Chamber Music I

Sunday, February 19, 2017 • 6:00 p.m.
Hale’s Brewery (4301 Leary Way NW, Seattle)


Felix Mendelssohn (1809 –1847)
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13


Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)
String Quintet in E♭ major, Op. 97 (“American”)

About the Concert

Members of Orchestra Seattle visit Ballard’s Hale’s Brewery to present the first of three chamber music concerts in unique venues. Violinists Alexander Hawker and Lily Shababi, violist Grant Hanner and cellist Roberta Rominger perform a Mendelssohn string quartet influenced by his study of the late Beethoven quartets and based in part on a song he had written about falling in love for the first time. Dvořák’s Op. 97, composed while living in the United States, incorporates influences of Chippewa music, square dances, hoedowns and Native American drumming; this performance features violinists Fritz Klein and Stephen Provine, violists Sam Williams and Grant Hanner, and cellist Matt Wyant.

The $25 ticket price includes one glass of wine or beer, with gratuity included on all drink redemptions and purchases. Just 60 seats available (purchase advance tickets); tickets will also be available at the door if any seats remain.


Program Notes

Felix Mendelssohn
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13

Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg on February 3, 1809, and died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847. He composed this quartet between July and October of 1827.

Young Felix Mendelssohn’s prodigious talents — both as a composer and a pianist — exceeded those of other famous musical prodigies, even Mozart. But the well-to-do Mendelssohn family had no need to parade young Felix around the continent, so he rarely performed in public prior to his 18th birthday, while much of the music he composed remained unpublished and was performed only in private —  including the brilliant string octet he wrote at age 16.

At age 18 Mendelssohn composed his first “mature” string quartet (known as No. 2 due to its delayed publication) during the months following the death of Beethoven, adopting techniques he learned from studying the late Beethoven quartets, including a cyclical approach (with material recurring in more than one movement). Beethoven, in his Op. 135 quartet, had written the question “Muß es sein?” (“Must it be?”) in the manuscript. Mendelssohn countered by incorporating the melody of the song “Ist es wahr?” (“Is is true?” Op. 9, No. 1) he had composed in June 1827. “You will hear it — with its own notes — in the first and last movements,” Mendelssohn wrote to a friend, “and in all four movements you will hear its emotions expressed.”

The song (written with a young woman in mind whom Mendelssohn worshipped from afar) appears in the slow A-major introduction of the first movement, which leads to the A-minor Allegro vivace. The opening of F-major second movement references the “Cavatina” of Beethoven’s Op. 130 quartet, while the ensuing chromatic fugue recalls Beethoven’s Op. 95; the central section of the Intermezzo conjures up the magical moments of Mendelssohn’s youthful overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A violin recitative (shades of Beethoven’s Op. 132 quartet, which shares the key of A minor) introduces the finale, leading to a full statement of the song melody.

Antonín Dvořák
String Quintet No. 3 in E♭ major, Op. 97

Dvořák was born September 8, 1841, in the Bohemian town of Nelahozeves (near Prague, now in the Czech Republic), and died on May 1, 1904, in Prague. This quintet, composed during July 1893, had its premiere in New York on January 13, 1894.

In 1891, American philanthropist Jeanette Thurber approached Dvořák with an offer to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York — at 25 times his present salary. The Czech composer arrived in America at the beginning of the 1892–1893 academic year, during which time he composed his “New World” Symphony.

Although he had planned on returning to Bohemia for the summer of 1893, Dvořák instead vacationed among a colony of Czech immigrants in Spillville, Iowa, where he composed two remarkable chamber works: the Op. 96 string quartet and the Op. 97 string quintet.

While both works are often given the subtitle “American,” musicologists disagree about the extent to which Dvořák’s exposure to Native American music (or approximations thereof provided by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in New York and the Kickapoo Medicine Show in Spillville) influenced them. The third movement consists of a set of variations on a theme Dvořák originally conceived as a replacement melody for “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

A New York Times review of the premiere described the quintet as “simple, unaffected, elementary music … fresh and melodious in subject matter, as clear in form, as spontaneous in development, and as flexible in part-writing as the best works of” Haydn and Mozart.

— Jeff Eldridge