Australia Piano Quartet

Friday, 8 March 2019 at 8pm

Konstantin Shamray (guest piano), Kristian Winther (violin), James Wannan (viola), Thomas Rann (‘cello)

"...the APQ has developed a vividly intelligent, highly expressive and mature ‘voice’.  Its musicians appear to be perfectly matched, each with an impressive technique and sharing a resolved aesthetic rapport."  Artshub December 2016

 "The Australia Piano Quartet delivered a rivetting performance." Limelight, March 2017

 "Konstantin Shamray is a pianist of great intelligence matched by tremendous power." Adelaide Advertiser 2018 

 

This concert is now over. You can read about the performance in our  Thank You Australia Piano Quartet news item 

 

Programme

MOZART -  Piano quartet in E-flat major, K 493

BEETHOVEN -  Piano quartet in E-flat major, Op 16

BRAHMS -  Piano quartet in G minor, Op 25

About the Artists

The Australia Piano Quartet has been Ensemble in Residence at the University of Technology Sydney since 2012. The Quartet's  busy schedule includes a series presented by the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Centre, and performances in Europe and Asia, including at the prestigious Wigmore Hall. In addition to standard piano quartet repertoire, the Quartet has commissioned many new piano quartets, and has been broadcast on Foxtel Arts, ABC Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. 

Read more about the artists

Programme Notes

The Quartet's programme for Sydney Mozart Society celebrates the extraordinary sound-worlds that composers have created within the piano quartet form. Mozart’s quartet is one of the first great Classical piano quartets; the voices of piano and strings are beautifully balanced, elegant and  lyrical. Beethoven’s piano quartet is unpredictable, adventurous and energetic, with lively themes and suprising musical treatments. Brahms' piano quartet  is expansive, intensely personal and dramatic,  building to an electrifying climax.

MOZART - Piano quartet in E-flat major, K 493

Allegro / Larghetto / Allegretto 

At the time when Mozart wrote his two piano quartets in Vienna in 1785 and 1786, the piano quartet was a relatively unknown genre of music.  It seems that his first piano quartet in G minor, K 478, was to have been the first of three, to be published by Mozart's friend and colleague, Franz Anton Hoffmeister.  It is said that when Hoffmeister complained that the public found the work too difficult and would not buy it, Mozart released him from the contract of publishing the remaining works.  In fact, Mozart's second piano quartet, this one in E flat which he completed about nine months later, was published not by Hoffmeister, but by Artaria.  Alfred Einstein writes that Mozart made this second work "technically a little easier, but in its originality, its freshness of invention, and its craftsmanship, it is no less a masterpiece.  It is bright in colour, but iridescent, with hints of darker shades.  [. . .]  When one listens to such a masterpiece, one can only recall Haydn's remark: 'The highest taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition' ".

 As in the case of the G-minor quartet, the first movement of this work is written in large-scale sonata form.  Roger Covell writes that the “conversational mastery” of Le Nozze di Figaro, which Mozart had completed five weeks earlier, “seems to be present in spirit in the dialogue . . . of the first movement: serene in tone, full of quickly established contrasts, wonderfully polished, yet far from bland and complacent.  The lyrical slow movement, also in sonata form, is, according to Covell, “music of extraordinarily delicate fancy”.  The lively finale is a high-spirited rondo based on a wonderful, pure, simple, main theme.  A concertante quality can be observed in all three movements – in the third movement, for example, a trill on the piano may be seen as equivalent to a cadenza in a full-blown concerto.

                                                                                                                             M. C.

BEETHOVEN -  Piano quartet in E-flat major, Op 16

Grave – Allegro ma non troppo/ Andante cantabile/ Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

By 1797 having arrived in Vienna four years earlier from his birthplace Bonn, Beethoven was establishing his reputation as a pianist of virtuosic abilities. Contemporary reports described his extraordinary abilities in improvisation.  As a composer, by the 1790s he had demonstrated his mastery of the piano sonata and had also composed several chamber works typically with live performance in mind.

In that year Beethoven composed his Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds Op. 16 during a concert tour to Prague and Berlin. It is inspired directly by Mozart’s K 452 for the same combination of instruments written 13 years earlier. It has been speculated that woodwind players at Prague might have given Beethoven the idea of composing the work probably after hearing a performance of the K. 452 Quintet. When his Quintet was first published in 1801, Beethoven also included a version for Piano Quartet. It is not merely a transcription but “a careful re-casting of the music with alterations to take advantage of strings vs. winds” (Christiansen). The piano part remains the same in both versions.

