Quatuor Mosaiques

November 2, 2014 | 3:00pm
The Vancouver Playhouse | Map


Quatuor Mosaïques, Erich Höbarth & Andrea Bischof, violins; Anita Mitterer, viola; Christophe Coin, cello

“The world’s premier period-instrument quartet.” The Independent

“In a mosaic, every detail is seen to have been brilliantly thought out, yet the eye is also capable of apprehending the picture as a whole. It is the same with music: you have to work on the details, then you have to create the best possible listening conditions, and get the distance just right so that the listener can see how the elements have been put together, and at the same time get a complete view of the work of art.” – Christophe Coin

The four extraordinary players of the Quatuor Mosaïques return to Vancouver with a thrilling recital of music by Haydn, Mozart, and Schumann. Join us and experience the richness and vitality of this splendid repertoire.

Co-presented with Friends of Chamber Music.


Haydn, Quartet in D minor, Op 103
Mozart, Quartet in D minor, K421
Schumann, Quartet in A major, Opus 41/3

Programme notes

String Quartet in D minor, Opus 103 Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Andante grazioso
Menuetto ma non troppo presto

The D minor Quartet, opus 103, is a fragment, the final chapter in Joseph Haydn’s monumental string quartet oeuvre. It consists of two movements. It is unclear whether they were intended as the inner movements of a four- movement work, or as the first and second movements. Haydn composed this music around the same time as the two opus 77 quartets, which were meant to be part of a six-quartet set. Presumably this work would have been a third quartet in that set. In failing health, the composer subsequently allowed the fragment to be published by itself, as opus 103. He added the following words to the score, a quote from his own chorale Der Greis: “Gone is all my strength, old and weak am I.” How many geniuses would feel moved to apologize for an unfinished work, after bestowing such a splendid and prolific output on the world? Haydn the man may have become enfeebled, but in this quartet, Haydn the composer is fully in control.

The first movement, marked Andante grazioso, is gentle, pensive, and simple rhythmically and formally. The music moves lightly, but there is everywhere a feeling of gravity. Musical lines often head downward (especially in descending scales), and chromatic darkenings of the harmony constantly suggest a minor-key presence lurking behind the major key, a tender melancholy. In fact, the entire movement describes a larger, circular descent. At the end of the first section, the music swings down a major third to the startling key of G flat major, where the middle section begins. Then, the middle section itself ends in D major, another third lower. The circle is completed when the main section resumes down a final third, back in the home key of B-flat.

The second movement, a minuet, is in D minor, once again a major third away from the work’s main key. Defiant and robust, it seems to pay lip service to the minuet of Mozart’s D minor Quartet, one last chapter in the history of mutual inspiration between these two composers. The main section of this minuet alternates forthright, dotted-rhythm gestures with quieter, more uncertain interpolations. The most striking is an anxious four-note chromatic ascent that is passed back and forth between first violin and cello, reflecting uncertainty beneath the surface bravado. A friendlier trio intervenes, in D major. This is vintage Haydn, complete with teasing hesitations, strange irregular phrase lengths, and jocular embellishments. Then the gruff main section returns, ending with the first violin’s flamboyant upward scale. Despite its fragmentary nature, this quartet feels like an authoritative exit for the man who elevated the quartet genre to greatness for the first time.

String Quartet in D minor. K421 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Allegro moderato
Menuetto: Allegretto
Allegretto ma non troppo – Più allegro

Mozart composed this quartet in June 1783, and continued writing while in his wife’s room during the birth of his first son, Raimund Leopold! Although many have searched for a correlation between this situation and this profoundly melancholy quartet, most have concluded that this quartet shows Mozart’s amazing power of detachment.

The opening, a rather restrained Allegro, is deeply passionate. The principal theme in the first violin is characterized by leaps both up and down and by a plentitude of individual motifs. A somewhat uneasy subsidiary theme with faster-moving notes follows. At the end of the exposition, the first violin presents an isolated little figure ending with three repeated notes. This motto reappears later in every movement, and acts as a unifying device. While the remainder of the movement is in traditional sonata form, the music is far from ordinary.

The Andante, in ABA form, is almost tender but with the bustle and agitation of many individual motifs and changes of dynamics. The first violin presents the three-note motto of the previous movement, although in a slower tempo. The B section also is dominated by the three repeated notes. Two loud outbursts are said to reflect Constanza’s screams.

The three-note motto appears again in the Menuetto’s main theme. The contrasting Trio is sunny and light with the first violin presenting a jesting tune over a simple pizzicato accompaniment, after which the movement ends with a repeat of the Menuetto.

The mood brightens in the finale, which presents a set of four variations and coda on an ingenuous theme with the rhythm of a Siciliana, an old moderately fast Italian dance. In the first variation the first violin substitutes an elaboration for the rhythmic pattern of the dance tune. The two violins share the lead in the next variation, enlivening the melody with sharp offbeat accents while the viola, plaintive and doleful, sets the tone for the third variation. While the first three variations drifted away from the starting theme, the fourth turns back to the original and adds a flowing countermelody in the cello and viola. The coda, which is slightly faster in tempo, comes even closer to the opening theme. The three-note figure reappears and the quartet ends with three repetitions of the unifying motto.

