Joseph Haydn (att.) – String Quartet in F Major Op 3 No 5
Paul Hindemith – String Quartet No 5 in E Flat Major Op 32
Joseph Haydn – String Quartet in C Major Op 76 No 3
What a joy is to walk through Edinburgh on a warm sunny morning in August, the bustling with festivity & cappuccino in hand. My destination was the Queen’s Hall to witness one of the most brilliant String foursomes in Europe, Zehetmair Quartet. Founded in 1994 by Austrian violinist & conductor Thomas Zehetmair, he led his group onto the Queen’s Hall stage in a uniform of black. For our pleasure they had drawn three interesting pieces from a diverse repertory which had been played all over Europe, a mix of classical & contemporary, being two Haydns & a Hindemith. The latter choice was an in-group nod of appreciation to their recent winning of 10,000 euros from the city of Hanau for the ‘Hindemith Prize.’
The first piece, String Quartet in F Major Op 3 No 5, is nominally attributed to Hadyn, Zehetmair’s fellow Austrian (1732-1809), whose prominent and prolific compositons helped to usher in the Romantic Era. Predominantly the court musician for the wealthy Esterházy family , his remoteness forced him to become original, & at the time of his death, aged 77, he was one of the most celebrated composers in Europe. Until 1964 his Op 3 No 5 was said to be his, but in that year the name of the Benedictine Monk & Haydn fan ‘Signor Hofstetter name hidden under 2 quartets of the series of 6. Since then, the dispute has raged as to just who composed the series – my instinct is that it was a joint affair, Op 3 No 5, you can just sense Hadyn’s hand in certain parts. The rendition afforded us by the Zehetmair Quartet was full of lively bow-sawing & a certain sincerity that comes with a musician playing a native air. A moving & exciting way to start the program.
The second piece, String Quartet No 5 in E Flat Major Op 32 by German composer & violinist, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) is a riotous celebration of the modernism that swept across Europe in the early 20th century. Premiered in 1923 & dedicated to Beatrice Sutter-Kottlar, a leading soprano & teacher at the Goch university in Frankfurt, Guy Rickards writes that Hindemith keeps, ‘the irreverence & iconoclasm of his early tears & his reward for the traditions of the medium in perfect balance.’ Despite their unusual configuration, the Zehetmair gang pulled off wonderfully the dramatic gargoyle screeches, wild strings & dystopian visions of Hindemith’s surreal epic, & the brilliant frenetic ending was a joy to hear.
The final act of this wonderful trilogy was String Quartet in C Major Op 76 No 3 – also known as the Emperor – which contains the music from which the German national anthem was born. There is a jollity of life to the Emperor which invokes the world of 1797 which was tettering on the brink of the Napoleonic slaughters. Again , the Zehetmair played this to perfection, even gusto, & moved about their seats like dancers at a sunny rave. An excellent performance all round
As I watched & listened to the Zehetmair, my poetical fibres began to tingle, & I found myself etching the following sonnet throughout.
There is a way to make a poor man rich
Bedazzle him with beauties, to distill
Life’s quintessential essence, without which
Drouth drains the inkwell, uncouth cracks the quill!
Yes, set him free, some large & open hall
Where from the soft & guileless rise of strings
Both passing urchins & the wealth-set stall
Rais’d on adagionic angels’ wings
Then let him listen synasthesean
Turning to worderie these mimesi
Which bubble from the orb’d empyrean
Wall’d-workshop of a makar’s primal eye.
Where listening to some lush-string’d Quartet,
The Mousai bless him with ae fond bousette!