Monday, November 14, 2016

Arriaga - String Quartet No. 3 In E-flat Major

Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (full name Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola) was a Basque/Spanish composer of the early 19th century. He was a child prodigy of tremendous natural abilities and when he was about fifteen years old was sent to the Paris Conservatoire in 1822 for serious study. His teachers, as well as the director of the Conservatoire, Luigi Cherubini, were amazed at his natural talent and ability to learn so quickly.

Arriaga was a hard working young man, and not only kept up with his studies but composed. His output was regretfully but understandably small, as he died a few days before his 20th birthday, possibly from tuberculosis. His list of surviving compositions includes a Symphony In D, and three string quartets that were written when he was sixteen. The quartets are modeled after the examples left by Haydn and Mozart and show Arriaga slowly developing his own voice. The 3rd quartet in E-flat major shows the progress he was making in his musical thought. The three string quartets are the most well known of Arriaga's compositions and are represented on numerous recordings.

I. Allegro -  The quartet begins with all four instruments playing in  unison a motive in E-flat major:
This motive is expanded upon and returns in different keys and is the main focus of the exposition section. Small fragments of other motives are heard until what can be considered as the second theme emerges more than halfway through the exposition:
The exposition is repeated. Since the exposition deals with the initial theme more than others, Arriaga gives balance in the development section by working with the second theme as well as other lesser motives. The recapitulation is as expected with sonata form of the time as the first theme is repeated and the second theme is heard in the home key. 

II. Pastorale - Andantino - In place of a slow movement, Arriaga offers a movement that begins with a gentle accompaniment to a gently rocking tune high in the violin register. The middle section has a segment reminiscent of the storm section of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 'Pastoral' as Arriaga changes to a minor key and uses string tremolos to suggest a storm's high wind and pelting rain. After the agitated middle section, the movement returns to the bucolic music of the beginning.

III. Menuetto - Trio plus lent -  Despite the name, this movement is a Beethovenian scherzo in C minor:
 The trio section is a very short naïve peasant dance in C major:
IV. Presto agitato -  Not typical of music designated presto agitato,  but very attractive music nonetheless. Arriaga played violin in a string quartet when he was ten years old, and his knowledge as a player of the instrument shows in the brilliance of the 1st violin's music.

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