There are some moments in music history that it would have particularly enjoyable to witness: Haydn and Mozart’s joint string quartet sessions, for example, or the home concert at which Dvořák played the viola part in Smetana’s From My Life even before the work’s public premiere.
The programme of this concert with members of the Berliner Philharmoniker includes string quartets by Mozart, Smetana and Bartók, presenting significant works from the Classical, Late Romantic and Modern periods. The fact that Mozart dedicated a series of his finest string quartets to Haydn is evidence of the younger composer’s admiration for the pioneer of this musical form. The B-Flat major work is known as “The Hunt” due to its natural and fresh first theme. While the fast movements are characterised by elegance and cheerfulness, the Adagio shows the composer’s melancholy side.
As a musical autobiography, Smetana’s First String Quartet has often been compared to Tchaikovsky’s last symphony, the Pathétique. As one of Smetana’s great late works, it deals not only with his first love and his commitment to local folk music, but also with the suffering of the last years of his life: a passage that suddenly breaks into the dance theme of the finale symbolises the composer’s deafness.
Béla Bartók did not provide a programme for his second string quartet. His close friend Zoltán Kodály, however, assigned the terms “peaceful life”, “joy” and “sorrow” to the three movements. The composer’s typical combination of mastery of form, elements of Hungarian folklore and expression leads to a compelling concert experience.