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Four on a string

In the upcoming season, the Rheingau Music Festival will be focusing particularly on the string quartet the premier genre of chamber music. Four concerts will be spot- lighting the cornucopia that is the quartet repertoire. We can look forward to encoun- ters with performers and works both established and new in this genre. It came to pass more than 250 years ago: the music-loving Baron Carl Joseph Weber von Fürnberg, who had occasionally hosted Joseph Haydn at his castle near Ybbs on the Danube, asked the composer to come up with some solo works for four string in- struments, to be performed by a line-up comprising professional musicians and ama- teurs, for playing at home. Haydn performed these works together with the local vicar and a steward as violinist and violist, plus the cellist Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. The string quartet was born! Of course, the classical string quartet had various predecessors in different forms of instrumental music with ramified roots all over Europe but Joseph Haydn was the first to gather the threads together, and more importantly, to progress the genres development. At roughly the same time as Haydn, Luigi Boccherini in Milan was creating a strong quartet tradition of his own. But neither he himself nor his contemporaries in Italy developed the genre any fur- ther. Joseph Haydn, by contrast, tracked its development meticulously, and finally, with the six quartets Op. 33 of 1781, established the mythical status of the classical string quartet as the premier genre of chamber music, characterised by the particu- lar perfection of the four-part movement and the concept of a musical conversation between four musicians, a simile putatively coined by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in a much-quoted letter to his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter: [...] Quartet evenings [...] have for me always been the most comprehensible form of instrumental music: youre listening to four sensible people conversing.Many young composers now began to write string quartets: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, and also Johannes Brahms. The quartets be- came so technically sophisticated that they were almost impossible for laypersons to cope with; moreover, the Tourte bow invented c. 1800 enabled the string players to achieve enhanced dynamic differentiation and sonority. So the quartet performed by professional ensembles migrated from domestic salons to the public concert hall. The extensive production of string quartets continued in full flow during the 20th cen- tury, with the process of differentiation continuing into the present day.

Concerts 28 June 29 June 29 July 5 August

Arcanto Quartet Kuss Quartet / Udo Samel, recitation Pavel Haas Quartet / Khatia Buniatishvili, piano Nador Quartet / Gyula Lazar, double bass

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