About this Recording
8.570776 - MEYER, K.: String Quartets, Vol. 1 (Wieniawski String Quartet) - Nos. 5, 6 and 8

Krzysztof Meyer (b. 1943)
String Quartets Nos. 5, 6 and 8


Krzysztof Meyer was born on 11 August 1943 in Kraków. From the age of five he studied the piano and, from 1954, theory and composition with Stanisław Wiechowicz. After graduating from the Chopin State Secondary School of Music in Kraków Meyer continued his studies at the College of Music there, graduating with distinction in composition in 1965, in the class of Krzysztof Penderecki and in theory a year later. In 1964, 1966, and 1968 he was a student of Nadia Boulanger in France. During the years 1965–1967 Meyer appeared as pianist with the group MW2 Ensemble, giving concerts of contemporary music both at home and in most European countries. He also played his solo and chamber music compositions. From 1966 to 1987 he taught at the State College of Music (now Academy of Music) in Kraków, holding the chair of the Department of Music Theory from 1975 to 1987. Since 1987 he has been professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne and is a frequent lecturer on the subject of contemporary music in many countries, including Russia, Germany, Austria, Brazil and Japan. Between the years 1985 and 1989 he held the office of President of the Polish Composers’ Union.

Krzysztof Meyer is a winner of numerous awards, including First Prize in a Young Composers’ Competition in France (1966), the Aaron Copland Scholarship (1966), the First Prize for Symphony No. 3 in the Fitelberg Competition (1968), and Grand Prix in the Prince Pierre de Monaco International Composers’ Competition for his opera Cyberiada (1970). He was twice the recipient of the Special Mention at the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs UNESCO in Paris for his String Quartet No. 2 and String Quartet No. 3 (1970 and 1976). He is also a laureate of the Ministry of Culture Award (1973 and 1975), the First Prize winner of the Karol Szymanowski Competition in Warsaw for Symphony No. 4 (1974), and the recipient of a Special Medal bestowed by the Government of Brazil for his String Quartet No. 4 and Concerto retro (1975 and 1977). Among other distinguished prizes that Krzysztof Meyer has received are the Johann Gottfried von Herder Prize (Vienna, 1984), the annual Award of the Polish Composers’ Union (Warsaw, 1992), the A. Jurzykowski Award (New York, 1993) and the Johann Stamitz Prize (Mannheim, 1996). Krzysztof Meyer is a member of the Freie Akademie der Künste in Mannheim.

Meyer’s compositions have been performed all over the world at international festivals of contemporary music, including the Warsaw Autumn, Musicki Biennale Zagreb, Holland Festival, Musikprotokoll-Graz, Aldeburgh Festival, Schleswig-Holstein, and the Lucerne Festival. Some of his works were commissioned by or composed for the most eminent soloists (Lyric Triptych for Peter Pears, the Flute Concerto for Aurèle Nicolet, the Concerto da camera per oboe for Lothar Faber, the Pezzo capriccioso for Heinz Holliger, the First Cello Sonata for David Geringas, Canti Amadei for Ivan Monighetti, and his Second Violin Concerto for Dmitri Sitkovetsky).

In the newest edition of the Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart dictionary of music Ludwig Finscher categorizes Krzysztof Meyer as being in the first place among living string quartet ‘specialists’. Indeed, the twelve quartets which Meyer composed between the years 1963 and 2005 are a panorama of possibilities in this genre. In every case there is a different concept of form, a privileged type of sound colours and relationships between instruments.

The earliest quartets are full of unconventional sound colours and are excellent examples of the techniques that were typical of Polish music in the 1960s. Among the later quartets a turning-point is String Quartet No. 5, in which the narrative plays a primary rôle, as is traditional in central European style, consisting of harmonic tension, motivic resemblances and expressive and transparent rhythms. The character of this music clearly illustrates the composer’s words: “I would like my works to be meaningful sound-stories told with musical elements that the listener would care about, and not just a stream of acoustic stimuli that involuntarily fly past their ears…”. The selection of pieces on this recording is a good example of this.

String Quartet No. 5 (1977) deserves to be called a chamber sinfonia concertante, with the cello in the foreground. This impression is created by the impetus of this piece, in which the five movements combine into two extended arches, the first and second movements and the fourth and fifth separated by the third movement, an intermezzo.

After that epic work, String Quartet No. 6 (1981) might itself seem restrained, particularly as the music moves away from a clearly outlined beginning. The piece requires perceptiveness and a good memory from the listener, but this concentration is rewarded with a satisfaction that flows from recognizing motives and rhythms that recur in a diversity of shapes, for the composer treats music like a game in which the main idea is to make from a few elements as many various sound shapes as possible. It is no wonder that the finale abounds in quasi-quotations and reminiscences of previous movements.

In String Quartet No. 8 (1985) the instruments are exclusively playing arco and pizzicato. The tonal centre C repeats itself almost obsessively, and is emphatically exposed so that it occasionally suggests tonality, although any relationship with a major-minor system is obviously deceptive in this piece. With its simplicity of rhythm and preponderance of motoric motion, one could have the impression while looking at the score that the quartet is neoclassical in character. The dramatic expression of this “story told with musical elements” is, however, far from the playfulness of neoclassicism.

Where does Krzysztof Meyer’s fascination with string quartets come from? “When I was a little boy, I had a chance to listen to chamber music concerts that were regularly organized at my home. Probably these first impressions fundamentally shaped my interests and principles…My musical homeland is the chamber music of the Viennese Classic, extended by the most splendid of twentieth-century musical worlds—Bartók’s”.

Thomas Weselmann
Translated by Magdalena and Yati Durant

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