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Quartet No.1 in D major Op.25

Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)

Jupiter Quartet (photo credit: Merri Cyr)

Jupiter Quartet (photo credit: Merri Cyr)

Composer
Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Composition Year
1941
Work Movements
1. Andante sostenuto – Allegro vivo
2. Allegretto con slancio
3. Andante calmo
4. Molto vivace
Artists
Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins] Liz Freivogel [viola] Dan McDonough [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Britten’s First Quartet was composed while he was in USA and was commissioned by that famous patron of music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who gave him barely three months between commission and the Los Angeles premiere. Luckily Britten already had sketches for a quartet to hand and was able to complete the commission on time despite having to work in a garden shed. Coolidge was a remarkable woman, who inherited a substantial fortune and, on account of her great love of music – she herself was a pianist – decided to devote her wealth to the support of chamber music. She and Paul Sacher in Switzerland between them commissioned or otherwise supported most of the significant composers of the twentieth century. It is not yet clear who if anyone will be their twenty-first century successor.

The opening of the quartet is extraordinary, disembodied high-pitched clusters singing above the pizzicato cello, eventually fading away to reveal a brutally thrusting Allegro that in turn is overcome by the return of the luminous, otherworldly opening. This intensely concentrated movement springs a final surprise in the coda. The brief Scherzo takes up the tale with a busy march shot through with explosive interjections, increasing the effect of the serene slow movement that follows. This is the heart of the work and its warmth and lyricism stands comparison with the great slow movements from an earlier era. The high-spirited finale returns to the D major of the first movement, a lively attempt at a fugue is swept away by a broad and expansive melody with hints of Les Illuminations and as in the opening movement the two ideas alternate on stage until finally brought triumphantly together.

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Quartet No.1 in D major Op.25

Composer: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Performance date: Saturday 29th June 2013
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Work Title Quartet No.1 in D major Op.25
Composition Year 1941
Work Movements 1. Andante sostenuto – Allegro vivo
2. Allegretto con slancio
3. Andante calmo
4. Molto vivace
Artist(s) Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins] Liz Freivogel [viola] Dan McDonough [cello])
Performance Date Saturday 29th June 2013
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Stars in the Afternoon
Duration 00:25:02
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Britten’s First Quartet was composed while he was in USA and was commissioned by that famous patron of music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who gave him barely three months between commission and the Los Angeles premiere. Luckily Britten already had sketches for a quartet to hand and was able to complete the commission on time despite having to work in a garden shed. Coolidge was a remarkable woman, who inherited a substantial fortune and, on account of her great love of music – she herself was a pianist – decided to devote her wealth to the support of chamber music. She and Paul Sacher in Switzerland between them commissioned or otherwise supported most of the significant composers of the twentieth century. It is not yet clear who if anyone will be their twenty-first century successor.

The opening of the quartet is extraordinary, disembodied high-pitched clusters singing above the pizzicato cello, eventually fading away to reveal a brutally thrusting Allegro that in turn is overcome by the return of the luminous, otherworldly opening. This intensely concentrated movement springs a final surprise in the coda. The brief Scherzo takes up the tale with a busy march shot through with explosive interjections, increasing the effect of the serene slow movement that follows. This is the heart of the work and its warmth and lyricism stands comparison with the great slow movements from an earlier era. The high-spirited finale returns to the D major of the first movement, a lively attempt at a fugue is swept away by a broad and expansive melody with hints of Les Illuminations and as in the opening movement the two ideas alternate on stage until finally brought triumphantly together.