – were completed between 1806 and 1814 and although the autograph score of the Op 95 is dated 1810, it seems Beethoven made several revisions prior to its publication in 1814.
The last five quartets were written between 1824 and 1826, the closing years of the composer’s life when his loss of hearing was complete and he was beset by other illnesses and family complications that affected him deeply. Even so, the music from this late period is not without its occasional jocular moments.
Musicologist Melvin Berger tells us ‘that Beethoven extended and expanded the compositional practices he inherited from Haydn and Mozart by infusing them with new force and flexibility, providing a vastly increased scope, more emotional content and an imposing monumentality. He pushed classicism to its very limits, preparing the soil in which the seeds of 19th century Romanticism were to take root and flourish’.
Quartet No 1 in F major Op 18 No 1
Allegro con brio
Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato
Scherzo: Allegro molto
In late October 1792 Count Ferdinand von Waldstein (1762-1823), a patron of Beethoven in Bonn and one of the first to appreciate the young composer’s talents, advised him on the day before he left for Vienna to ‘work hard and the spirit of Mozart’s genius will come to you through Haydn’s hands’. These words of encouragement were prophetic, partly through Beethoven’s short period under Haydn’s tutelage but mainly through his own efforts and self-searching.
Beethoven’s first six quartets, published in 1801, came when he was already well established as an eminent pianist and with his compositions showing his distinct musical personality as well as his penchant for innovation. That being so, his Op 18 Quartets owed a great deal to the foundations laid by Haydn and Mozart.
However, before he began writing them in 1798, Beethoven embarked on a rigorous preparation by studying with the renowned theorist and composer Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809). The lessons in counterpoint, fugue and canon were spread over an eighteen-month period. Besides, it is known that Beethoven copied out several quartets by Haydn and Mozart in order to analyse them in depth.
Despite being listed as No 1, the F major Quartet is the second of Beethoven’s Op 18 set to be written. It is marginally the longest and maybe the most impressive of the six.
The composer struggled with the opening theme of the Allegro con brio and kept revising it until he was totally satisfied. He had given a copy to his theologian, and talented violinist, friend Karl Amenda in June 1799 but, two years later, asked him to avoid showing it to anyone saying, ‘I have changed it greatly, for only now have I learned how to write string quartets properly’.
Placing it as No 1 may have come from Beethoven’s affection for the slow movement – one of the great pieces of tragic writing found in his early works. According to Amenda, Beethoven wrote it while pondering the scene in the burial vault of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This has been more or less borne out by a remark found among Beethoven’s sketches, les derniers soupirs (the last sighs), and it must also be remembered that the composer added ‘appassionato’ – a term he rarely used – to the tempo marking of his Adagio.
But to return to the opening theme of the Allegro con brio. Obviously pleased with the final version, Beethoven allows it to dominate the entire movement. One commentator, critic and musicologist Joseph Kerman, described it as being like a ‘coiled spring, ready to shoot off in all directions’. Terse and pithy, the relatively short motif returns again and again throughout the movement slipping from one instrument to another. It has a chameleon-like character being gentle at one moment, aggressive at the next, then sombre and, there again, joyous as the composer sees fit.
There is a charming second subject but this is not given too much chance to express itself for very long. Surprisingly a third idea appears very briefly in the coda but Beethoven quickly merges it into his main theme and ends the movement brilliantly.
The Adagio is deeply passionate. When Beethoven played it to Karl Amenda the latter said, ‘It pictured for me the parting of two lovers’. ‘Good’, Beethoven replied, ‘I thought of the scene in the burial vault of Romeo and Juliet when writing it’.
The first violin is given the first theme, an arching air that floats over a gently throbbing accompaniment. The second violin introduces the descending phrases of the second while the viola is given the short third subject with the cello adding its own emotional comments. While these ideas are subdued, Beethoven develops them with remarkable energy and tension.
Following the passionate depths of the Adagio, the Scherzo comes with necessary relief. It moves with ease and grace and is also spiced with good humour, particularly in the central Trio section. The Scherzo is repeated unaltered.
Beethoven initially gave his Finale an allegretto marking but then changed his mind in favour of Allegro. The result is a dazzling piece in which the viola is given a very demanding role indicating without doubt that Beethoven is now writing for fully-fledged professional musicians rather than good amateurs.
