Enigma Quartet

Friday, 25 October 2019 at 8pm

Marianne Edwards (violin), Kerry Martin (violin), Elizabeth Woolnough (viola), Rowena Macneish ('cello)

Tickets for this concert can be purchased in advance


MOZART - String quartet no 22 in B-flat major,  K 589, Second Prussian

MENDELSSOHN - String quartet no 2 in A minor, Op. 13

SMETANA - String quartet no 1 in E minor, From My Life

About the Artists

Through its concert series, festival appearances and creative collaborations with different performers and composers, the Enigma Quartet has established a reputation for fine musical technique and dynamic performance style.

The quartet has performed in Sydney and around the state at various venues, music festivals and for ABC Classic FM, including the Huntington Estate Festival and the Musica Viva’s Coffee Concerts series. The quartet has premiered new compositions by Lachlan Skipworth, Phillip Jameson, Gerard Brophy and Alice Chance. The Quartet recently worked on a major project with shakuhachi master Riley Lee called ‘Five Elements’, commissioning more than ten new works by Australian composers.

Read more about the artists

Programme Notes

There is great vitality in this programme. It begins with Mozart's Second Prussian quartet, a dazzling work with rich textures and vibrant themes, expressing the joyousness of life. Mendelssohn's  Op. 13 quartet  contrasts the robustnes and  exuberance of human life with the haunting ethereal atmosphere of imaginary worlds. Smetana's quartet From My Life is autographical music that is both moving and uplifting in its representation of the happiness, the darkness and the hopes of life. 


MOZART String quartet no 22 in B-Flat major, K 589, Second Prussian

Allegro /  Larghetto / Menuetto / Allegro Assai

Mozart wrote a set of six string quartets during his first few years in Vienna in honour of Joseph Haydn, who is generally viewed as the father of the string quartet form. These were followed by the K. 499 quartet in D major and the three quartets referred to as the "Prussian" quartets. The name is based on Mozart’s intention to dedicate them to the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II.  Friedrich Wilhelm had received Mozart during Mozart’s visit to Potsdam in 1789 and was an enthusiastic amateur cellist.  The cello is given a prominent part in these three quartets.  Mozart was deeply in debt and possibly composed them hoping to be rewarded by Friedrich Wilhelm but there is no evidence that the latter ever saw them.

While the Haydn quartets exhibit contrapuntal complexity and rich inventiveness the Prussian quartets are predominantly simpler with the melodies more clearly stated as alternating solos in the different voices. 

Mozart composed this B-flat “Prussian” quartet in the spring of 1790, the year before he died. It is a work of enigmatic beauty.

The first movement, which is in standard sonata form, commences in the upper voices. After a few bars the cello is heard and features prominently.  Triplets are introduced and continue to dominate the rhythmic texture.  The movement is essentially light-hearted except for some shadowy remote keys used in the central development section.

The cello opens the relatively brief Larghetto movement with a lovely lyrical melody.  The first violin takes this up and is followed by twirling notes leading to a second related melody by the first violin and cello.    One commentator states “the movement as a whole evokes the composer’s finest love arias from Figaro and The Magic Flute”

The Menuetto movement commences as a stately dance and becomes more complex with the interspersion of rapid passages which eventually become prominent.  The trio is longer than the main section, it is characterised by repeating notes and becomes a combination of sections of melody on top of a contrapuntal exchange.

The finale is exuberant yet elegant.  It features leapfrogging phrases and frequent sudden dynamic changes.  The ending is typically Mozart, a strong assertive phrase followed by quiet rejoinder.
                                                                                                                            T. R.


MENDELSSOHN - String quartet no 2 in A minor, Op 13

 Adagio – Allegro vivace / Adagio non lento / Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto / Presto – Adagio non lento

Mendelssohn composed his first string quartet in 1827, when he was 18 years old.  He was already an experienced composer of chamber music, having written his Op 18 string quintet, his wonderful octet for strings op 20, and three piano quartets.  He had a few months before produced his opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho, which  unfortunately was not a success. 

Mendelssohn wrote his Op 13 quartet two years after Beethoven published his last quartets, and months after his death. Beethoven's late quartets received a lukewarm reception at best, and many — including Mendelssohn's own father — agreed with composer Louis Spohr that they were an "indecipherable, uncorrected horror".  Mendelssohn, however, was fascinated by them. He studied the scores and, as you will hear, included many phrases from Beethoven's quartets in Op 13.

As a unifying motif, Mendelssohn included in Op 13 a quote from the song "Ist es wahr?" ('Is it true?) Op 9, no 1, which he had composed a few months earlier, for baritone and piano, based on a poem by Johann Gustav Droyson: "Is it true that you are always waiting for me in the arbored walk?"  Mendelssohn includes the title of the song in the score of the quartet, recalling the title Beethoven wrote on the last movement of his Op 135 string quartet: "Muss es sein?" (Must it be?). But, unlike the introspective, existential, quality of Beethoven's quartet, Mendelssohn's work is richly romantic.  Lucy Miller wrote that "...This quartet, relying heavily on compositional techniques of late Beethoven, links Classical form to Romantic expression". 

                                                                                                                             M. C.

Programme notes for the final work will be available nearer to the concert date