October & November 2022
Where there is darkness, light
Vasyl Barvinsky (1888—1963) | Prayer
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906—1975) | String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor, Op. 122
I. Introduction: Andantino
II. Scherzo: Allegretto
III. Recitative: Adagio
IV. Etude: Allegro
V. Humoresque: Allegro
VI. Elegy: Adagio
VII. Finale: Moderato — Meno mosso — Moderato
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770—1827) | String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127
II. Theme and Variations
Where there is darkness, light is our annual voyage into the remarkable world of Beethoven and Shostakovich quartets. As is often the case with these two giants, there is tremendous contrast and a delicate balance between light and dark. This year’s pairing gives us two extraordinary works, each stemming from the composers’ late periods. For the first time since we began this series eight years ago, we add a third voice to the conversation, opening the program with Ukrainian composer Vasyl Barvinsky’s beautiful Prayer for string quartet. We offer it as a space for our collective yearning for peace.
We then turn to Shostakovich’s heart wrenching Quartet No. 11, written following the untimely death of his dear friend and collaborator Vasili Shirinskyi, a founding member of the Beethoven String Quartet, who premiered all ten of Shostakovich’s previous quartets, and played together for more than 40 years without a personnel change. This loss was devastating for Shostakovich, and for the quartet, and this 11th quartet feels like a very personal expression of his grief. Throughout the piece, the textures are extremely spare, with Shostakovich utilizing only a few voices at a time, as though writing the absence they were all feeling into the music… This very compact quartet is in seven movements played without pause, almost certainly a nod to Beethoven’s groundbreaking Op. 131 String Quartet, also composed in seven movements played without pause. This is one of many indications that Shostakovich studied and drew inspiration from Beethoven’s quartets, while leaving his own bold stamp on the genre.
Beethoven’s extraordinary Op. 127 closes the program. Written twelve years after his Op. 95 String Quartet, this work marks a clear shift from Beethoven’s so-called “heroic” middle period into the deeply personal, patient exploration of the innermost corners of the self that characterizes his late period. While darkness peers around some corners, there is also an incredible warmth and tenderness, a sense of generosity and serenity that tempers the boldness of Beethoven’s voice. He continues the structural and harmonic experimentation employed in his recently completed Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis, but this time on the more intimate scale of the string quartet. To me, one of the most magical parts of this work is that Beethoven uses the almost maniacal control over time and tension he had cultivated up until this point to expand and create space, rather than control and constrain it. The through-line is always present, but he allows himself to wander and explore, suspending tension without releasing it.
Even nearly two hundred years later, Beethoven’s late quartets still feel modern and revelatory, like a profound gift stemming from a deep hope for humanity. We share Op. 127 in the spirit of nourishing that hope together here in this space, and as we go out again into the world.
~ Sasha Callahan