Dover Quartet & David Shifrin
Joaquín Turina was brought up in Seville, Spain, and the music of that city always had a big influence on his compositions. Having begun his musical “studies” at the age of four improvising on an accordion, a gift from a family servant, Turina made his formal concert debut on piano at the age of fifteen. Although he started out to study medicine, he always wanted to be a musician. He took piano lessons with Enrique Rodríguez and studied harmony with García Torres, who was in charge of music at the cathedral in Seville. Soon Turina began to compose, and met Manuel de Falla with whom he became lifelong friends. From 1905 Turina lived in Paris, where he studied piano with Moritz Moskowski and took composition lessons from Vincent d'Indy at his Schola Cantorum. In that city he got to know the “impressionist” composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Turina returned to Spain in 1914, serving as choirmaster at the Teatro Real in Madrid and working as a pianist, composer and journalist. In 1917 he published his Enciclopedia abreviada de música (Short Encyclopedia of Music). He became Director of the Madrid Royal Conservatory in 1931.
La Oración del Torero (1925) means “The Bullfighter's Prayer”. The inspiration for the piece purportedly came to Turina one hot afternoon in Madrid at the bullfighting arena. Going behind the scenes to where the toreros prepared themselves, Turina came upon a small and peaceful chapel, which carried with it the heavy air of impending doom. All around, censers burned and within, bullfighters prayed to the Almighty to protect their lives in their quest for fame and glory. This tone poem was written first for an ensemble of four laúd, a family of Spanish-style lutes of differing sizes, common in Andalusian folk music. Turina subsequently arranged the work for string quartet, appealing to a broader range of audiences, and eventually for a larger orchestra. The tonal language of Debussy can be heard, and the echo of the music of Andalusian gypsies is also evident. The piece became one of Turina’s most popular works.
Leoš Janáček was born in Hukvaldy in Moravia (present-day Czechia). As a boy he became a chorister at the Augustinian “Queen’s” Monastery in Brno. From his education in Brno (including running the choir at the monastery) he went on to study at the Prague, Leipzig, and Vienna conservatories. In 1881 he founded a college of organists at Brno, which he directed until 1920. There he also established a foundation for musical education, with violin and singing classes, an orchestra, and later piano classes. When in 1884 the Provisional Czech Theatre opened in Brno, Janáček started a review-based journal Hudební listy (“Music Bulletins”), through which we can now understand and appreciate many of the composer’s feelings about the work of his contemporaries. His relationships with others were not easy, and he not only resigned from the Gymnasium, where he taught, but separated from his wife after the birth of their first child.
String Quartet No. 2 (“Intimate Letters”) (1928) has been referred to as Janáček's "manifesto on love". It was composed after a 1923 request from the Bohemian Quartet. Unusually for a classical work, the nickname "Intimate Letters" ("Listy důvěrné" in Czech) was given by the composer himself, as it was inspired by his long and spiritual friendship with Kamila Stösslová, a married woman 38 years his junior. The composition was intended to reflect the character of their relationship as revealed in the more than 700 letters they exchanged. The viola assumes a prominent role throughout the composition, as this instrument was intended to personify Kamila. The première of the work took place a month after Janáček died.
Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581 (1789) was completed at a time during which the composer’s esteem in the Viennese public’s consciousness had hit rock-bottom. He was now chiefly engaged in producing arias for operas by lesser composers, who were ranked far higher than he among the Viennese social elite; for this work he received some payment, but no acknowledgment of authorship. He was also working on substitute arias for a revival of his own three-year-old Le nozze di Figaro, to accommodate the talents of singers new to the cast. In all it was a depressing year for Mozart. His teaching jobs and commissions had dried up, and his “academies” (self-sponsored subscription concerts) had become a financial impossibility. His health was hardly robust, while his chronically ailing wife, Constanze, was experiencing yet another difficult pregnancy; the couple’s fifth child, Anna Maria, would die an hour after her birth. (However, Constanze would outlive Wolfgang by some 50 years.)
How much the unhappy circumstances in which Mozart found himself are reflected in the sublime Clarinet Quintet is difficult to say. For what occasion the Quintet was written is not known. What is certain is that it was given its first performance by the Tonkünstler Society in late 1789, at benefit concert for musicians’ widows and orphans. In what today is regarded as artistically unacceptable, its movements were played between sections of an unrelated work, a cantata by Vincenzo Righini (whom Mozart had referred to as a “monstrous thief” some years earlier, for purported plagiarism). Anton Stadler, a Masonic lodge brother of the composer’s, was the clarinetist, while Mozart himself probably played the viola part.