Heitor Villa-Lobos : Quartet No. 1
Diego Vega : String Quartet
Astor Piazzolla : Angel Suite
Alberto Ginastera : Quartet No. 2
BEFORE THE CONCERT
Learn about this concert’s composers and their works. Gain deeper insights into the music with Kai Christiansen, noted San Francisco musicologist and founder of earsense.org an online chamber music exploratorium.
Lecture starts at 6:45 PM in the Sunset Center concert hall, and is free-of-charge.
In their program titled “Hemispheres: South America”, the Catalyst Quartet features string quartets by four South American composers representing Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, spanning almost a century of music from the very first quartet by the legendary Villa-Lobos to a 21st century work by living composer Diega Vega. The wonderful diversity within this regional theme also features the bristling modernism of post-WWII Ginastera as well as the beloved and richly evocative “Nuevo tango” of Astor Piazzolla.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
String Quartet No. 1 (1915)
Widely touted by superlatives such as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music,” Villa-Lobos was extraordinary by all accounts. A multi-instrumentalist and composer, largely self-taught in both arenas, he voraciously absorbed traditional classical music, a wealth of indigenous folk and popular musics from his native Brazil, and then effortlessly blended with the Parisian avant-garde throughout the 1920’s during his sojourns there. Ultimately, Villa-Lobos became a truly legendary figure during the Brazilian Nationalist period as composer, director, performer and government administrator. Driven to compose incessantly throughout his life, his œuvre comprises well over 2,000 works including no less than 17 string quartets dating from 1915 through 1957. The quartets offer a rich showcase of the stylistic range and diversity of Villa-Lobos’s music including examples of his characteristic blend of European “Classical” with Brazilian popular/folk styles with a penchant for polyphonic textures reflecting his love of Bach. His first numbered string quartet is unique within the cycle for its eloquent simplicity already demonstrating great aesthetic appeal. It is a neoclassical suite of six small movements that alternate between slow and fast, lyrical and dancelike, beginning with a supple, late Romantic song and ending with a little, leaping fugue alluding to a mischievous, sprightly character from Brazilian folklore named Saci.
Diego Vega (born 1968)
String Quartet (2000)
Diego Vega is one of Colombia’s most popular composers, and is also a music educator and conductor. His String Quartet is mostly derived from the rhythm and melodies of a variety of Colombian folk dances. The first movement is an overture, which, clearly delineated by its metric modulations and changes of character, introduces the main material that will be developed throughout the next three movements. The dances explored in this first movement are pasillo, contradanza, cumbia and mapalé. The second movement has a very concentrated character. Its violent quality is achieved through extreme dynamic contrasts, permanent displacement of rhythmic accents, and fast transformation of the material. The aggressive character of the second movement is balanced by the lyricism of the third movement. The long melody of the third movement, composed on the back-ground of a chromatic counterpoint, is inspired by the slow bambuco, a dance from the central mountainous area of Colombia. The last movement is based on the mapalé, a dance from the Atlantic region of Colombia. The fast and very rhythmic character of this dance integrates the melodic material of the previous movements and concludes the work.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Angel Suite (c. 1962) arr. Catalyst Quartet
Astor Piazzolla’s music is apt to be familiar to most through a variety of media including recordings, live performances and film soundtracks. Born in Argentina of Italian parents, Piazzolla and family moved to New York when he was a small boy and he spent the rest of his life blending both locales, languages and cultures most famously in his original musical mélange of Argentine Tango, American Jazz and European Classical in what became known as “Nuevo Tango.” Despite the original controversy his music caused Tango purists due to its abstracted, performance-oriented art music orientation, Piazzolla’s tangos feature the cardinal aspects of the genre: melancholy, bravado, passion, danger, atmosphere and stylized, emphatic rhythms. The “Angel Suite” comprises four selections featured in the incidental music to a 1962 play titled “Tango del Ángel” by Argentine playwright Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz about an angel that cleanses the souls of residents in a Buenos Aires barrio but ultimately dies in a knife fight. Although one of the characteristic sounds of the Tango quintet is Piazzolla’s own instrument, the button accordion named the bandoneón, Piazzolla’s music transcribes beautifully to a variety of ensembles including the eminently flexible and expressive string quartet with arrangements by the Catalyst Quartet.
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Quartet No. 2 (1958)
At least one generation younger than his compatriot Villa-Lobos, fellow Argentine composer Ginastera completed his studies and first made his musical mark in the late 1930’s becoming a highly-regarded 20th century composer, both modernist and Nationalist combining rural Argentine vernacular traditions with the latest classical trends ultimately including polytonality, serialism and “magic surrealism” in a final stylistic period he terms “Neo-Expressionism.” His famous, second string quartet has fiercely modern techniques predominate along with a rhythmic verve that still finds its essential roots in Argentine dance. Ginastera greatly admired Bartók’s string quartets and his vivid influence on this work finds some calling it “Bartók’s Seventh.” As with Bartók’s fourth and fifth, Ginastera uses a five-movement “arch” form with symmetries of tempo and mood between the first and last, the second and forth, and a central keystone scherzo packed with advanced performance techniques that he significantly titles “Presto magico.” Complex, immensely difficult to perform and vividly affective, this is an unmistakable modern masterwork for string quartet, the product of a truly original artistic mind.