LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN String Quartet
in F Minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”
16 string quartets constitute a towering achievement that has both inspired and
intimidated composers ever since. Schumann declared that the genre had “come to
a standstill” since Beethoven’s death. By the time the F-Minor Quartet was
written, the callow virtuoso who had taken Vienna by storm in the 1790s had
long since matured into a musical revolutionary.
HENRY PURCELL Chaconne in G Minor (arr.
short piece attests to Britten’s lifelong engagement with Purcell’s music, both
as a composer and as a performer. He produced his arrangement in the late
1940s, shortly before the English Opera Group’s landmark production of Purcell’s
Dido and Aeneas in a modern edition
prepared by Britten and Imogen Holst.
BENJAMIN BRITTEN String Quartet No 2 in
C Major, Op. 36
counting a student work composed in 1931 and belatedly published in the
mid-1970s, Britten wrote three quartets—two in the early 1940s and the last in
1975. An homage to Purcell, the Second Quartet of 1945 followed close on the
heels of Peter Grimes, the opera in
which Britten aimed to “restore to the musical setting of the English language
a brilliance, freedom, and vitality that have been curiously rare since the
death of Purcell.”
ROBERT SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E-flat Major,
ever-popular Piano Quintet in E-flat Major was a highlight of Schumann’s “chamber
music year” of 1842, a hugely productive period that saw the composition of no
fewer than three string quartets as well as the Op. 47 Piano Quartet. In all five
pieces, Schumann distanced himself from the literary models that had inspired
much of his earlier work, concentrating instead on structural clarity and the
craft of composition.