Danish String Quartet
November 10, 2023 at 7 p.m.
Minsky Recital Hall
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Danish String Quartet

Friday, November 10, 2023 at 7 p.m.
Minsky Recital Hall

******SOLD OUT!*******

The Danish String Quartet recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary, and the GRAMMY®-nominated quartet continues to assert its preeminence among the world’s finest string quartets.  Formed when they were in their teens, they are renowned for impeccable musicianship, sophisticated artistry, exquisite clarity of ensemble, and, above all, and an unmatched ability to play as one. Performances are characterized by a rare musical spontaneity, and they exude a palpable joy in music-making that has made them one of today’s most highly acclaimed and in-demand classical quartets, performing sold-out concert halls around the world.

This season, the Danish String Quartet continues its DOPPELGÄNGER series, an ambitious four-year international commissioning project that pairs world premieres with late major chamber works by Schubert. This season’s new work, by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, premieres in April 2023. DOPPELGÄNGER is commissioned by the Danish String Quartet with the support of Carnegie Hall, Cal Performances, UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures, Vancouver Recital Society, Flagey in Brussels, and Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. The Quartet performs 28 concerts in North American this season over the course of three separate tours and they are Artist in Residence at London’s Wigmore Hall.

The Danish String Quartet’s most recent recording project is PRISM, a series of five discs on ECM New Series that explores the symbiotic musical and contextual relationships between Bach fugues, Beethoven string quartets, and works by later composers. The most recent release is PRISM IV (2022), which was an “Editor’s Choice” in Limelight magazine. Slated for release on ECM in 2023 are a disc of traditional Scandinavian folk music and PRISM V.

The Quartet was named Musical America’s 2020 Ensemble of the Year; awarded the Borletti-Buitoni Trust in 2016; named BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists in 2013; appointed to The Bowers Program (formerly CMS Two); and received the Carl Nielsen Prize, Denmark’s highest cultural honor.


Tickets are $48 for adults, including all fees, K-12 students tickets are free.


Chaconne in G minor Henry Purcell
(1659 – 1695)
arr. Benjamin Britten
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 20 No. 3 Franz Joseph Haydn
(1732 – 1809)
String Quartet No. 7, Op. 108 Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906 – 1975)
Folk Music arr. Danish String Quartet

by Dr. Jack Burt

Purcell: Chaconne (1678), arr. Benjamin Britten

The terms Chaconne, Canon, Chacony, and Passacaglia are often used interchangeably. Musicologists will argue about the differences (which is why they are no fun at parties) but the underlying structures are the same: a bass line or chord progression of short length (in this case 8 bars in ¾ time) is repeated, without much change. This type of “Variation form” is the clearest example of the desire to achieve a balance of unity and variety in music: while one aspect of the music remains generally unchanged, everything else, specifically character and intensity, changes.

It is a very useful form, and there are many great examples: Purcell’s famous aria, “Dido’s Lament” from his opera Dido and Aeneas, the ever popular Pachelbel “Canon”, the “Crucifixus” from Bach’s B minor Mass, the “Passacaglia” finale of Brahms’ 4 th Symphony, and – any jazz tune built on the 12 bar Blues (compare any of the above mentioned pieces with say, “Blue Trane” by John Coltrane, and you will recognize the similar structural DNA). Unity and variety.

The greatest example of this form is the final movement “Ciaconna” from the Bach D minor Solo Violin Partita. If any single piece of music can be called the greatest ever, it is this. Brahms wrote of it in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, [Bach] writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.” Violinist Joshua Bell has said, the Ciaconna is “one of the greatest achievements of any one, in history… emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.” All from a tiny little repetitive form!

The Chaconne, Chacony, or Ciaconna (spelling varies, depending on the era, or origin of the composer) reached its height in the Baroque period, yet enjoyed a return in the late 19th , early 20th century as composers began to look to the past for inspiration. Composers such as Gustav Holst, Béla Bartók, Phillip Glass, and John Adams all have utilized the form. Benjamin Britten, often called the greatest British composer since Purcell, had a great affection for his music. This arrangement of the original, for string orchestra and continuo, is from 1947, and was revised in 1963. In G minor, it has a sustained melancholy expression.

