JOHANNES BRAHMS String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1
The mercilessly self-critical Brahms described his C-Minor Quartet as "mean and paltry," but posterity has rendered a different verdict on his masterpiece. The two Op. 51 quartets are dedicated to Theodor Billroth, Brahms's surgeon friend in Vienna and an accomplished amateur violist. Billroth knew better than to take the composer's judgment at face value. "These dedications will keep our names known longer than our best work," he remarked to a fellow dedicatee.
GYÖRGY KURTÁG Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky, Op. 28
As a student in Paris in the late 1950s, Hungarian composer György Kurtág became so fascinated by the music of Anton Webern (whose works were unavailable in Communist Hungary) that he went to the library and copied out by hand virtually the entire output of the Austrian composer. Kurtág's debt to Webern is apparent in the spare, aphoristic style of this richly allusive work, which was first performed on April 22, 1989, in Witten, Germany, by the Auryn Quartet.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131
Beethoven considered Op. 131 the best of his 16 string quartets. Although much has been written about the work's unconventional seven-part structure and often abstruse tonal relationships, the robust lyricism and emotional intensity of the music have never failed to pull listeners into its unforgettable sound world. One of the C-sharp-Minor Quartet's greatest admirers was Franz Schubert, who is said to have requested a performance on his deathbed.