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2019/2020 - The Prism Project

Program I
J.S. Bach: Fugue No. 7 in E♭ Major, B.W.V. 876 (arr. Mozart) from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II
Beethoven : Quartet No. 12 in E♭ Minor, Op. 127
Shostakovich : Quartet No. 15 in E♭ Major

Beethoven’s heroic E-flat Major quartet contrasts with Shostakovich’s melancholic E-flat minor quartet, his last of the genre. Shostakovich is one of the masters of the quartet medium, and in his last years he was especially obsessed with Beethoven’s late quartets. The Quartet No. 15 is a masterpiece. Tipping the hat to Beethoven and Bach, it opens with a huge E-flat minor fugue. It is an interesting curiosity that Mozart produced a quartet arrangement of the Bach fugue in E-flat major. 

Program II
J.S. Bach : Fugue No. 24 in B♭ Major, B.W.V. 869 (arr. Förster) from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1
Beethoven : Quartet No. 13 in B♭ Major, Op. 13 Große Fuge, Op. 133
Schnittke : Quartet No. 3

While composing the late quartets, Beethoven was particularly obsessed with the huge B-flat minor fugue No. 24 of Bach. He even transcribed a chunk of it for string quartet. According to Lockwood, a lot of the thematic material in the Op. 130/133, 131 and 132 quartets are based on this specific fugue. This is particularly obvious in the Op. 133 Große Fuge. 160 years later, Schnittke based his masterful third string quartet on the Große Fuge and there is thus a very strong link that binds this program together. The Große Fuge was considered as completely crazy music at the time of its composition; and sandwiching it between Bach’s “old testament of classical music” and the contemporary sounds of Schnittke creates a very interesting soundscape.

Program III
J.S. Bach : Fugue No. 4 in C♯ Minor, B.W.V. 849 (arr. Förster) from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
Beethoven : Quartet No. 14 in C♯ Minor, Op. 131
Bartok : Quartet No. 1 in A minor

Beethoven based the canonical fugue from his Op. 131 quartet on thematic material from Bach’s Csharp minor fugue No. 4. Bartók was perhaps the first composer to rival Beethoven in the string quartet medium, and scholars agree that there are direct links from Beethoven’s fugue and counterpoint from Op. 131 to the huge, slow fugue in the first movement of Bartók. During the quartet, however, Bartók is writing himself out of Beethoven’s shadow, immersing himself in a new and completely valid style of music.

Program IV
J.S. Bach : Fugue No. 16 in G minor, B.W.V. 861 (arr. Förster) from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
Beethoven : Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132
Mendelssohn : Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13

Here, again, there is a direct link between Bach and Beethoven; Bach’s fugue serves as source material for Beethoven’s Op. 132 quartet. The links to Mendelssohn’s Op. 13 quartet are well known. One need only look to the structure, key signature, and the several direct quotes to see the parallel.

Program V
J.S. Bach :  Fugue No. 18: Fuga a 3 Soggetti; Contrapunctus XIV from Kunst der Fuge, B.W.V. 1060
Beethoven :String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135
Webern : String Quartet (1905)
J.S. Bach Für deinen Thron tret‘ ich, B.W.V 668

Bach’s final Contrapunctus famously ends in the middle of a viola line. Beethoven’s Op. 135 opens tentatively in the viola with the notorious “Muss es Sein?” motive from the last movement. Webern takes up the ball in his somewhat recently discovered first string quartet, based directly on the “Muss es sein?” motive and putting it in a completely different context. We thought of ending the whole thing where

(March – August 2019: Sabbatical)