Horsehair on strings
The fourth doctoral concert, rather as expected, is focusing on the ring of purely string ensembles. Starting with a duet of violin and double bass, we proceed through a special string quartet format to what is, from the bass player's point of view, an orchestral and "genuine" string quintet. The sound producing mechanism of the stringed instruments is similar and the overtone structure of each instrument's sound differs according to its range. However, each ensemble once again succeeds in having a very distinctive overtone resonance and a particular ring of its own. The speed of the bow on the string, the type of contact with the string and even the use of vibrato is determined by the texture of each composition.
Miniö op. 30 is a small-scale work for violin and double bass. The name does not refer to the island of Iniö in the archipelago of the Gulf of Finland but reflects the moderately minimalist nature of the composition. As a matter of fact, this is a rather exceptional piece for me in the sense that the crucial element of melody seems to be almost completely missing. I have tried to cope, as far as possible, with the repetition-based rhythmic elements and the rather slow harmonic transitions.
I have also aimed at a rather open and simple soundscape: open strings and natural harmonics play an important role. Although minimalism is not closest to my heart, I have for some time enjoyed music of composers such as John Adams. In Miniö it's not difficult to detect a subtle nod in that direction.
The structure of the piece is a very clear A-B-A, in which the motoric elements of the beginning are reprised with slight variations at the end and the short middle part loses its kinetic energy in exchange for harmonically richer material. The work was commissioned by Petri Lehto.
(Unfortunately, due to a case of illness the concert video was made only with a single, fixed camera.)
Rossini: String Sonata No. 4 in Bb
The twelve-year-old Giaocchino Rossini (1792 - 1868) composed his six string sonatas within two weeks in the summer of 1804, all of them for the same combination of two violins, cello and double bass. At that time, two years prior to the start of his serious music studies at the Conservatory of Bologna, a beginner composer was sojourned at the summer villa of the rich businessman Agostino Triosso in Ravenna. An amateur double bassist, Triosso had obviously recognized Rossini's remarkable musical talent and the young man worked as required, composing these quartets for the needs of the ensemble-in-residence. In each quartet he included a fair amount of melodic material also for the double bass. The double bass had recently gained extra attention, thanks to the pan-European double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti (1763 -1846). Triosso aside, the names of the other three players in the quartet are not known, but considering the virtuosity of the violin parts they were not just poor amateurs.
The ring of this unusual quartet is interestingly transparent and open because of the missing sound range of a viola. The cello and the double bass form a low register team which builds a foundation for the exceptional rippling of the violins above. As a work of the composer in his early teens, the fourth sonata, like the other five, contains no development of the musical material; but one can already clearly detect the melodic resourcefulness of the sovereign opera master-to-be.
Dvořak: String Quintet in G major (op.77)
The original version of Antonín Dvořák's (1841-1904) String Quintet in G major (1875) was in five movements. Between the first two movements that we hear today, the composer had earlier placed an Intermezzo movement, which actually originated from the unfinished String Quartet in E minor of 1870. However, in 1883, the composer returned to the quintet, removed the Intermezzo and revised it into a separate Nocturne for string orchestra. The String Quintet in G major itself was published in 1888 with opus number 77, which is misleading because the chronologically correct number would be 18. Publishers often had obvious marketing reasons for printing the works of established composers with later opus numbers.
Despite its early date of composition, the String Quintet in G major represents a rather mature and characteristic Dvořak who had already abandoned the, at that time very fashionable yearning after Wagner and Liszt. The melodically inexhaustible composer eagerly drew motives from the Bohemian tradition. The work is fundamentally a continuum of the tradition of Mozart and Schubert in classic Viennese style; the sonata form of the first movement is followed by a traditional ternary form for the slow movement and a rondo finale. Unlike his icons and predecessors, who used either two violas or two celli, Dvořak adds a double bass in his quintet. This undoubtedly suited his fully romantic string sound ideal and expanded the expression of the quintet towards that of the orchestra.
The orchestral nature of the quintet also sets particular challenges for the ensemble sound. In the whirl of the dynamically overexcited melodies, the ensemble ring can easily get congested with too much vibrato and over-percussive playing. The available editions of this work are inconsistent, even confusing. The best way to decipher the composer's intention appears to be just an educated guess.