About this Recording
8.572656 - MEYER, K.: String Quartets, Vol. 2 (Wieniawski String Quartet) - Nos. 9, 11 and 12

Krzysztof Meyer (b. 1943)
String Quartets Nos. 9, 11 and 12


Krzysztof Meyer was born in Kraków on 11 August 1943 and began formal studies when he was eleven at the Kraków Academy, first with Stanisław Wiechowicz then with Krzysztof Penderecki (receiving his diploma in 1965) while also participating in courses with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He taught at the Kraków Academy from 1965–87, after which he became professor in composition at the Hochschüle für Musik in Cologne. Active as a pianist, he was a member of the new music ensemble MW2 during 1965–67, and served as President of the Polish Composers’ Union during 1985–89. From 1974 to 1988 he served on the committee of the Warsaw Autumn Festival, having first appeared in 1965 as the youngest composer in its history. Awards include first prize at the Prince Rainier of Monaco competition in 1960 and prize of the Polish Composers’ Union in 1992.

In addition to his composing, performing and teaching, Meyer has also published on a range of musical topics. His two-volume study of Witold Lutosławski (2003/4: co-written with Danuta Gwizdalanka) remains the most extensive in Polish, while his monograph on the life and music of Dmitry Shostakovich (1973, new edition 1994) has now been translated into several European languages. A noted authority on the Russian composer, his completion of the opera The Gambler was first performed in Wuppertal on 12 June 1984 and has subsequently been recorded.

In his own music Meyer has shown a keen awareness of the stylistic paths in music after 1945 and a conviction in using them for his own ends. Serial and sonorist as well as aleatoric means have informed his compositions, yet, as he himself stated in an interview four decades ago, “Applying various techniques is for me only a means to composition, and it is by no means an exaggeration…to say that I enter some regions of my inner soundscape using any technical means available and I will still arrive at a result that I had aimed at from the start, regardless of the means applied”. Although his output takes in the broad spectrum of genres, the ongoing series of seven symphonies and twelve string quartets stand at the centre of his achievement—with the latter covering 42 years (thus far) of his composing [Nos. 5, 6 and 8 are on Naxos 8.570776].

The Ninth Quartet (1990) is in five movements which outline a fast-slow-fast-slow-fast format, yet this sequence is anything but predictable in its formal or expressive follow-through, amounting to a cohesive whole in terms of salient motifs and gestures that reappear during its course. A crescendo launches the opening Agitato, which unfolds with angular harmonies and forceful repeated rhythms. Gradually the music opens out texturally, with unison chords endowing a semblance of tonal direction, before thinning out to leave increasingly isolated phrases on violin. The ensuing Calmo stands in direct contrast with its ruminative discourse, the instruments merging from the outset in a meditative dialogue interrupted only by the occasional fugitive gesture on tremolo strings. After the last of these, the music moves steadily on towards its becalmed conclusion. Without pause the Con vigore begins with aggressive pizzicato from the players, other playing techniques being introduced as the music loses something of its initial purposefulness and sustained notes at the relative extremes of the instrumental compass become apparent. From here, a brief though atmospheric Misterioso draws in distinct ideas from each instrument prior to its uncertain close with a flurry of pizzicato. This acts as a springboard for the closing Vivo, which starts with a return to the mood and material of the first movement, now informed by even greater rhythmic impetus. The discourse is thrown into relief by a calmer interlude that cannot prevent an accumulation of energy as the music surges on—capped by another crescendo that this time makes for a decisive ending.

The Eleventh Quartet (2001) is cast in a single movement, a form it shares with several quartets by Shostakovich, while most resembling the latter’s Thirteenth Quartet in a seamless overall trajectory within which diverse contrasts of mood and tempo become absorbed into the greater continuity. A lurching gesture heard on all four instruments is immediately drawn into the sustained texture, from out of which individual entries briefly emerge only to be drawn back into the prevailing inwardness. The music develops an increasingly elegiac demeanour that intensifies as the initial gesture is recalled in passing, threading its way through detached exchanges before suddenly welling up in a passage of greater activity that brings about an impassioned central span with trills and tremolo playing much to the fore. The texture now becomes ever more intricate as the level of activity increases; with the instrumental writing at length coalescing around a chordal complex that, itself a motivic expansion of the work’s initial gesture, becomes rhythmically more streamlined and incisive while the music drives onward to a brusquely conclusive ending.

The Twelfth Quartet (2005) is Meyer’s most recent such work to date, and provides a fair summation of his contribution to the genre. Although there are nine movements, these are dovetailed into each other to form an overall whole (in a not dissimilar manner to Beethoven’s C sharp minor Quartet) which is greater than the sum of its parts. The opening Lento acts as an inward prelude to what will follow, unfolding in a texture that gradually becomes denser harmonically and more searching emotionally, before returning to its initial stasis. The ensuing Con ira strikes an abrupt contrast with its forceful rhythmic profile and an intensive dialogue that draws several motifs heard earlier into a volatile as well as an increasingly hectic discourse. Without a pause the demonstrative Vivo strides forward, stealthy pizzicato on cello underpinning a complex texture in which the emotional force of the music intensifies before tailing off uncertainly. Eventually only viola and cello remain, with their long-breathed dialogue marking the onset of the Dolente, the work’s ‘centrepiece’ at least in its expressive weight. Gradually the two violins make their presence felt as a finely wrought polyphony evolves, accentuated by a rocking motion that animates the texture before a gradual return to the initial inwardness. From this haunting close the Furioso now emerges in a welter of colliding phrases and exploding pizzicato, growing more excited before relapsing into disconnected phrases. The Largo that follows serves as a meditative transition to the Adagio, with cello continuing the previous introspection as a recitative to which the other instruments respond with terse and often detached gestures. As the cello fades out in its highest register, the Prestissimo commences with angry motoric rhythms and a propulsive energy which features heated exchanges that are cut off at maximum intensity to reveal the Appassionato. Over a trill-saturated texture, this unfolds as a soliloquy for violin that touches on ideas from earlier in the work, before a brief defiant gesture and a gradual fading out on the violin.

Richard Whitehouse

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