On Thursday September 13, 2018, I attended a Chamber Music concert featuring the Ying Quartet with Robin Scott and Janet Ying as violinists, David Ying as cellist, and Philip Ying as violist. The concert took place at The Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall and began at approximately 7:30 p. m. The audience — dressed in a respectful manner — occupied about three-fourths of the hall, and the atmosphere was pleasantly vibrant. The program was comprised of two long pieces in D major, and a shorter piece. The performance opened with Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44, No. 1 which was a long piece and contained four movements: Molto allegro vivace, Menuetto. Un poco Allegretto, Andante espressivo ma con moto, and Presto con brio. The second piece was The Conference of the Birds by Christopher Theofanidis. After a short intermission, the concert concluded with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11 which also was a long piece and consisted of four movements: Moderato e semplice, Andante cantabile, Scherzo. Allegro non tanto e con fuoco – Trio, and Finale. Allegro giusto – Allegro vivace.
Felix Mendelssohn’s or, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, was a German pianist, composer, musical director, teacher, and one of the most honored people of the Romantic era. He was born on February 3, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany and died on November 4, 1847 in Leipzig, Germany. He was philosopher Moses Mendelssohn’s grandson. He relied hugely on classical models and practices when initiating the main aspects of Romanticism. Some of his most popular works are Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), Italian Symphony (1833), Violin Concerto (1844), the oratorio Elijah (1846), and numerous pieces of chamber music. During his childhood, he composed a couple of operas and eleven symphonies and made his public debut in Berlin at mere nine years of age. In 1819, He joined the Singakademie music academy and began composing incessantly. He became a conductor there and conducted a performance titled St. Matthew Passion. This led to more opportunities and he continued to conduct and compose music. Mendelssohn met Cecile Jeanrenaud, a clergyman’s daughter, a year after his father died in 1836 Germany. He was ten years older than her and they married in 1837. They had five children over the duration of their marriage. His sister Fanny was a life long inspiration to him who died suddenly in May 1847. Her death left him devastated and worsened his already compromised health (due to career tensions). He died approximately five months later at the age of 38, yet he is one of the most significant Romantic composers of the era.
The musical Romantic era was a period of western classical music beginning in the early-to-mid 18th century; it was at its peak from around 1800-1850 in most locations. It ended around 1900 as the compositions more and more innovative and expressive. This era is known for its intense energy and passion. This form of music, with great expression, was a contrast to the rigidness of classical music. The virtuoso was also born in this era. Liszt wrote demanding piano pieces in order to show his brilliance and skills. Chopin was also among the great performers and composers of this era. Romantic composers portrayed powerful emotions, unveiling their innermost feelings and thoughts. Many of them were interested in art and literature. Some of the themes portrayed include far off lands, distant past, dreams, seasons, pain and joy of love, fairy tales, nature, etc. There is freedom of form and design in Romantic music, making it more personal and relatable. There are song-like melodies and dramatic contrasts of pitch and dynamics. There is Programme music (music that tells a story), and the use of themes that brought shape to the music. There was also a rise of the 19th century nationalism as Germany dominated the music industry and other countries began to separate themselves via dance tunes, folk rhythms, and local legends. As the ideas became more and more inventive, new guidelines needed to be set. Thus, this movement built the stage for modernism.
The String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44, No. 1 was composed by Mendelssohn during 1837-1838. It was a part of two other quartets in opus 44 and was the last to be completed, despite being published first due to Mendelssohn’s reordering. This quartet was extremely dear to Mendelssohn and he held it in high regard; it seems he was quite proud of it, and thus, may have published it first. He was also more knowledgeable and classically trained at this time. The years of 1837-38 were those of joy and prosperity for Mendelssohn, and this happiness can be seen in his compositions. The String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44, No. 1 is complete with light and joy, and as the program notes “The opening movement is an exuberant and high spirited conversation between the four instruments, confidently written and carefully polished. ” As the name suggests, the first movement, Molto allegro vivace, exuded life and energy. “Allegro” means fast and bright (“molto allegro” is slightly faster than allegro but is in the same range) and “vivace” stands for lively and fast. Due to the many thematic elements, this movement evoked the feel of a musical journey in the minds of the listener as they move from one island to the next. The opening melody was quite buoyant with the rocketing figure of the first violin, then softer and tender sounds. Also, there seemed to be tremors when the music was loud. The intense expressions of the performers and their excessive body movements could also be seen when the music became loud and intense.
The second movement presents a stark contrast to the vivacious start with its gentle, silky smooth “Menuetto. Un poco Allegretto”. Also, this is the only minuet in any quartets composed by Mendelssohn. Although this is a Romantic work, this movement had a slight rococo taste and structure. Where the first movement was up-beat and compelled the listener to dance energetically to the music, the second is almost whispered and evanescent, especially in the beginning; it evoked a gliding, surreal emotion. It started off as slow, soft, and flowy then gradually picked up volume. It was relatively loud and dynamic in the middle Trio section which had a fairy-tale like, love in the air feel. Then, with only the violin sound in the end, the volume and tempo gradually went down. The third movement, Andante espressivo ma con moto, was also moderately slow and kept with the yearning sentiment. “Andante” meaning moderately slow tempo and is sometimes referred to as walking speed. “Espressivo” means expressive and “ma con moto” means but with movement. In accordance with the name and its meaning, the third movement sounded like of mid-tempo (not too sad, but not too upbeat) and with the music changing to slightly more tense, loud and with crescendos in some sections. There was almost this oscillating pattern where there was broken, hyphenated escalation to a point and then broken descent which resembled the walking steps reference. Thus, although this was moderate, it was quite expressive and revealed the desired sentiments, especially through the extra movements (the “with movement” part) such as crescendos. The fourth and final movement brings back the celebratory and jubilant feel in the atmosphere of the first movement; it’s as if to bind all the movements together and show that the life cycle of the piece is completed. This movement had a fun rhythm and the music whirled about, making the listener want to frolic and dance about.
The Spanish/Italian Saltarello dance form seemed quite suited to this music. A giddy radiance permeates this movement. Also, the music tends to fall in this repetitive “rhythmic groove, quieting, and then recovering itself, spinning off in another harmonic direction. ” Providing relief from this fast melody, was another tender, yet no less joyful melody which interceded the music from time to time. This movement gave me an almost grandeur cartoon feel toward the end. This piece represents the ideals and characteristic of the Romantic era particularly well. There is the intense energy and passion, especially in the first and final movements. There is the use of themes with the island hop feel, the fairy-tale like emotion, the contrasting pitch and dynamics, and the dance tunes. I think it is also interesting to note that he wrote the opus 44 quartets during his honeymoon. The music does display the passion, giddiness, and lovey-dovey feel, with added effect of the dance tunes.
Initially, I was a little skeptic of this music form and the atmosphere of the chamber music concert. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and the musical exposure I received. I was amazed at the dedication of the performers and their skills, which was reflected in the ways I saw them interacting with the music. The music presented was fun, beautiful, and kept me attentive for the entirety of the concert. I am truly glad I had the opportunity to hear such great music.
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