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Quartet No.2, Op.15

Alexander Zemlinksy (b. 1871 - d. 1942)

Zemlinsky Quartet (photo credit: Tomáš Bican)

Zemlinsky Quartet (photo credit: Tomáš Bican)

Composer
Alexander Zemlinksy (b. 1871 - d. 1942)
Composition Year
1915
Work Movements
1. Sehr mässig - Heftig und leidenschaftlich
2. Andante mosso - Etwas rascher - Adagio
3. Schnell
4. Im selben tempo, doch sehr ruhig
5. Mit energischer Entschlossenheit
6. Tempo I (molto allegro) - Langsam
Artists
Zemlinsky Quartet (František Souček, Petr Střížek [violins], Petr Holman [viola], Vladimír Fortin [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

The story of this quartet is inextricably entwined with Zemlinsky's relationship with Schönberg. Both of them were born in Vienna with Zemlinsky the older by two years. Zemlinsky, blessed with well-off parents, received a thorough musical education at the Vienna Conservatoire, unlike Schönberg, whose background was so impoverished that he finished school at sixteen. He taught himself the cello and was thus able in 1895 to join Zemlinsky's amateur orchestra, Polyhymnia. He and Zemlinsky became firm friends and in 1901 Schönberg married Zemlinsky's sister, Mathilde. Two years earlier he had composed for her that sensual hymn to love, Verklärte Nacht. They had two children but Schönberg was not easy to live with and in 1908 Mathilde began an affair with the painter, Richard Gerstl, and briefly eloped with him. She soon returned to Schönberg for the sake of the children, but Gerstl committed suicide later that year. The fall-out from this tragedy affected all of them for years afterwards and in many ways Mathilde never recovered, dying prematurely in 1923. In the interim, the heartfelt friendship between the two composers was severely shaken.

Zemlinsky's Second Quartet dates from 1915 and he dedicated it to Schönberg in a spirit of rapprochement. When he told him of the dedication, he added the enigmatic comment that the work would pretend to be in F sharp minor. In fact the work rotates firmly around the tonal axis of D and the key of F sharp minor scarcely appears. The explanation for Zemlinsky's key signature lies in the symbolism of the key, for the German word Kreuz has a double meaning, signifying both sharp and cross. So the three sharps of this key provide a schematic depiction of Golgotha, thus a symbol of pain, suffering, grief and guilt. The work contains a wealth of other symbols, Zemlinsky's own musical monogram as well as a similar one for Mathilde, while Schönberg himself is often referred to by his instrument, the cello, as well as by his own monogram.

It is not necessary to follow these symbols in detail in order to understand this chamber music drama, whose six movements are played without a break. Violence and passion make an early appearance in the first movement and we are immediately made aware of the overwhelming intensity of the drama that is about to unfold. Early in the second movement Mathilde's theme can be heard sounding out in utter solitude, instantly contrasted with busy inconsiderate voices, ignoring and rejecting her. The second half of this long movement then builds to a searingly intense musical climax leading to a quiet and pensive aftermath. The Scherzo paints a not entirely sympathetic portrait of Schönberg through a rigidly inflexible figure in the cello. The fourth movement begins dramatically but slowly works towards some kind of peaceful reconciliation that is broken into by the preparation for more drama in the fifth movement. It has been said that Zemlinsky adopted for this quartet Schönberg's imagery of the string quartet as the family circle whose interrelationships vary in dizzying combinations. The sixth and final movement tries hard to work towards a stable resolution of all these conflicting forces, reaching at the close for apotheosis. 

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Quartet No.2, Op.15

Composer: Alexander Zemlinksy (b. 1871 - d. 1942)
Performance date: Friday 4th July 2014
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Alexander Zemlinksy (b. 1871 - d. 1942)
Work Title Quartet No.2, Op.15
Composition Year 1915
Work Movements 1. Sehr mässig - Heftig und leidenschaftlich
2. Andante mosso - Etwas rascher - Adagio
3. Schnell
4. Im selben tempo, doch sehr ruhig
5. Mit energischer Entschlossenheit
6. Tempo I (molto allegro) - Langsam
Artist(s) Zemlinsky Quartet (František Souček, Petr Střížek [violins], Petr Holman [viola], Vladimír Fortin [cello])
Performance Date Friday 4th July 2014
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:40:34
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

The story of this quartet is inextricably entwined with Zemlinsky's relationship with Schönberg. Both of them were born in Vienna with Zemlinsky the older by two years. Zemlinsky, blessed with well-off parents, received a thorough musical education at the Vienna Conservatoire, unlike Schönberg, whose background was so impoverished that he finished school at sixteen. He taught himself the cello and was thus able in 1895 to join Zemlinsky's amateur orchestra, Polyhymnia. He and Zemlinsky became firm friends and in 1901 Schönberg married Zemlinsky's sister, Mathilde. Two years earlier he had composed for her that sensual hymn to love, Verklärte Nacht. They had two children but Schönberg was not easy to live with and in 1908 Mathilde began an affair with the painter, Richard Gerstl, and briefly eloped with him. She soon returned to Schönberg for the sake of the children, but Gerstl committed suicide later that year. The fall-out from this tragedy affected all of them for years afterwards and in many ways Mathilde never recovered, dying prematurely in 1923. In the interim, the heartfelt friendship between the two composers was severely shaken.

Zemlinsky's Second Quartet dates from 1915 and he dedicated it to Schönberg in a spirit of rapprochement. When he told him of the dedication, he added the enigmatic comment that the work would pretend to be in F sharp minor. In fact the work rotates firmly around the tonal axis of D and the key of F sharp minor scarcely appears. The explanation for Zemlinsky's key signature lies in the symbolism of the key, for the German word Kreuz has a double meaning, signifying both sharp and cross. So the three sharps of this key provide a schematic depiction of Golgotha, thus a symbol of pain, suffering, grief and guilt. The work contains a wealth of other symbols, Zemlinsky's own musical monogram as well as a similar one for Mathilde, while Schönberg himself is often referred to by his instrument, the cello, as well as by his own monogram.

It is not necessary to follow these symbols in detail in order to understand this chamber music drama, whose six movements are played without a break. Violence and passion make an early appearance in the first movement and we are immediately made aware of the overwhelming intensity of the drama that is about to unfold. Early in the second movement Mathilde's theme can be heard sounding out in utter solitude, instantly contrasted with busy inconsiderate voices, ignoring and rejecting her. The second half of this long movement then builds to a searingly intense musical climax leading to a quiet and pensive aftermath. The Scherzo paints a not entirely sympathetic portrait of Schönberg through a rigidly inflexible figure in the cello. The fourth movement begins dramatically but slowly works towards some kind of peaceful reconciliation that is broken into by the preparation for more drama in the fifth movement. It has been said that Zemlinsky adopted for this quartet Schönberg's imagery of the string quartet as the family circle whose interrelationships vary in dizzying combinations. The sixth and final movement tries hard to work towards a stable resolution of all these conflicting forces, reaching at the close for apotheosis.