"

VISIT WESTCORKMUSIC.IE

LATEST ADDITION TO THE ARCHIVE

Quartet No.3 Op.94 [1975]

Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)

Composer
Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Composition Year
1975
Work Movements
1. Duets: with moderate movement
2. Ostinato: very fast
3. Solo: Very calm
4. Burlesque: fast, con fuoco
5. Recitative and Passacaglia (La Serenissima): slow, slowly moving
Artists
Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello]) [quartet]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

In February 1976, BBC Radio Three broadcast the first complete performance of Paul Bunyan for thirty-three years. Britten was profoundly moved to re-encounter this forgotten work and all the memories it aroused of Auden, of the American years, of his own youth, energy and vitality, especially given his awful physical condition. In 1973 he had had a major operation to replace the aortic valve in his heart. This bought him three extra years but he was an invalid for the rest of his life, tiring very easily and having huge difficulty composing.


The Third Quartet was both Britten’s swansong and his homage to his great contemporary and friend, Dmitri Shostakovich, who had died that summer. He began it soon after completing Phaedra and he had four movements completed before going on holiday – in a wheelchair attended by friends and a nurse – to Venice, the scene of his final opera completed two years earlier. It was in Venice he wrote the final Passacaglia, inevitably subtitled La Serenissima, the music recalling the bells of the church of Santa Maria della Salute as well Death in Venice. As with Shostakovich’s final work, the Viola Sonata, the composer did not live to hear the premiere, which took place two weeks after his death.


Each of the movements has a subtitle, the first, Duets, features the instruments playing in pairs - each of the possible pairings of instruments engage in an operatic duet while continually expanding its thematic ideas. This gives the movement a strongly dramatic impetus and the various duets create some remarkable sonorities. The first Scherzo, Ostinato, is brief and very violent with a quieter chorale-like central section. The movement ends mid-phrase as if struck down.


The third, Solo, is intensely beautiful with the first violin soaring stratospherically above the others with a deeply touching melody of a Bach-like purity. The central section, Messiaen-like, bursts out into ecstatic birdsong, afterwards the violin’s melody returns more movingly than before, while the ending takes on a miraculous luminosity as the other instruments float up to meet the violin.


Burlesque is an obsessive dance, almost in the manner of Shostakovich’s hard-driven Scherzos. The skeletal Trio is remarkable for the eerie whistling sound produced by the viola playing behind the bridge. The dance returns in a magnificently sonorous repeat. The finale’s operatic Recitative prepares us for the glorious Passacaglia, whose calm, long drawn-out, stately theme works its way almost unbearably into our hearts as we realise this is a great composer’s last farewell. The final bars remain unresolved as Britten himself said: I want the work to end with a question.

Francis Humphrys


FULL DETAILS SEARCH FOR MORE

Quartet No.3 Op.94 [1975]

Composer: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Performance date: Monday 3rd July 2017
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

Share on Twitter | Share on Facebook
http://archive.westcorkmusic.ie/details/view/cmf/650

Composer Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Work Title Quartet No.3 Op.94 [1975]
Composition Year 1975
Work Movements 1. Duets: with moderate movement
2. Ostinato: very fast
3. Solo: Very calm
4. Burlesque: fast, con fuoco
5. Recitative and Passacaglia (La Serenissima): slow, slowly moving
Artist(s) Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello]) [quartet]
Performance Date Monday 3rd July 2017
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:28:32
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

In February 1976, BBC Radio Three broadcast the first complete performance of Paul Bunyan for thirty-three years. Britten was profoundly moved to re-encounter this forgotten work and all the memories it aroused of Auden, of the American years, of his own youth, energy and vitality, especially given his awful physical condition. In 1973 he had had a major operation to replace the aortic valve in his heart. This bought him three extra years but he was an invalid for the rest of his life, tiring very easily and having huge difficulty composing.


The Third Quartet was both Britten’s swansong and his homage to his great contemporary and friend, Dmitri Shostakovich, who had died that summer. He began it soon after completing Phaedra and he had four movements completed before going on holiday – in a wheelchair attended by friends and a nurse – to Venice, the scene of his final opera completed two years earlier. It was in Venice he wrote the final Passacaglia, inevitably subtitled La Serenissima, the music recalling the bells of the church of Santa Maria della Salute as well Death in Venice. As with Shostakovich’s final work, the Viola Sonata, the composer did not live to hear the premiere, which took place two weeks after his death.


Each of the movements has a subtitle, the first, Duets, features the instruments playing in pairs - each of the possible pairings of instruments engage in an operatic duet while continually expanding its thematic ideas. This gives the movement a strongly dramatic impetus and the various duets create some remarkable sonorities. The first Scherzo, Ostinato, is brief and very violent with a quieter chorale-like central section. The movement ends mid-phrase as if struck down.


The third, Solo, is intensely beautiful with the first violin soaring stratospherically above the others with a deeply touching melody of a Bach-like purity. The central section, Messiaen-like, bursts out into ecstatic birdsong, afterwards the violin’s melody returns more movingly than before, while the ending takes on a miraculous luminosity as the other instruments float up to meet the violin.


Burlesque is an obsessive dance, almost in the manner of Shostakovich’s hard-driven Scherzos. The skeletal Trio is remarkable for the eerie whistling sound produced by the viola playing behind the bridge. The dance returns in a magnificently sonorous repeat. The finale’s operatic Recitative prepares us for the glorious Passacaglia, whose calm, long drawn-out, stately theme works its way almost unbearably into our hearts as we realise this is a great composer’s last farewell. The final bars remain unresolved as Britten himself said: I want the work to end with a question.

Francis Humphrys