Set in a kind of mix between rondo and sonata forms, the main subject may be considered somewhat flashy. The second idea is more relaxed. Both themes are repeated and ingeniously combined with even the hint of a fugue brought in for good measure as a centrepiece. Beethoven’s concluding climax is quite splendid. String quartets, as they were then understood, would never be the same again.
Beethoven dedicated his Op 18 Quartets to his patron and admirer Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowitz (1772-1816). Pleased with the result, he endowed Beethoven with an annual stipend. The Quartets were premièred at the Prince’s palace in Vienna by a group of young players led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh (1776-1830), who would become synonymous with Beethoven’s quartets over the ensuing years.
Because of his corpulent figure, the composer liked to call the violinist Falstaff and wrote a short and amusing, if not particularly complimentary, choral piece WoO 100 about him in 1801. Entitled Lob auf den Dicken (In Praise of the Fat One), the first line is Schuppanzigh ist ein Lump (Schuppanzigh is a rogue).
Quartet No 12 in E flat major Op 127
Maestoso – Allegro
Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile
Over twenty years elapsed between Beethoven’s Op 18 No 1 Quartet and the Op 127 in E flat – one of a number of masterpieces to be found in what is termed his ‘late period’. Its composition resulted through a commission from the St Petersburg-based Prince Nikolai Galitzin, a gifted cellist and admirer of Beethoven’s music.
However, the request could very well have gone to Weber as Galitzin had attended a performance of Der Freischütz and was greatly impressed. Fortunately Karl Zeuner, the viola player in Galitzin’s own quartet, stepped in and suggested Beethoven as the commission’s recipient. As it happened, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, leader of Beethoven’s preferred quartet in Vienna, was in St Petersburg at the time and may also have put a spoke in Weber’s wheel.
In the event, Galitzin wrote to Beethoven in November 1822 asking for ‘one, two or three quartets for which labour I will be glad to pay you what you think proper’. However, Beethoven, preoccupied with his 9th Symphony and Missa Solemnis, did not respond until May 1824.
He completed the Op 127 the following February and the first performance took place in Vienna on 6th March 1825. Given by the Schuppanzigh Quartet, who had little time to rehearse it, the work was not well received. A second performance with another quartet led by Joseph Böhm, professor at Vienna’s Conservatory and a member of the imperial orchestra, was somewhat more successful. Despite his total deafness, Beethoven had coached the players by observing their fingering and bowing.
Beethoven was better pleased and further performances took place over the next few weeks. The composer wrote to his publisher Schott, ‘People have a high opinion of this quartet. It is supposed to be the greatest and most beautiful quartet I’ve written. So they say…’ It seems Prince Galitzin also liked it and arranged a number of performances in St Petersburg.
Beethoven set out his E flat Quartet in a, then, conventional four-movement manner – a sonata form opening with a theme and variations to follow, then a scherzo and a sonata form finale. The first and second movements, the latter of rather ‘exceptional dimensions’, are basically lyrical. The scherzo is dramatic and somewhat mischievous while the finale has a rustic, almost folk-like, demeanour.
The Quartet opens with a short Maestoso introduction that will reappear twice later on. Maybe this is Beethoven suggesting that we should not be deceived into thinking this is a light-hearted piece.
The composer marks his principal theme with the qualifying ‘teneramente’, or tenderly. The first violin announces it as well as the more forceful second subject that comes over the second violin and viola’s comments. Another idea is related to the cantabile nature of the main theme.
Beethoven’s development is delayed a little by the return of the Maestoso introduction, which is now played a little louder than earlier. A speedier tempo leads to an emotional climax. But the introduction returns yet again, even more forcefully than before and with startling effectiveness.
However, Beethoven quickly dispenses with this and, re-engaging a faster tempo, advances into his recapitulation. In time, this is directed towards a brilliant coda that will bring a surprising lessening of the excitement and a pianissimo conclusion.
The extensive slow movement is built on a contemplative theme with a set of six variations. It may be seen in three sections – the theme with variations one and two; the central variation standing, more or less, by itself and variations four to six with a short concluding coda.
