Perhaps the greatest problem with musical warhorses is that in winning the battle for performance time they have triumphed over other works that could have been heard “in-steed.” There are certain works, however, that I do not begrudge their trot to the top; among these is Schubert’s String Quartet in G major, D. 887, the last of his offerings for the medium. The Miró Quartet will be performing the piece tonight as part of the Library’s Antonio Stradivari Anniversary Concert, presented as part of the series of Concerts from the Library of Congress. As the name implies, the musicians will be playing on “Stradi-various” instruments selected from a quintet of Stradivari instruments donated to the Library by Gertrude Clarke Whittall in 1935. It has since been a tradition for a string quartet to perform on the instruments annually to commemorate the death of Antonio Stradivari on December 18th, 1737.
The long-term association of these instruments with the Coolidge Auditorium has yielded a musical match made in… well, Cremona. To hear Schubert’s fifteenth quartet on these instruments in this hall will surely be a profound experience. Schubert transcends the tired tropes of emotional/mood associations with the major and minor modes—look no further than the intensifying G-major triad that opens the quartet to hear a composer who understands tragedy. This is a work that can serve as both a microcosm of the multifarious aspects of Schubert’s craft as well as an example non plus ultra of his artistry. Not only does the piece contain much of what is admirable about his vocal and instrumental writing, but it also offers insight into Schubert’s life at the time (containing as it does an “insider” reference to Beethoven’s op. 131 string quartet, which Schubert had just heard prior to composing his G-major quartet).
In the second half of the concert, Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet will be performed by the Miró with the assistance of clarinetist Ricardo Morales. The last of Brahms’ non-duo instrumental chamber works, it too displays the mastery of a composer at the end of his career (of course neither composer knew at the time how close they were to the end, but in the case of Brahms he had been considering retirement from composition—while Schubert showed no signs of stopping). Some notes on the program can be found here that go into more detail about the evening’s offerings.
Miró Quartet with Ricardo Morales
Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violins
John Largess, viola
Joshua Gindele, violoncello
Ricardo Morales, clarinet
Tuesday, December 18, 2012, 8:00 p.m. – Jefferson Building, Coolidge Auditorium
SCHUBERT: String Quartet in G major, D. 887 (1826)
BRAHMS: Quintet in B minor for clarinet, two violins, viola and violoncello, op. 115 (1891)
David Schoenbaum talks about his new book, The Violin: A Social History of the World’s Most Versatile Instrument. He will also speak about the Library’s collection of instruments, and will be available to sign books following the event.
6:15 p.m. – Jefferson Building, Whittall Pavilion
These are the instruments being used by the Miró Quartet for the Antonio Stradivari Anniversary Concert: