Friday June 25, 8:00 pm virtual concert - accessible until July 24

Nurhan Arman conducts Sinfonia Toronto in masterpieces by two great composers -  a gorgeous program, featuring Beethoven’s remarkable Quartet op. 18, No. 6  and concluding with the beloved melodies of Dvorak’s Quintet both in lush orchestral arrangements


BEETHOVEN Sinfonia opus 18, no. 6a
DVORAK Chamber Symphony - Quintet Opus 77a


About the program

Sinfonia Op. 18, No.6a                                                 Ludwig van Beethoven                                                                                                (1770-1827)
String orchestra version by Nurhan Arman                               

In 1798 Beethoven received a commission from Prince Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz for six string quartets. Viennese society had a strong appetite for string quartets,  especially those by Haydn and Mozart; Lobkowitz was buying into the trend. String quartets had a certain snob value as well: appreciated by connoisseurs and the well educated. This was certain entry into the higher echelons of society, an entry Beethoven solicited and craved. Herein lay not only audiences but also patronage. By this time, Beethoven was respected by the Viennese community and viewed as a real up and coming composer worthy of attention. His music had a commanding hold on the aristocratic interest. 

For two years Beethoven focused diligently on string quartet writing, a new field for him, a new sound concept, and new challenges within the texture of four strings. His contemporary notebooks reveal intense practice in quartet writing, intense self-criticism, and intense dedication. Beethoven was a competitor, and he was determined to surpass the towering quartet literature of Mozart and Haydn “He was launching a planned attack on every territory of music.” (Joseph Kerman)

The outcome of the commission was Opus 18, a set of six string quartets. “The Opus 18 are technically simple, but the problem is that if you play a wrong not
e it sounds awful. (The quartets) are very exposed, and it has to be perfect, and it has to be free. It is like playing Mozart: it is either really good or it is garbage.” (Basically Beethoven, by Bonnie Vanaman quoting Michael Reynolds of the Muir Quartet, Washington Times, October 10, 1996) 

Beethoven intentionally added some new twists to the “entertainment” value of the string quartet genre. He impregnated the medium with depth, seriousness, dramatic silences, romantic yearnings, emotions, darker palettes, and power. In the area of counterpoint, he eschewed the witty, light touches used by Haydn, and opted for more scholarly forms: fugues, canons, and contrapuntal simultaneous inversions, far different from “the facile classic style.” And he did all these things on purpose, writing, “I have taken from my elders and respect what they have done, but am ready to express myself. ” This self expression was a major consideration. “The single aesthetic problem he faced in these years was how to find his own strong compositional voice when he had grown up steeped in the music of two predecessors as great as Haydn and Mozart.” (Lewis Lockwood: Inside Beethoven’s String Quartets.)

A New Trend -  “Halfway through the composition of opus 18, a process of disruption would appear to have set in--to generalize from signs such as experimentation with novel kinds of movements, modeling on other compositions, dipping back into older material and falling back on some indifferent standards of work. Characteristically, Beethoven was beginning to question the very nature of the undertaking he was engaged in….”(Joseph Kerman, The Beethoven Quartets) What happened was that Beethoven no longer wished to “polish classical medallions” but to move into new, more interesting content and procedures. For example: using a title (La Malinconia) implying a description of an emotional state.)

The first movement of Number Six behaves politely within classical sonata-allegro architecture. Beethoven’s exposition introduces two clearly defined contrasting themes, the first marked allegro con brio is a bright, ascending shape built on the B flat triad. A small bridge moves to a more melancholy second theme, in the dominant F major, introduced by a small pause. Then, Beethoven takes a strange turn: momentarily sinking into f minor, adding a sudden seriousness, and then quickly jumps back into F major.

The development focuses on a small motif of the first theme: a four note grouping heard first on beat four. He visits several keys, throws in a surprise stop at one point, and then allows the first theme to re-appear, as a path to the recapitulation. The recap is again a predictable behavior of themes to close the movement, sin coda.

Movement Two opens in a relaxed adagio ma non troppo pace, with tidy traditional four bar phrases. The first violin has a staring role in presenting the gentle main idea. Immediately following, the other instruments take turns at decoration. A second theme in e minor is sung by first violin and cello. Throughout this section coloration, via mode changes, unexpected accentuations, contrapuntal textures underscore a new, perhaps more thoughtful approach to traditional second movement content.

The Scherzo is a fascinating essay in rhythmic ambiguity, using the old hemiola procedure in which six notes are divided into sets of two and sets of three. Here we are in new ground, “one which must have struck many a player and listener in 1801 as rude indeed.” (Michael Steinberg) A tiny trio offers a bit of whimsy whimsical before the recap da capo.

His final movement marked “la Melancolia” is the weightiest of the quartet’s segments. The composer advised that the movement be played “with utmost delicacy.” A long opening of 43 bars establishes the melancholy atmosphere, but with a long pause on the dominant B flat, he suddenly plunges into a brisk country dance. From this point on, the listener is catapulted between these two extremes: jolly and energetic and suddenly melancholy and resigned. Unexpected silences interrupt the momentum at various points. Finally, Beethoven unleashes all the stops for a prestissimo racing ending.

In 1806 the continued success of the Op. 18 encouraged Simrock of Bonn to publish the six quartets arranged as piano sonatas with violin obbligato and 'cello ad lib. The Leipziger Zeitung warned, “It must be remarked that these sonatas are really the much talked-of quartets of which one scarcely tires, in spite of their harsh and rugged style. Pianists who wish to make a mark as technicians will do well not to choose them.”

Antonín Dvorák Chamber Symphony Op. 77a (String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77)
Orchestra version by Nurhan Arman

Dvorák's remarkable consistency of quality and style, the hallmarks of which are endless melody, clear form, master craftsmanship, rhythmic vitality and a poignant expressiveness. Always Dvorák, Dvorák is always fresh. Like other composers for whom chamber music came naturally, Dvorák played the viola putting him right in the very middle of the chamber ensemble texture.

The lighthearted movements of this work are filled with Dvorák’s typical juxtaposition of lush lyrical melodies, shorter nationalistic-sounding motifs, and bright rhythmic figures jumping out of the thick textures. 

The first movement is an energetic (con fuoco or with fire) sonata with crystal clear themes and a powerful development. The second movement comes closest to Dvorák's later style characterized by lively folk dance and his ability to expand the scherzo form with cogent variety. The third movement slows into a lyrical song, tinged with a blend of melancholy and nobility that earned Dvorák comparisons with Schubert. The finale restores the drive and drama of the earlier movements with yet more winning melodies, the fullest textures and the most prominent parts for the mighty groundswell of the bass.

Sinfonia Toronto  now in its 22nd season, has toured twice in Europe, in the US, South America and China, receiving glowing reviews. It has released four CD’s, including a JUNO Award winner, and performs in many Ontario cities. Its extensive repertoire includes all the major string orchestra works of the 18th through 21st centuries, and it has premiered many new works. Under the baton of Nurhan Arman the orchestra’s performances present outstanding international guest artists and prominent Canadian musicians.  

Maestro Nurhan Arman has conducted throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada and the US, returning regularly to many orchestras in Europe. Among the orchestras Maestro Arman has conducted are the Moscow Philharmonic, Deutsches Kammerorchester Frankfurt, Filarmonica Italiana, St. Petersburg State Hermitage Orchestra, Orchestre Regional d’Ile de France, Hungarian Symphony, Arpeggione Kammerorchester, Milano Classica and Belgrade Philharmonic.

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