Autobiographical and achingly beautiful
While the concept of the programmatic and autobiographical quartet seems to have been introduced by Beethoven, nowhere has it been taken up more forcefully than in the Czech lands, as the works presented here attest.
Leoš Janáček’s first quartet, subtitled ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, is based on a novella by Leo Tolstoy, which deals with such subjects as marriage, adultery and murder, all of which are &&&evoked here by highly expressive music. The second quartet, the last major work he completed, is subtitled ‘Intimate Letters’. The special feature of this unique and miraculous quartet, full of love songs and eruptions, is the intense and euphoric expression of the composer’s inspirational and unrequited passion for a young woman.
Pavel Haas, who studied with Janáček in Brno in the 1920s, composed his second string quartet subtitled ‘From the Monkey Mountains’ in 1925. Although the composer claims that he intended to evoke ‘pleasant summer holidays in the country’, it seems that the work also evokes a love story. A surprise is in store for us in the final movement, entitled ‘A Wild Night’: percussion is added to the string quartet and contributes to the jazzy atmosphere. It is played here by the Scottish virtuoso Colin Currie.