All of us in the SOR family would like to thank you for your continued support during these unprecedented and extraordinary times. Although we can’t be with you at this time, we would like to continue to share some of our favorite performances from past SOR concerts and keep the music playing in our hearts and minds. Our February 2020 concert, A Portrait of Beethoven is our first featured ArmchairConcert and includes the nostalgic, lilting Serenade of Sir Edward Elgar, written in 1892; the evocative String Quartet #2 of Philip Glass, composed in 1983 and arranged by the composer for string orchestra, and concludes with the power and drama of Beethoven’s Op.18 #4 String Quartet, arranged for orchestra by B. Lieberman—a masterpiece that perfectly mirrors our turbulent times!
Stay healthy!… Yours in Music,
Maria, Artistic Director, SOR
Before his String Quartet No. 2, Philip Glass did not compose for the string quartet medium for almost two decades. He withdrew his first quartet in 1963, even though it had already been published. He finished his first quartet in 1966 and hinted at his later minimalist style with the many repetitive layers weaved throughout the composition. When he composed his second quartet, his signature harmonic progressions and rhythmic motifs and gestures had become well established. His second quartet was not initially conceived as chamber music, but for theatre instead. In Paris in the 1960s, Glass collaborated with the Mabou Mines theater group, married one its members, JoAnne Akalaitis, and provided music for several productions the group performed. For their production of Samuel Beckett’s Company, Glass wanted to be able to take the music away from the action and have the piece be performable as a stand-alone work. His second quartet consists of four short and related movements. The first movement contains a series of variations with a simple harmonic progression and a static tonal center with intricate inner lines. The monochrome atmosphere of this movement highlights the instrument balance and the subtle shifting textures. The second movement contains the same harmonic framework, but demonstrates faster and more dominant figures with a stable rhythmic undercurrent. The third movement acts as further development of the first movement with small harmonic alterations and more complex textures. Similar to the third movement, the fourth elaborates on the tension of the second movement between duple and triple meters, but with a melancholy tone that fades to a whisper to end the piece.
The only minor key quartet from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 18, the String Quartet Op. 18 No. 4 was the last of the six to be completed, despite its number. Set in the key of c minor, Beethoven foreshadows his use of the key in his highly dramatic later compositions, like his Fifth Symphony. In this quartet is where we see his special emotional investment and depth in c minor music, specifically in the first movement. At the beginning, Beethoven spins an anxiety ridden melody in the violin over a dark accompaniment followed by a set of jagged, rough chords. The second theme is more lyrical with the continuation of restless viola and cello rhythms. Beethoven surprises us with the inner movements of this quartet, particularly with the absence of a traditional slow movement. To replace the slow movement, Beethoven provides us with a scherzo followed by a minuet in moderate tempos. The second movement, now in a major key, has a capricious character that would often be seen in a minuet. Likewise, the third movement minuet has a character of a scherzo, with a quick and unsettled feel. The concluding rondo in the final movement presents an impassioned theme by the first violin. The episode in the rondo presents humorous triplets while the second picks up a more agitated mood of the theme, which leads to a fiery end, which Beethoven indications should be played as quickly as possible.
Program notes by Samantha Carl