Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Arensky - String Quartet No. 2 In A Minor, Op. 35

The music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky came to be a tremendous influence on Russian composers, but that wasn't always the case. Many of the more nationalistic composers within Russia regarded Tchaikovsky as too westernized in his compositional aesthetic. But Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer through and through who helped to integrate Russian music with the music of Europe. One of the younger Russian composers that held Tchaikovsky in high regard was Anton Arensky.

Arensky became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory in 1882 and then met Tchaikovsky, who became a friend and mentor. After Tchaikovsky's death in 1893, Arensky wrote his String Quartet No. 2 In A Minor and dedicated it to the memory of his deceased friend.

This string quartet is unique in the literature, for instead of writing the work for the standard two violins, viola and cello, Arensky uses one violin, one viola and two cellos. This resulted in an increase in the depth of the sonority, something that Arensky used to convey the sadness over the death of Tchaikovsky. It is in 3 movements:

I. Moderato - The opening of the work makes good use of the second cello as a theme is played by muted strings that sound like a Russian Orthodox funeral chant. This theme is briefly extended before a second, gentler theme is played. The developmenet section has both themes elaborated on with many instances of slowing and then increasing the tempo which pushs and pulls the music. The recapitualtion works through the themes again in different keys until the openinig chant returns and the music fades away.

II. Variations On A Theme Of Tchaikovsky - The theme for this set of seven variations is taken from Tchaikovsky's 16 Songs For Children, Opus 54, No. 5 'Legend' :
Arensky retains the original key of E minor and the 8-bar tune is played by the violin. The seven variations run from slow and calm to rapid and scherzo-like with a few variations venturing quite far from the original. The mood turns somber once again as the second movement ends with a coda in quiet music remeniscent of the opening of the quartet.

III. Finale : Andante sustanuto. Allegro moderato - The third movement begins with a short introduction that keeps within the somber mood of the end of the second and first movements. This mood is broken by a Russian folksong played by the viola and used by Mussorgsky in his opera Boris Godounov and by Beethoven in his Rasumovsky Quartet Opus 59, No. 2:
The beginning theme of the movement returns briefly until the second theme whisks it away in a flurry of virtuosity as the short finale ends.

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