4 Violin Programs Beethoven 2020

Jörg Widmann about his “Study on Beethoven”

Study on Beethoven (String Quartet No 6)

My quartets composed between 1997 and 2005 were conceived as an interconnected, self-contained cycle of works ranging from the (in my opinion) quasi revolutionary Quartet No. 1 to the Quartet No. 5 entitled Versuch über die Fuge [Attempt at a Fugue]. The Quartet No. 6 – Study on Beethoven – composed fourteen years after No. 5 should be conceived as a new approach and the commencement of a new quartet cycle with an unknown ending. All that can be said is that the subsequent quartets will be devoted to an intense study of Ludwig van Beethoven’s unique and consummate artistry of quartet composition. Despite a reverence for Beethoven at a very early stage, my own compositions have steered well clear of this unapproachable cosmos with the exception of my concert overture “Con brio”. 

The perhaps only link with the five quartets of the first cycle of quartets is the single-movement structure of the thirty-minute Quartet No. 6. The fundamental coordinates have otherwise been reset to zero. This is therefore also a ‘study’ in a literal sense. In the Quartet No. 6, I set out with a state of tonality displaying significant extensions whose centrifugal forces are barely containable. My focus is the detection of the inherent gravitation of tonality, including phenomenons such as tension/relaxation, suspension/resolution and fixation/deviation. From a formal aspect, the work is too experimental and unsentimental for explorations in a nostalgic-romantic sense. On the contrary, tonality or at least its fundamental assumptions are initially set down in the sense of a study or test assembly in order to permit subsequent experimentation, variation and the formulation of exceptions with the desire and firm conviction that it is possible to express something innovative and never previously heard with this seemingly exhausted fundamental material. I have been repeatedly astonished by the unfolding in the progression of this piece which has taken me to unknown locations, especially from a formal aspect. I am fascinated to see what forms the subsequent quartets in this ‘Beethoven study’ cycle will lead me to.

The Quartet No. 6 has been created in close artistic and friendly cooperation with Anne-Sophie Mutter and she is the dedicatee of this work.

Jörg Widmann, July 2019

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