In a passionate and spiritual mood, the cello launches the theme that the first violin plays in a spirit of moving serenity. The first variation disturbs this a little through a quicker tempo and increased syncopation. Like the theme itself, it is in 12/8 time and follows the theme’s complex phrase structure.
While continuing in A flat the second variation brings a move to duple time and with Beethoven changing his tempo slightly to Andante con moto. He allows the violins to engage in a little dialogue over the viola and cello’s staccato accompaniment.
The hymn-like third variation is exceptionally expressive. Indeed the composer marks it Adagio molto espressivo and moves it into E flat with the first violin having a high singing solo line. The decided tone of prayer here has been termed as the ‘spiritual crown for the movement … and the quartet as a whole’.
Variation four brings an ecstatic duet for the first violin and cello with accompanying arpeggii and trills as Beethoven returns to his original tempo. The penultimate variation has been called ‘a mysterious episode’. Keys modulate, as the instruments play sotto voce.
Following a series of trills, the first violin takes us in to the final variation with its stream of rolling semiquavers enhanced by the other instruments. For a brief moment the music stops and then, over a pulsating accompaniment, the first violin leads into the coda and on to the final pianissimo.
Commenting on Beethoven’s Adagio, Robert Schumann is reported to have said, ‘One seems to have lingered not fifteen short minutes, but an eternity’. Do not be surprised if echoes of the 9th Symphony have been heard filtering through.
After the ethereal nature of the Adagio, Beethoven takes us down to earth again with his energetic Scherzando. After four pizzicato fanfare chords, the cello announces the rhythmically incisive theme. This is greatly expanded in a kind of fugal development where, among many other things, the viola answers the cello and an episode on the first violin brings a response from the second.
The movement continues with a series of short unbroken sections before Beethoven calls for a brief halt. He reactivates proceedings with a five-bar duet for viola and cello, which the violins interrupt. The viola and cello try again but are even more quickly rebuked with a return to Tempo 1.
Beethoven marks his Trio section as Presto, something very unusual for him in a scherzo movement. Described as ‘breathless scurrying’, the first violin engages virtuoso flights of fancy as the other instruments accompany in whispered notes before the Scherzando vivace is repeated. Just before the end, the Trio is also reprised, although in a truncated form.
For some reason Beethoven did not give his last movement a tempo marking, merely labelling it ‘Finale’. However, the music itself suggests a speedy Allegro. After a very brief introduction, the first violin gives us the cheerful principal theme. A second subject is accented by sharply repeated notes. Beethoven develops these ideas with his distinctive ingenuity suggesting, as one commentator put it, ‘the oafish good humour of drunken village dancing’.
Beethoven eventually reaches his coda but, unexpectedly, he changes key and tempo. Still based on his original theme, this pianissimo Allegro con moto, in an extraordinary way, returns to the mysterious world of the slow movement. However, the incredible Beethoven finds a solution that ends his Finale with positive fortissimo chords.
Programme notes Pat O’Kelly © 2020
Patrick Rafter, violin
Regarded as one of Ireland’s most outstanding musicians, international award winning violinist Patrick Rafter has performed extensively throughout Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East as concert violinist and chamber musician, and currently studies under Maxim Vengerov and Oleg Kaskiv at the International Menuhin Music Academy Switzerland.
Born into an exceptionally musical family in Kilkenny, Ireland, Patrick studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music with Eyal Kless and Fionnuala Hunt. In 2009, he was the inaugural winner of the National Concert Hall Young Musician of the Year award, and in 2010, he was awarded the Camerata Ireland Young Musician of the Year. In 2015, he won the coveted RDS Music Bursary.
Internationally, Patrick was awarded 1st prize at the 2016 Valiant International Violin Competition in Switzerland, and also 1st prize at the 2016 London Performing Arts Festival. Throughout the past years his debuts and performances have taken place in some of the world’s most prestigious venues including the Royal Albert Hall London, Berlin Konzerthaus, CCK Buenos Aires, the Arts Centre, Soeul and Concertgebouw Amsterdam.
