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Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2011 Laughter and tears
Laughter and tears PDF Print E-mail
Like the theatre, music too has two masks – of tragedy and comedy. One weeps and the other laughs – they skip around, questioning each other in continual dialogue.
Mendelssohn wrote his second Quartetto in 1827, a month after Beethoven died. He was only 18, but had already composed an impressive amount of instrumental music. It took courage to stand up in the face of Beethoven’s last, enigmatic masterpieces. Like Beethoven’s opus 135, Mendelssohn’s opus 13 puts a question in an epigraph: in opus 135 former it was Muss es sein? (Must it be ?) and in opus 13 Ist es wahr? (Is it true?) – quoting a recent Lied. This fuels the introductory Adagio in A major – an unusual starting point for a work in a minor key; it crops up again in the equally unusual conclusion, Adagio non lento, forming a cycle and setting an ambiguously expressive mood. The initial motif alludes to opus 132, and the central fugue in the second movement makes no bones about its inspiration from the same position in opus 95. The Intermezzo is more in Mendelssohn’s own style, the violin singing out agilely over a pizzicato accompaniment followed by a perpetual motion effect that recalls the imaginary Shakespearian world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The composer pays further homage to Beethoven – the Titan of Bonn – in the Finale, again surely based on opus 132 with its violin cadenza, and the cello theme.
Mendelssohn, who the Italian critic Massimo Mila called the “happy romantic”, did suffer occasional creative crises, with doubt, rewrites and unfinished work. These same problems haunted Schubert’s short but fertile life, particularly in 1820 when he composed the Quartettsatz in C minor. This was in fact the first movement of an unfinished twelfth Quartet – the second movement was sketched out, with 41 bars of an Andante in A flat major – but this Allegro is superbly independent, powerful and pitilessly dramatic.
Puccini was only at the start of his career when on 18 January 1890 he composed Crisantemi, (Chrysanthemums) an elegy for string quartet. Presumably inspired by the early death of Duke Amedeo d’Aosta, it was even more effective as a source of ideas for the tragic finale of his first theatrical masterpiece, Manon. Puccini’s music typically takes the form of pure sentiment, with no specific verbal concept, which was only established a posteriori.
Dvořák’s Two Valzer are the version for strings of the first and fourth pieces in his collection for piano, dated 1880. They render Slav honour to the Hapsburg court’s favourite, the dancers whirling seductively until they threaten the composure of the ballroom!
Werner Thomas-Mifune manages to make us forget convention, and although his pedigree shows he was the son of a Thomaskantor, one of Bach’s successors in Leipzig, his gift to us shows the compelling contamination of Haydn – the father of them all – crossed with some well-known Latin-American themes! In comparison, Stravinsky’s Tango, from the original for piano dated 1940, is a true classic, strictly respecting the genuine style, and its dryly obsessive syncopation cools its throbbing passion.
Even more irreverent than Thomas-Mifune, Wolfgang Schröder piles into Mozart, transforming his well-worn Nacht-musik into a Lach-musik – music to laugh with! The citations strung together are no less unexpected because the pattern of the composition makes them seem logical.
The last item is Shostakovich’s quartet version (1931) of two pieces that seem double-faced – the lyrical intensity of the Elegy, which is Katerina’s air in the third scene of the first act of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, and the frenetic energy of the Polka, which also appears in a theatrical work, his ballet The Age of Gold.

Marina Verzoletto