Permian Basin String Quartet
Saturday, November 13, 2021 | 7:30PM
Odessa College - Jack Rodgers Auditorium

La Oración del Torero, Op. 34 (1926)
Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)

Spain enjoyed a musical “Golden Age” during the Renaissance, after which it was largely overshadowed on the international stage by the prevailing styles from Italy, France and the German speaking countries. It was not until the rise of musical nationalism in the late 19th century that Spain found its voice again with its first modern masters such as Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Manuel de Falla, whose most well-known music was written in the early twentieth century. Their influence had a significant effect on the younger Joaquín Turina. Showing great ability from an early age, he was encouraged by these Spanish mentors to spend time in Paris, where he met the French masters, Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. He developed a style that combined certain aspects of musical Impressionism with themes of his heritage and came to be regarded as one of Spain’s most prolific 20th century composers, best known for both his atmospheric piano music and his colourful ensemble works.

La Oración del Torero (“The Bullfighter’s Prayer”) is a chamber tone poem composed in 1925, originally for the laúd ensemble, Quarteto Aguilar. Translated strictly, ‘laúd’ means ‘lute’, but unlike the baroque instruments of the same name, Spanish lutes are folkloric instruments, more like mandolins with their pear-shaped bodies and doubled strings. As an ensemble they cover a wide range of pitches, with the ‘bandurria’ and ‘laudete’ playing the highest parts and the ‘laúd tenor’ and ‘laudón’ covering the tenor and bass ranges. In 1926 Turina arranged the piece for string quartet, for piano trio, and also for string orchestra. He described his inspiration for the work:

“One afternoon of bullfighting in the Madrid arena...I saw my work. I was in the court of horses. Behind a small door, there was a chapel, filled with incense, where toreadors went right before facing death. It was then there appeared, in front of my eyes, in all its plenitude, this subjectively musical and expressive contrast between the hubbub of the arena, the public that awaited the fiesta, and the devotion of those who, in front of this poor altar, filled with touching poetry, prayed to God to protect their lives.”

In a single movement Turina blends the two Spanish themes of religion and bullfighting, the musical sounds of the nationalistic fiesta alternating with the meditations of its protagonist. Shimmering atmospheres peppered with pizzicato and guitar-derived idiomatic ornaments set an exotic scene for adventure, bravado and passion. The cello seems to represent the voice of the hero, heard alternating between a ‘paso doble’ theme (reminiscent of the bull ring) and free- form recitatives (in the style of flamenco verses, or ‘coplas’). Impressionistic sections grow increasingly passionate as the toreador approaches the potentially fatal spectacle, a test of both his courage and his honour. Then in a dreamy reflection full of longing and hope he makes his prayer that he will be protected and with this reverie the music calms to finish in a quiet glow.

- Elizabeth Dalton, 2018

String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 2 “The Joke”
Franz Joseph Haydn (1781) (1732-1809)

I. Allegro moderato
II. Scherzo: Allegro
III. Largo e sostenuto
IV. Presto

Haydn is known as the “Father of the String Quartet,” and for good reason. The divertimentos of his Opp. 1 and 2 may not have been the absolute first of the genre chronologically (but possibly – even plausibly – so; it’s complicated), but none of his contemporaries in the 1750s could match him for quantity or quality. His list today stands at nearly 70, not including a number of authentic arrangements, and his works were widely traveled in manuscript (later in print) and much discussed and emulated by other musicians, including Mozart.

In the early 1770s, Haydn produced more divertimentos for string quartet, three sets of six each, Opp. 9, 17, and 20. Opus 33 – another set of six – followed about ten years later, composed in 1781 and published in 1782. These were his first string quartets that actually used that name, instead of divertimento. In December of 1781, Haydn wrote a number of letters (three survive) to potential patrons/subscribers of the set describing how they had been written in a new and special way. This was not just a marketing pitch; where Op. 20 had been music of “storm and stress,” full of fugues and dark minor keys, Op. 33 was in the balanced – though utterly personal – Classical style we associate with mature Haydn.

Perhaps the most significant single element of that personal Classical style is humor, or wit. One of the nicknames that this new set picked up early on was ”Gli scherzi” (The Jokes). (They are also known as the “Russian” Quartets because they were dedicated to a Russian nobleman and premiered at the Vienna apartment of his wife on Christmas Day, 1781.) This was probably because this was also Haydn’s first set in which scherzos replaced minuets, but beyond that specific bit of nomenclature (more in a bit), these works are full of the musical equivalents of pratfalls and one-liners.

And the second quartet of the set is specifically nicknamed “The Joke” because it ends with the most obvious one; spoiler alert! The last movement is a rondo, a form in which a principal theme alternates with contrasting tunes, usually in another key. The main theme of this one is fleet and joyful. After the final contrasting – extremely so – section, it returns as expected, only to be filled with hesitant pauses, as though Haydn – or the performers – are uncertain about when they have reached the end. The last pause grows anxiously, to be finished off with a soft whisper: more question than answer. In some ways, this movement is almost a parody of the “storm and stress” drama in Haydn’s Op. 20 quartets.