In October 2015, Patrick was invited to study under Maxim Vengerov at the International Menuhin Music Academy (IMMA), Switzerland and has performed as soloist and concertmaster with IMMA’s chamber ensemble the Menuhin Academy Soloists. Patrick has studied with and performed alongside some of the greatest performers and teachers in the world today, including Maxim Vengerov, Schlomo Mintz, Barry Douglas, John O’Conor, Igor Ozim, Serjei Krylov, Reiner Honeck, Maurizio Fucs and Graf Mourja. He has broadcast in Ireland, the UK, Argentina, Peru, Macedonia, Turkey, Japan, China, South Korea.
Patrick is grateful to play on a Georges Chanot violin kindly supported by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Siobhán Doyle, violin
Siobhán Doyle was born in Dublin and began playing the violin at an early age. Currently based in Amsterdam, Siobhán regularly performs both at home in Ireland and abroad as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral musician.
Siobhán has given solo performances with the Dublin Symphony Orchestra and the Orlando Chamber Orchestra, and recently performed in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam as an alumnus of the European Union Youth Orchetra. Passionate about chamber music, Siobhán has performed at festivals such as the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, the Clandeboye Festival, Aurora Festival (Sweden), and the Cowbridge Music Festival (Wales). In February 2019 she co-founded Aesynth Festival which celebrated art, music and synaesthesia with artist Jane Mackay.
A member of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra since 2019, Siobhán also regularly plays with ensembles such as the London Symphony Orchestra and Irish Chamber Orchestra, touring extensively throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Siobhán has also performed as a principal player with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Britten Pears Orchestra and Sinfonia Cymru.
Siobhán studied with Leland Chen at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. She is currently undertaking a masters degree with Nurit Stark at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart.
Ed Creedon, viola
Ed Creedon enjoys a varied career as a viola player, performing chamber music, in recitals and as an orchestral musician. This year he has performed in the National Concert Hall Chamber Music Gathering, toured throughout Ireland with the Lir String Quartet, toured to Finland, France and India with Camerata Ireland as well as solo performances with Camerata Ireland and Barry Douglas.
Recent chamber music highlights include performances with the Vanbrugh Quartet, as well as appearances with the Ficino Ensemble in Dublin, the Piatti Quartet in the U.K., at the Ortús Festival in Cork, and repeat invitations to the Clandeboye Festival in Co. Down and the Killaloe Festival of Chamber Music. For four consecutive summers he took part in the West Cork Chamber Music Festival’s Young Musicians’ Programme.
Ed comes from Cork and studied with Constantin Zanidache and Simon Aspell at CIT Cork School of Music.
Killian White, cello
Killian White was the first cellist to be awarded the RDS Music Bursary, the single largest annual classical music award in Ireland, and one of the largest in Europe. Killian was described as “an outstanding winner who impressed with a superb performance and a crystal clear sense of purpose,” by John O’Kane (RTÉ) and, “undoubtedly a performer with a very exciting career ahead of him” by Michael Duffy (RDS CEO). Killian has received numerous other awards and prizes, including the Fr Frank Maher Award (2017), the Aileen Gore Cup and RTÉ lyric fm Award at ESB Feis Ceoil, the National Concert Hall Young Musician Award, the Flax Trust Award and the Audience Prize at Camerata Ireland Clandeboye Music Festival (2015).
Born in 2000, Killian studied first with Martin Johnson, principal cellist with the NSO, and then with Christopher Marwood at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He recently commenced a Bachelors degree at the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, under world renowned professor Frans Helmerson. In 2019 in Berlin he performed at the Pierre Boulez Saal and at the James Simon Gallerie, while also engaging in solo performances in London, Dublin and throughout Ireland. Killian has a particular passion for chamber music and performed in the National Concert Hall Chamber Music Gathering in January 2017, 2018 and 2019. He recently performed as part of the Ophelia Quartet at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. He also enjoys orchestral performance and in January 2016 he was principal cellist with the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland. From 2015 to 2017 he participated in the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra in Switzerland. Killian has performed as soloist with many orchestras including the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Kaunas Symphony Orchestra, the Hibernian Orchestra, Dublin Symphony Orchestra, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and the New York Concerti Sinfonietta at Carnegie Hall. He has attended masterclasses with many renowned musicians such as Daniel Barenboim, Jerome Pernoo, Mauricio Fuks and Andres Diaz.