About this Recording
8.557628 - ARRIAGA: String Quartets (Complete)
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Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga (1806-1826)
String Quartets

Interest in the music of Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga began to revive in the late nineteenth century. Since then, his works have earned the admiration of the music world, confirming the fact that his premature death meant the loss not only of an individually brilliant composer, but also perhaps of a significant link in the development of musical history itself.

Arriaga was born in Bilbao on 27th January 1806 and soon became renowned in the city’s musical circles. His earliest compositions include the divertimento Nada y mucho (1817), the Overture for nonet, Op. 1, and the two-act opera Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves), which was completed in 1819 and first performed to great acclaim in Bilbao a year later. That same year Arriaga wrote the Tema variado en cuarteto, Op. 17, and La húngara, a theme and variations for violin and ad libitum bass.

In 1821 he moved to Paris, where he studied the violin with Pierre Baillot and composition with François-Joseph Fétis. He put in very long hours, working both as a performer and as Fétis’s teaching assistant in his counterpoint and fugue classes. The great majority of his extant works date from his time in Paris: three string quartets, a number of stage works such as Agar and Erminia, the Symphony and the Three Studies or Caprices for piano. His excessive workload is the most probable cause of the pulmonary infection that led to his death in 1826.

Arriaga’s three string quartets were published in Paris as the Premier Livre de quatuors in 1824 and, given the composer’s early death, can be seen as works of relative maturity. These most accomplished pieces are rich in melody, with enormous technical precision in the contrapuntal writing of the different parts. Arriaga’s genius for invention comes through in their innovative movement layout and structure, which differ somewhat from traditional models.

The Quartet No. 1 in D minor comprises four movements. The first, Allegro, develops a mournful theme to which a second, folk-inspired idea then responds. The Adagio is based on a long drawn-out phrase for first violin. In place of a scherzo, the third movement is a Menuet, whose trio features pizzicato chords with a guitar-like accompaniment. An adagio phrase which unexpectedly recurs before the conclusion acts as an introduction to the Allegretto finale.

Quartet No. 2 in A major is formally the most traditional of the three. The atmosphere of the Allegro is one of great vitality, in which the four instruments converse together, the four parts being remarkably independent but well balanced. The Andante con variaciones takes the place of a slow movement, the last variation created by a pizzicato effect. The Menuetto is followed by a cadenza-like passage which is repeated in the final Allegro, after the exposition.

Quartet No. 3 in E flat major is the most technically developed of the three pieces. The opening unison in the Allegro is followed by a concertante interchange of motifs between the instruments, the development being marked by its expressive nature and shifts in tonality. The second movement is a Pastorale rather than an Adagio, whose different episodes feature various descriptive effects, for example the tremolo to suggest a storm. Arriaga then lifts his thematic writing to a high point in the final Presto agitato.

Santiago Gorostiza

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