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Quartet No.3 Op.25

Egon Wellesz (b. 1885 - d. 1974)

Composer
Egon Wellesz (b. 1885 - d. 1974)
Composition Year
1918
Work Movements
1. Langsam
2. Leidenschaftlich bewegt
3. Sehr gedehnt
4. Anmutig bewegt, Heiter
Artists
Artis Quartet (Peter Schuhmayer, Johannes Meissl [violins], Herbert Kefer [viola], Othmar Müller [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Egon Wellesz was one of the lucky ones, despite being a well-known Jewish composer and Professor of Music based in Vienna in 1938 he lived to be nearly ninety. The Fates must have smiled on him for he was in Amsterdam for a performance of his Prospero’s Invocation conducted by Bruno Walter on 13 March 1938 when Anschluss took place and was warned not to return home. As one of the founders of the International Society for Contemporary Music he was well-known throughout Europe and was able to emigrate to England, where he got a fellowship at Lincoln College Oxford.

Wellesz is often thought of as a member of the Second Viennese School but, like Zemlinsky, he managed quite early on to forge his own path separate from that of Schoenberg although he participated in his famous Society for Private Musical performances. Naturally when the Nazis siezed power his music was forbidden and like many interwar composers his place as a leading European composer was almost obliterated. However he has over 130 works to his name including nine quartets and nine symphonies although prior to his exile he was known mostly as an opera composer. He was also a famed musicologist and one the world’s leading authorities on Byzantine music.

His Third Quartet was composed in the final months of 1918 just before the final defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, timing that clearly influenced the darkness of the work’s middle movements. However despite years of brutal war with France, Wellesz seemingly had no problems about turning to the works of Ravel and Debussy for some of his inspiration, especially in his opening movement. This is an exquisitely beautiful slow movement, built on two highly expressive themes, one - sehr ausdrucksvoll - plaintive and chromatic and full of yearning, the other – breit gesungen – a song of heartbreaking beauty. The whole movement has a dreamlike quality that only bursts into the real world in its final bars, preparing us for the danse macabre of the next movement. This passionately turbulent movement unleashes itself over a relentless ostinato. The central section continues at the same unstoppable pace but with a calmer theme that unfurls exquisitely over a richly textured accompaniment, very much in the impressionist mode, until the terrible dance returns. The final bars fairly explode with fury.

The second slow movement is almost overwhelmed with mourning, alternating stunned chorale-like chords with drawn-out solo recitatives that speak only of loss and sadness in phrases of horrified beauty. This drawn-out song of sorrow leads directly into an almost inappropriately cheerful finale that has been described as a kind of contrapuntal gigue whose second tune is introduced in a witty fugato. The first movement is recalled twice in rhapsodic impressionist episodes, but the mood remains determinedly upbeat and ebullient.

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Quartet No.3 Op.25

Composer: Egon Wellesz (b. 1885 - d. 1974)
Performance date: Saturday 26th June 2010
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Egon Wellesz (b. 1885 - d. 1974)
Work Title Quartet No.3 Op.25
Composition Year 1918
Work Movements 1. Langsam
2. Leidenschaftlich bewegt
3. Sehr gedehnt
4. Anmutig bewegt, Heiter
Artist(s) Artis Quartet (Peter Schuhmayer, Johannes Meissl [violins], Herbert Kefer [viola], Othmar Müller [cello])
Performance Date Saturday 26th June 2010
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:27:55
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Egon Wellesz was one of the lucky ones, despite being a well-known Jewish composer and Professor of Music based in Vienna in 1938 he lived to be nearly ninety. The Fates must have smiled on him for he was in Amsterdam for a performance of his Prospero’s Invocation conducted by Bruno Walter on 13 March 1938 when Anschluss took place and was warned not to return home. As one of the founders of the International Society for Contemporary Music he was well-known throughout Europe and was able to emigrate to England, where he got a fellowship at Lincoln College Oxford.

Wellesz is often thought of as a member of the Second Viennese School but, like Zemlinsky, he managed quite early on to forge his own path separate from that of Schoenberg although he participated in his famous Society for Private Musical performances. Naturally when the Nazis siezed power his music was forbidden and like many interwar composers his place as a leading European composer was almost obliterated. However he has over 130 works to his name including nine quartets and nine symphonies although prior to his exile he was known mostly as an opera composer. He was also a famed musicologist and one the world’s leading authorities on Byzantine music.

His Third Quartet was composed in the final months of 1918 just before the final defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, timing that clearly influenced the darkness of the work’s middle movements. However despite years of brutal war with France, Wellesz seemingly had no problems about turning to the works of Ravel and Debussy for some of his inspiration, especially in his opening movement. This is an exquisitely beautiful slow movement, built on two highly expressive themes, one - sehr ausdrucksvoll - plaintive and chromatic and full of yearning, the other – breit gesungen – a song of heartbreaking beauty. The whole movement has a dreamlike quality that only bursts into the real world in its final bars, preparing us for the danse macabre of the next movement. This passionately turbulent movement unleashes itself over a relentless ostinato. The central section continues at the same unstoppable pace but with a calmer theme that unfurls exquisitely over a richly textured accompaniment, very much in the impressionist mode, until the terrible dance returns. The final bars fairly explode with fury.

The second slow movement is almost overwhelmed with mourning, alternating stunned chorale-like chords with drawn-out solo recitatives that speak only of loss and sadness in phrases of horrified beauty. This drawn-out song of sorrow leads directly into an almost inappropriately cheerful finale that has been described as a kind of contrapuntal gigue whose second tune is introduced in a witty fugato. The first movement is recalled twice in rhapsodic impressionist episodes, but the mood remains determinedly upbeat and ebullient.