On her 23rd birthday, Clara Schumann was presented with the manuscripts for three string quartets – gifts from her husband Robert which were performed by members of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at Schumann’s home that same evening. Clara was “delighted to the smallest detail. Everything is new, but clearly and finely made, and always in a true quartet style”. Not long before, Schumann had noted a “serious stagnation” in the string quartet compositions of his contemporaries: too often, in his opinion, “more attention was paid to highlighting the brilliance of the first player than the artful interweaving of all four”. Schumann found his own entry to the string quartet in 1842 by studying Joseph Haydn’s contributions to the genre, in which he admired the “purity of the movement”, the “artful interweaving” and the “original character of the melodic line”.
The Hagen Quartet – widely acclaimed for its enlightening concert programmes – combines the third string quartet from Schumann’s opus. 41 with a work by Haydn from the year 1788, about which an English critic wrote at the time that it was “full of spirit and fire, as if a young, still unspent genius were writing”. In addition, at the centre of this concert programme is a string quartet written in 1814 by the then 17-year-old Franz Schubert, which also audibly ties in with the achievements of Haydn, but at the same time paves the way for Romanticism in the string quartet genre.