String Quartet No.1 in A major, Opus 41, No.3 Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Andante espressivo – Allegro molto moderato
Assai agitato – Un poco adagio – Tempo risoluto
Adagio molto
Finale: Allegro molto vivace

Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer. Robert showed an early interest in literature, and, although primarily known as a composer, he made a name for himself in later years as writer and editor in chief of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, a journal launched in 1834. Schumann attended the universities of Leipzig and Heidelberg but studied piano privately with Friederich Wieck. Here, he met Wieck’s daughter, Clara, nine years his junior, who was an outstanding pianist. After a prolonged liaison, the couple married in 1840, despite opposition from her father. After composing mostly for piano, in 1842 Schumann began to study the string quartets of Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. Based on the approach of Beethoven, Schumann produced all three Opus 41 quartets by the end of 1842 and presented the scores to Clara as an anniversary present. Clara wrote of these quartets, “They delight me in even the finest detail. Everything there is new, along with being clear, well worked out, and always appropriate for a quartet.”

All four movements of this quartet have a distinct character. The first, built around the sighing motif of a falling fifth, is transparent in texture, by turns relaxed and driven, the thematic material tossed playfully from one instrument to another. The movement starts with a seven-bar introduction, marked Andante espressivo, presenting the descending fifth interval that starts the first subject of the following Allegro, and is later heard in the second subject, foreshadowed first by the cello. The same interval returns in the central development section and duly introduces the recapitulation. This fifth interval motif is heard again in the other movements, either in its original form or in an inversion, thus unifying the work.

The 2nd movement, in F sharp minor, starts Assai agitato, followed by a contrapuntal section, the first of four variations. The second variation has the rising fifth stated at the start. The third variation, marked Un poco adagio, presents the theme, and the fourth variation, Tempo risoluto, is a jaunty dance marked by wide leaps and snappy syncopations, finally resolves into a coda in F sharp major.

Rich searching harmonies and gently pulsing rhythms impart an extra measure of depth and warmth to the D major Adagio, which begins with an expressive theme entrusted to the first violin. This leads to a second theme accompanied by a dotted second violin figure. Thematic material is developed and recapitulated through the rest of the movement.

The dotted rhythm of the 3rd movement returns at the opening of the final Allegro molto vivace, followed by a passage of contrapuntal imitation. Then the framing principal theme returns in an extended rondo. The contrasting but related episodes of the rondo include an F major Quasi trio section that makes its return in E major, and then in A major, before it is superseded by the principal theme, bringing the work to a rollicking conclusion.

Artist Bios

Quatuor Mosaïques, Erich Höbarth & Andrea Bischof, violins; Anita Mitterer, viola; Christophe Coin, cello

Quatuor Mosaïques is the most prominent period-instrument quartet performing today. The ensemble has garnered praise for its atypical decision to use gut-stringed instruments which, in combination with its celebrated musicianship, has cultivated the group’s unique sound. The Quartet has toured extensively, won numerous prizes and established a substantial discography. Formed in 1985, the group is comprised of Austrians Erich Höbarth (violin), Andrea Bischof, (violin), Anita Mitterer (viola), and the French cellist Christophe Coin.

The Quartet has appeared in Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan and regularly performs in Vienna, London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall. Quatuor often appears at prestigious European festivals such as Edinburgh, Salzburg, Luzern, Bremen, Bath, Styriarte Graz, Schubertiade Schwarzenberg and Oslo, among others. Quatuor Mosaïques has collaborated with many international artists including pianists András Schiff and Patrick Cohen, clarinetists Wolfgang Meyer and Sabine Meyer and cellists Miklós Perényi and Raphael Pidoux. In 2006 Quatuor Mosaïques was invited to Spain to perform for King Juan Carlos I, using the Monarch’s personal collection of Stradivari instruments.

Of their Zankel Hall performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall during the 2008-2009 season, The New York Times noted that the group performed with “elegant, detailed phrasing and carefully wrought playing.”

Quatuor Mosaïques has an extraordinarily extensive discography which includes works of Haydn, Mozart, Arriaga, Boccherini, Jadin, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn as well as modern composers. Of the group’s latest release, Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen, The London Times writes, “their performance of Death and the Maiden is music-making of a high order, felt and carried out by players animated as though by a single mind and impulse, yet each of them seeming to respond afresh at every moment.” Recordings of the Wiener Klassik repertoire (Haydn string quartets: Op.20, 33, 77 and the quartets of Mozart dedicated to Haydn) have been awarded numerous prizes such as the Diapason d’or, the Choc du Monde de la Musique, and a Gramophone Award.

These four musicians met while performing with Nikolaus Harnoncourt’sConcentus Musicus in the 1980’s, and decided to perform on original instruments as a classical “caper quartet.” Although the Quartet performs on period instruments it embraces the European quartet tradition, constantly allowing for the evolution of its repertoire as it strives to reveal the music’s psychological underpinnings.