Quartet No.2 ‘Intimate Letters’

Composer: Leoš Janáček (b. 1854 - d. 1928)
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Composer: Leoš Janáček (b. 1854 - d. 1928)

Performance date: 02/07/2015

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1928

Duration: 00:26:00

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Signum Quartet (Kerstin Dill, Annette Walther [violins], Xandi van Dijk [viola], and Thomas Schmitz [cello]) - [quartet]

Janácek’s Second Quartet invites us into
the torrid imagination inspired by the seventy-year-old composer’s
extraordinary relationship with Kamila Stösslova. She was, and remained, a
happily married mother of two when the composer transformed her into his
creative Muse. He interrupted his work on From
the House of the Dead
for three weeks to write this erotic celebration of
love. It is a daring work not least in his experiments with different timbre,
particularly with tremolo and sul ponticello. He replaces strict
formal models with a structure of momentum and suspension; traditional
development is taken over by swirling juxtapositions of themes representing
dramatically contrasted moods. Above all he wrote a work that seduces both
audiences and musicians

From the first bar the music bursts into
flames with a passionate theme, which will recur throughout the four movements.
My feelings when I saw you for the first
wrote Janácek to Kamila. The first eight bars give way to a viola
solo played sul ponticello; Janácek
had for a time been obsessed with replacing the viola with a viola d’amore,
seemingly attracted by the name of the instrument as much as its sound. The sul ponticello effect was his superb
solution and quartet violists have been saved from the ignominy of being
replaced by a baroque instrument.

I set to music my tenderest desire. I fought with it. It prevailed. It was like
a birth. What would the destiny of this son have been – simply as we are,
passing from tears to laughter?
The viola opens the
extraordinary second movement with a gentle lullaby theme, which slowly expands
into music of extreme exaltation. This is eventually interrupted by a few short
scales descending flautato, which
usher in a presto  popular dance theme, before bringing back the
viola theme from the first movement. The flautato
scales are then used again to signal the reappearance of these various
ideas before the movement ends suddenly.

I wrote the number where the earth trembles. It will be the best.
The third movement begins with a swaying barcarole. The central adagio
section shifts to mysterious harmonies played very softly; a magnificent
contrast occurs when the same music returns
, played by the violin at full stretch, and transfigured by a C
major chord. The barcarole is brought
back at several different tempos and there is a reminder of the mysterious
central adagio before the movement ends suddenly with three cries. The last
movement follows immediately, a rondo
with a spirited dance refrain. The first episode again recalls the work’s
opening theme in four trilled notes. The second episode is marked andante, and again calls up the
four-note theme, furioso sul ponticello.
The momentum is built up before an abrupt close.