Chamber Music II

Sunday, March 24, 2019 • 6:00 p.m.
Hale’s Brewery (4301 Leary Way NW, Seattle)

A limited number of tickets will be available at the door prior to tonight’s performance.


Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
String Quartet in D major, Op. 76, No. 5

Huntley Beyer (*1947)
It Happened Last Friday

— intermission —

Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
String Quartet in G minor

About the Concert

The $25 ticket price includes one glass of wine or beer, with gratuity included on all drink redemptions and purchases. Just 60 seats available: advance ticket purchase recommended.


Program Notes

Franz Joseph Haydn
String Quartet in D major, Op. 76, No. 5

Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, on March 31, 1732, and died in Vienna on May 31, 1809. He composed this quartet during 1797.

Although he wrote 106 symphonies and 45 piano trios (in addition to 123 trios for viola, cello and baryton—an instrument played by his longtime employer, Prince Nikolaus I of Esterházy), Haydn’s 67 1/2 string quartets established the form that would serve as a model for composers over the next two centuries. While his early works for a quartet of two violins, viola and cello took the form of five-movement divertimentos popular in Vienna at the time, the quartets he began composing at Esterházy codified the structure of a sonata-allegro first movement, followed by a slow movement, minuet with trio, and rondo finale.

With the death in 1790 of Nikolaus I, his successor reduced the size of the court orchestra (along with Haydn’s salary), but allowed Haydn to travel abroad. The composer made two lengthy visits (during 1791–1792 and 1794–1795) to England, where his music was exceedingly popular. Upon his return to Austria, Haydn accepted a commission from Count Joseph Erdödy for a set of six string quartets.

The fifth work in this collection (following the more famous “Emperor” and “Sunrise” quartets) finds Haydn breaking most of the rules he had established as “father of the string quartet.” The opening movement consists of variations on a 6/8 siciliano theme that includes a detour into D minor and concludes with a slighter faster Allegro coda.

At the heart of this work is the Largo, in 2/2 (marked “singing and mournful”) and cast is in the rarefied key of F♯ major. This, as Karl Geiringer notes, “excludes the employment of any open strings by the four members of the quartet, whereby a tone quality of ethereal beauty is achieved.”

The ensuing minuet returns to D major, with Haydn making playful use of hemiola rhythms (breaking two bars of 3/4 into three groups of two beats), while the D-minor trio features “obstinate repetition of a grumbling motive in the cello produces a highly humorous effect.” The 2/4 finale concludes the work with a high-spirited rustic dance.

Huntley Beyer
It Happened Last Friday

Huntley Beyer was born November 17, 1947, growing up in New Jersey; he currently resides in Redmond. This brass quintet receives its first performance this evening.

Composer Huntley Beyer met OSSCS founder George Shangrow in 1969 in the classroom of harpsichordist Sylvia Kind at the University of Washington. He later played oboe in Orchestra Seattle for 15 years. Under Shangrow’s direction, OSSCS premiered numerous Beyer compositions, including three of his four symphonies, the powerful St. Mark Passion, Songs of Illumination and the song cycle The Turns of a Girl. Members of Orchestra Seattle premiered his wind quintet in 2011 and his piano trio in 2016.

The three movements of It Happened Last Friday “could be said to be events taking place on one day, that day being ‘last Friday,’” Beyer writes about his newest composition. “The first (‘Morning rush’) is fast and full of brash, dissonant sounds, imitating a morning commute. There is a pretty stable tuba bass line, though, so we do proceed steadily along, without too much stress. In the middle there is a more mellow, muted section, where perhaps we leave the freeway and enjoy a country road. Toward the end, however, we are back in the rush of things and finally, at the last chord, make it successfully to our place of work on time. This movement is a reminder that there is a positive energy and pulse to life.

“The second movement (‘The sunset was like a hymn with clouds’) occurs later that day. It is meant to be like an anthem or hymn to nature and its beauty, a reminder that peace and loveliness exist. The finale (‘At a party that night’) occurs that evening, full of humor, happiness and good spir- its. Think of drinks and fun conversations that veer from one topic and story to another, punctuated by laughter. It is a reminder that goodness and happiness exist.”

Claude Debussy
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10

Achille-Claude Debussy was born August 22, 1862, just outside of Paris, where the died on March 25, 1918. He composed this work during 1893. The Ysaÿe Quartet gave the first performance in Paris on December 29 of that year.

Debussy began his composition studies at the Paris Conservatoire at age 10, but he did not find his true compositional voice until age 30, after winning the Prix de Rome and spending time in Rome and Bayreuth. Returning to Paris, he began work on his first Impressionistic masterpiece, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and this string quartet, which looks backward in its general structure and cyclic form (a nod to César Franck), while exploring cutting-edge sounds and techniques.

Although Debussy published this work as his Premier quatuor, it would be the only string quartet he ever wrote. Furthermore, it was the only work to which he assigned an opus number (how he arrived at 10 is something of a mystery) and the only one for which he specified a key in the title (also somewhat misleading, as the first movement begins in the Phrygian mode rather than G minor proper).

The melodic motive unveiled in the quartet’s opening measures (one of four themes heard in this movement) forms the basis for much of the material to follow later in the work. The second movement functions as a scherzo (successor to Haydn’s minuets), combining striking pizzicato effects with a viola theme developed from the work’s opening motive.

The slow movement, in the far-away key of D♭ major, has all four players employing mutes. The introduction to the finale begins slowly, accelerating through a fugal episode toward a brisk tempo marked “Very lively and with passion” that features variants of the opening motive, capped off by a brilliant G-major final chord.

Jeff Eldridge