Haydn: Quartet in G minor, Op. 20, No. 3 (1772)

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Haydn’s string quartets, though some have certainly tried. Concerning the set of six quartets from which today’s G minor Quartet is taken, the great Sir Donald Francis Tovey, a master of purple prose, wrote: “Every page of Haydn’s Six Quartets op. 20 is of historic and aesthetic importance. There is perhaps no single opus in the history of instrumental music which has achieved so much.” More recently, essayist Ron Drummond opined, “This cannot be overstated, the six string quartets of Opus 20 are as important in the history of music, and had as radically a transforming effect on the very field of musical possibility itself, as Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony would 33 years later.” Wow!

These sentiments are true, in a musicological sense, but they tend to cloud the original intent of the music, and make the listener expect to hear something monumental, rather than intimate. Haydn was not trying to write “important” music, but rather, enjoyable and playable music. The great German philosopher and poet Goethe once described a string quartet as “four rational people conversing.” This perfectly describes Haydn’s string quartets. No one voice crowds out the others. Each listens respectfully to each other. They share.

Haydn’s decades long service to the Esterházy family, in rural Bohemia, isolated him from much of European cultural life. He would later say this musical isolation “forced” him to be creative and inventive. The “Father” of so many important genres – the Symphony, String Quartet and Sonata – Haydn literally “made it up as he went along.” If one listens to any of his works in succession, one can sense Haydn trying things out, inventing, rejecting, and modifying as he goes. He ultimately created formal templates which composers would treat as a given for almost 200 years.

Less than a dozen of Haydn’s 68 quartets are set in a minor key. In this No. 3, only the beautiful, hymn-like 3rd movement, marked poco adagio, is in the major. Adding to its hushed quality, the parts are marked mezzo voce, or “half voice.” Also unique to this enigmatic quartet, all the movements end quietly.

Shostakovich: Quartet No. 7, Op. 108 (1960)

The late 1950’s and early 60’s were a tumultuous time for Shostakovich and Soviet society. The death of Stalin in 1953 released a great, long held tension, particularly in the arts. For a number of years, the Soviet government’s control over the arts would swing like a pendulum between freedom and repressive control. Artists like Shostakovich had to navigate these changing strictures. This was particularly true in larger “public” works like ballets or symphonies. There was however much less official attention given to chamber music. Shostakovich then, in his string quartets, was able to express himself with less worry over governmental displeasure. As a result, his 14 string quartets, written between 1938 and 1974, are a more unified set of works than his 15 symphonies, because he could, in effect, ignore official opinion. Like those of Beethoven and Bartók, Shostakovich’s quartets harbor many of his most “private thoughts.”

The 7th quartet, the shortest in duration, was composed in 1960, and is dedicated to the memory of his first wife, Nina, who had died in 1954. The music is, in turn, agitated, introspective, lonely, nervous, and ultimately, unsettling.

Folk Music Set

The Danish String Quartet’s two wonderful CDs of Nordic Folk Music arrangements, entitled Wood Works and Last Leaf, have done much to change the public and musical image of the modern string quartet. Their commitment to this music has changed the long-held image of stern, serious, stuffy chamber musicians. Many other touring quartets have followed suit, expanding their potential audiences as they expand their repertoire. Certainly the Danish’s immersion in folk music has informed their views of Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven. How could it not? After all, good music is good music, and the musical distance between friends getting together to read and play folk tunes, as opposed to a Haydn quartet, is not as far as we have been led to believe. All this is long overdue.

Their efforts in promoting this music also extends to publishing. Printed arrangements of the music from both CDs have been published (no small effort on their part), allowing musicians anywhere to take part in the journey they have begun. Chamber musicians everywhere are grateful.


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