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String Quartet No.2 Op.35

Ahmed Adnan Saygun (b. 1907 - d. 1991)

Elina Vähälä (photo credit: Laura Riihelä)

Elina Vähälä (photo credit: Laura Riihelä)

Composer
Ahmed Adnan Saygun (b. 1907 - d. 1991)
Composition Year
1958
Work Movements
1.Cupo
2.Moderato
3.Animato
4.Grave
Artists
Joonas Ahonen [piano], Elina Vähäla [violin]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Saygun was born in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and came of age just as the new Turkish Republic was being established. Like many national composers of that era he was an avid researcher of his country’s traditional folk music and he even took Bartók himself on a research tour in Anatolia in 1936. His legacy includes five operas, five symphonies, five concertos, four string quartets, an oratorio on the Sufi mystic Yunus Emre and many other works. Although Saygun’s quartets are steeped in the European heritage, his inclusion of ideas derived from Turkish folk music ensure his quartets stand out unmistakably when heard alongside other European works.

His Second Quartet, like Bartók’s Fifth, was yet another commission by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and was premiered by the Juillard Quartet in Washington, which gives some idea of Saygun’s international reach in his lifetime. The first movement opens with a dreamlike theme on the viola with hints of Russian introspection. This is in acute contrast with an intensely dramatic main theme out of which another idea develops much in the manner of Bartók leading eventually to a hard-hitting climax, which returns us to the beginning with the theme in the violin this time. At the close the viola reclaims his sad song.

If the nationality of the composer was in doubt in the opening movement, the extraordinary second movement is clearly of oriental origin. It begins with a col legno ostinato tapping from the cello in a sinister rhythm that hints at drama to follow, which a high-lying violin quickly supplies. Each return of the ostinato rhythm leads to new, mostly violent, ideas. The invention never seems to falter as each time the music takes breath, a new storm is unleashed. The morendo ending is a surprise but signals that the drama is not yet concluded. And the third movement does not disappoint with a wild Turkish dance whose momentum is driven by a combination of pizzicato and bowing in dizzying combinations. The thrilling finale juxtaposes grave and animato scenes in extreme alterations built up with Saygun’s innate dramatic flair.

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String Quartet No.2 Op.35

Composer: Ahmed Adnan Saygun (b. 1907 - d. 1991)
Performance date: Wednesday 3rd July 2013
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun (b. 1907 - d. 1991)
Work Title String Quartet No.2 Op.35
Composition Year 1958
Work Movements 1.Cupo
2.Moderato
3.Animato
4.Grave
Artist(s) Joonas Ahonen [piano], Elina Vähäla [violin]
Performance Date Wednesday 3rd July 2013
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:14:28
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation vn, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Saygun was born in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and came of age just as the new Turkish Republic was being established. Like many national composers of that era he was an avid researcher of his country’s traditional folk music and he even took Bartók himself on a research tour in Anatolia in 1936. His legacy includes five operas, five symphonies, five concertos, four string quartets, an oratorio on the Sufi mystic Yunus Emre and many other works. Although Saygun’s quartets are steeped in the European heritage, his inclusion of ideas derived from Turkish folk music ensure his quartets stand out unmistakably when heard alongside other European works.

His Second Quartet, like Bartók’s Fifth, was yet another commission by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and was premiered by the Juillard Quartet in Washington, which gives some idea of Saygun’s international reach in his lifetime. The first movement opens with a dreamlike theme on the viola with hints of Russian introspection. This is in acute contrast with an intensely dramatic main theme out of which another idea develops much in the manner of Bartók leading eventually to a hard-hitting climax, which returns us to the beginning with the theme in the violin this time. At the close the viola reclaims his sad song.

If the nationality of the composer was in doubt in the opening movement, the extraordinary second movement is clearly of oriental origin. It begins with a col legno ostinato tapping from the cello in a sinister rhythm that hints at drama to follow, which a high-lying violin quickly supplies. Each return of the ostinato rhythm leads to new, mostly violent, ideas. The invention never seems to falter as each time the music takes breath, a new storm is unleashed. The morendo ending is a surprise but signals that the drama is not yet concluded. And the third movement does not disappoint with a wild Turkish dance whose momentum is driven by a combination of pizzicato and bowing in dizzying combinations. The thrilling finale juxtaposes grave and animato scenes in extreme alterations built up with Saygun’s innate dramatic flair.