The similarities between the Mozart and Beethoven quintets go beyond the choice of instruments. Both are in three movements and the same key. The opening movements are in sonata form, the finales in a rondo structure and the first movement of each piece contains an extended slow introduction marked grave.

Musicologist William Kinderman analyses the Op 16 and K 452 works to compare the genius of Mozart and Beethoven. Beethoven was noted for seizing on a particular motive to serve as the basis of his musical elaborations. He does this with the descending bassoon motive in the introduction the K 452. Mozart’s figure was repeated in a localised sequence in the opening while Beethoven’s development of the motive pervades the whole of the first movement.

The increasing elaborate variations of the main theme in the Andante cantabile second movement owe nothing to Mozart and foreshadow several of Beethoven’s later slow movements. 

In the closing rondo of the Op 16 Beethoven does not draw on the K 452 Quintet but uses another of Mozart’s finale themes - from the Piano Concerto in E-flat major K 482. The finale displays an obvious parallel to the grave section of the opening movement giving a thematic unity to the whole work. Manuscript research has suggested that Beethoven may in fact have composed the grave introduction as a later addition after the remainder of the work had been worked out.

There is much to be said for Kinderman’s assessment that “both works truly mirror the qualities of their creators and stand artistically on the same level”.

Thayer’s biography records an account by oboe soloist Friedrich Ramm of a concert in late 1804  where Beethoven directed the Eroica Symphony in the first part and then performed in the Op 16 quintet. In the last Allegro at a point before the theme is resumed Beethoven suddenly began to improvise, took the Rondo for a theme and “entertained himself and the others for a considerable time, but not the other players” who several times “put their instruments to their mouths only to put them down again”. 

                                                                                                                          R. C.

 

BRAHMS - Piano quartet in G minor, Op 25

Allegro / Allegro, ma non troppo / Andante con moto/ Presto, Rondo alla Zingarese

Brahms completed his first two Piano Quartets, the Piano Quartet in G minor, Op 25 and the Piano Quartet in A major, Op 26 in April 1861 at the age of 27.  They were early masterpieces that are still regularly performed today.

The Op 25 Quartet was premiered in his home city of Hamburg in 1861 with his friend, the eminent pianist Clara Schumann, as a member of the quartet.  The following year Brahms made his Viennese debut as both composer and conductor with the Quartet, accompanied by members of the Hellmesberger String Quartet, and it was this work which led the leader of this famous quartet, Joseph Hellmesberger, to name Brahms as Beethoven’s heir. It was Brahms’ first major public success. His younger Viennese musical colleague Arnold Schoenberg was also impressed and in 1937 arranged it for full orchestra at the instigation of the great conductor Otto Klemperer who conducted the premier with the Los Angles Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Australian premier of this Piano Quartet was more than 150 years ago.  It has remained a popular work here.  It was recently recorded by ABC Classics, to critical acclaim.

During his composition of the two Piano Quartets, Brahms was influenced by the advice and guidance from his friend Clara Schumann and by his experience of concert tours with the Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi, which gave him a fascination with the “Hungarian style”. Both works were marked by passion and vitality in the fast movements and tenderness in the slow ones.

Professor P Roenfeldt says that with the G minor Piano Quartet, Clara Schumann gave mixed criticism.  She disliked the first movement’s sprawling expansiveness and the unconventional way Brahms handled some musical principals. However she strongly approved of the gentle second movement, which Brahms had called a Scherzo. On her recommendation, he changed this to Intermezzo, a term he subsequently frequently used in his solo piano compositions.

Brahms' musical colleagues and friends, the violinist Joseph Joachim, and the powerful music critic, Eduard Hanslick, also had reservations regarding the first movement. However 70 years later, the commentator Donald Tovey would state that “the first movement is one of the most original and impressive tragic compositions since the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony”.

The quartet is composed of four movements, with each laid out on an enormous scale. The sombre first movement is a sonata. The gentle second movement is an Intermezzo. The following Andante movement is intensely lyrical and is most noted for its extended and brilliant march. It is considered to have some close similarity with the slow movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The ebullient final movement, a virtuoso showpiece, nicknamed the "Gypsy Rondo” resulted in the instant success and enduring popularity of this work.  Notable for its difficulty, rhythmic and metrical complexity and harmonic exploration, the movement remains regarded the most difficult to perform in all of Brahms’ chamber music.

                                                                                                                            H. M.