What Haydn had in mind with the “new and special way” he wrote about, however, was not the jokes so much as a fresh way of elaborating themes immediately, exploding them into small fragments which can be manipulated and recombined in many ways. This is quickly apparent in the first movement, with the buoyant opening theme fractured as soon as it is stated, and its component motifs played dexterously. The ensuing scherzo movement is not so very much different from Haydn’s previous minuets; a dance maybe more rustic than courtly, but in the usual triple meter and AB-A form, with a contrasting “Trio” section. The beautifully solemn Largo sostenuto slow movement also shares features of Haydn’s Op. 20 pieces, particularly the counterpoint in instrumental pairs. Even here, though, there is humor as well, in its quirky center section, full of syncopation and carefully gradeated dynamics, which have the unsettling effect of putting weight on silences and making soft sounds their echo.

- LA Philharmonic

Blueprint (2016)
Caroline Shaw (b. 1982)

Program note from the premiere by the Aizuri String Quartet at Wolf Trap, on April 8, 2016

Te Aizuri Quartet's name comes from "aizuri-e," a style of Japanese woodblock printing that primarily uses a blue ink. In the 1820s, artists in Japan began to import a particular blue pigment known as "Prussian blue," which was first synthesized by German paint producers in the early 18th century and later modified by others as an alternative to indigo. The story of aizuri-e is one of innovation, migration, transformation, craft, and beauty. Blueprint, composed for the incredible Aizuri Quartet, takes its title from this beautiful blue woodblock printing tradition as well as from that familiar standard architectural representation of a proposed structure: the blueprint. This piece began its life as a harmonic reduction — a kind of floor plan — of Beethoven's string quartet Op. 18 No. 6. As a violinist and violist, I have played this piece many times, in performance and in joyous late-night reading sessions with musician friends. (One such memorable session included Aizuri's marvelous cellist, Karen Ouzounian.) Chamber music is ultimately about conversation without words. We talk to each other with our dynamics and articulations, and we try to give voice to the composers whose music has inspired us to gather in the same room and play music. Blueprint is also a conversation — with Beethoven, with Haydn (his teacher and the "father" of the string quartet), and with the joys and malinconia of his Op. 18 No. 6.

- Caroline Shaw

String Quartet in F Major (1903)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

I. Allegro moderato: Trés doux
II. Assez vif - Trés rythmé
III. Trés lent
IV. Vif et agité

In 1903, the 28-year-old Ravel was completing his studies at the Paris Conservatory. By this time he had been studying there for half of his life, and had entered the much-desired Grand Prix de Rome competition several times, though never receiving higher than second place. This first and only string quartet again failed to win him the prestigious award. However, the Quartet in F major is an early demonstration of Ravel’s brilliant juxtaposition of formality and sensuality, and his incredible use of tone color. At times it sounds like a much fuller string section than four instruments.

It is a common occurrence for artists to thrive within some sort of limitation or structure. So it was with Ravel, whose music blossomed under restraint. Though Ravel may have been the consummate perfectionist composer, he seems to have felt a certain freedom to be bold and spontaneous in writing the String Quartet. The String Quartet is often considered Ravel’s first masterpiece, and continues to be one of the most widely performed chamber music works in the classical repertoire, representing Ravel’s early achievements and rise from obscurity.

The Quartet does follow the traditional four-movement classical structure. Like Debussy’s String Quartet of a decade earlier, Ravel’s Quartet also uses themes cyclically throughout the work. Ravel dedicated the piece to his teacher, Gabriel Fauré. The first movement, marked Allegro moderato – Très doux (very sweet) is full of lyrical and soaring lines on the violin. The second movement, the shortest of the Quartet, is marked Assez vif (rather lively). The music shifts back and forth between pizzicato and more lyrical sections, all highlighting the triple meter with different rhythmic combinations reminiscent of Iberian folk music. The slower, more lyrical middle section of the movement sounds at times almost timeworn – primeval or exotic – with the first violin playing creaky, rising lines while the other strings pluck out eerie accompaniment. Low, pizzicato runs leap back into the first section material, and barge ahead to a stomping conclusion.

The nocturne-like third movement, Très lent (very slow), recycles melodic material from the first movement, moving between tension and relaxation throughout, with effective use of tremolo in the supporting lines. At several moments, the first violin soars high, full of romantic bitter sweetness, then subsides, as stranger and more suspenseful themes take over. Although the music is slow and contemplative, there is a sense of inevitable movement forward, as if we are strapped into a roller coaster car moving slowly on the track. Finally, it comes to rest high and soft, giving some peace after a great deal of disquiet.

The finale, Vif et agité (lively and agitated), starts and ends stormily, with moments of respite. Vigorous eighth notes open and are answered by recollections of the first movement. There is great unity in the String Quartet, with the cyclical themes throughout.

- LA Philharmonic


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