Music for a Later Age

The Cape Town Quartet play Beethoven in Chiswick

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When Beethoven showed his new Opus. 59 string quartets to Felix Radicati, the celebrated Italian violinist commented sardonically, ‘Surely you do not consider these works to be music?’ Beethoven’s response was unapologetic, ‘Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age.’ Some 200 years later, while Radicati is remembered mainly for that brief exchange, Beethoven’s quartets are recognised one of the great achievements of European music.

Over the last three years South African-born violinist, David Juritz, has been exploring the quartets with three distinguished colleagues in the Cape Town Quartet, Suzanne Martens, Karin Gaertner and Peter Martens. Working with guidance from the renowned Beethoven scholar, Dr Stewart Young, they are now at the mid-point of a cycle of the complete quartets and are playing three of them in London for the first time.

'Music for a Later Age' will be performed on Friday, 10 November at Venue: St Peters Church, Southfield Road W4 1BB at 7.30pm with doors open at 6.45pm. Tickets are £15.00 on the door or , £13.50 if you book in advance. (advanced booking ) All seating unreserved. Wine and soft drinks will be available.

The quartet Op.18 No. 1 in F major (in fact the second quartet Beethoven completed) with its slow movement inspired by the tomb scene from Romeo and Juliet, is paired with the last major work Beethoven completed, the quartet Op.135 (also in F major). They are followed by the third of a set of quartets Beethoven wrote for an ill-starred Russian diplomat, Count Razumovsky, the Quartet No 9 in C major, Op. 59 No. 3.

Beethoven wrote above a sketch for one of his Razumovsky Quartets, ‘Let your deafness no longer be a secret – not even in art’. With echoes of Mozart’s great Dissonance Quartet, Beethoven’s third Razumovsky with its extreme technical and musical demands proved too difficult for most musicians of his day. And yet, even if it stretched his contemporary audiences, it is music that communicates so directly as to be timeless. Music for this age or any other.

Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18, No. 1
Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135

Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3 ‘Razumovsky’

Beethoven’s 16 string quartets are one of the great challenges for string players. David Juritz explains his fascination with this music. To me, Beethoven is unique. One the one hand there’s that incredibly intense celebration of humanity in the Ninth Symphony and then moments where he is absolutely uncompromising and single-minded. It’s so extreme that when I play it, it sometimes feels a little like exploring an alien mind.

Even where he gives us clues, Beethoven’s music remains beyond simple interpretation. For instance, the final movement of his last quartet, Op. 135, is prefaced by an inscription, “Der schwer gefasste Entschluss”, or “The Difficult Resolution.” Two musical phrases are presented, one with the question “Muss es sein” (must it be?) and the other with the reply, “Es muss sein!” (it must be!).

Is this an existential conflict, an expression of a deep internal struggle that Beethoven, writing what he knew would be his final quartet, felt compelled to confront? Perhaps, but another a clue lies in the note Beethoven sent to his publishers as he submitted the quartet to them. He had struggled to begin the final movement until, spurred on by constant reminders that it was overdue, he decided just to get on with it. Other interpretations are that words related to an argument with his housekeeper over her wages, or that it was inspired by a dispute with a patron over an unpaid subscription.

The music that follows the introduction is totally free of angst, perhaps a hint that Beethoven had in mind something less troubling than any great philosophical crisis. Yet, despite the carefree exuberance and almost comical high-jinks, even if this is music about unpaid laundry bills, it’s anything but banal. That’s the miracle of Beethoven.

The members of the Cape Town Quartet gave their first performance together in 2013 in series of concerts in the Western Cape and, in 2014 embarked on a project to perform the complete string quartets by Beethoven. David Juritz (first violin) was born in Cape Town but is now based in London. He performs internationally as a soloist and chamber music player. Suzanne Martens (second violin) studied in Holland and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. She is a former leader of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and currently serves on the faculty of Stellenbosch Conservatoire. Karin Gaertner was principal violist of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. She studied in Italy and at the Salzburg Mozarteum before spending five years working in Italy. Peter Martens, another Mozarteum educated musician, performs regularly at festivals in Europe, Russia and the USA. His recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano is widely regarded as a definitive interpretation. The Cape Town Quartet have been fortunate to have the advice of the eminent Beethoven scholar, Dr. Stewart Young, while preparing their performances.

November 4, 2017

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