When the Philharmonia Quartet celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015, they were able to look back on a long series of artistic successes. Two composers have particularly challenged, inspired and delighted the ensemble’s four musicians over the years: Ludwig van Beethoven and Dmitri Shostakovich. For the Philharmonia Quartet, the late works of these masters are among the most significant contributions to string quartet literature. They are not only great music, but also a philosophy of life transformed into sound. “The two composers are brothers in spirit so far as the existential seriousness of their music is concerned,” the musicians of the quartet say. What also links Beethoven and Shostakovich: “They set standards in both the string quartet and symphony genres.” On the occasion of their anniversary, the Philharmonia Quartet initiated a cycle across seasons juxtaposing the late string quartets of the two. The Beethoven / Shostakovich cycle will conclude with this concert.
The works presented, Beethoven’s op. 132 and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 15, both reflect on the composers’ confrontation with severe illness that negatively affected and influenced their work. While Beethoven recovered and expresses this in the middle movement of the five-movement quartet with the “Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity”, Shostakovich already had the mark of death while working on his last quartet. The themes of the work, which consists of a sequence of six Adagio movements, are resignation, grief, leave-taking. Despite the uniform tempo marking, Shostakovich gives each movement its own unmistakeable mood. Whether in the fugato, as a twelve-tone row, in the style of a nocturne or a funeral march – this quartet seems like a farewell to life and to his own composing.