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ClassicsOnline Home » MEYER, K.: String Quartets, Vol. 3 (Wieniawski String Quartet) - Nos. 7, 10 and 13
Krzysztof Meyer’s widely performed and multi award-winning music embraces impressive emotional depth and immense technical variety. While the Seventh Quartet explores the contrasts between solo and ensemble writing in a single movement, the extended Tenth Quartet can be seen as a synthesis of Meyer’s experience with the genre. The Thirteenth Quartet is his most recent to date. The Wieniawski String Quartet’s recordings of Meyer have been acclaimed as “exemplary in all respects” (The WholeNote on Vols 1 & 2: 8.570776 and 8.572656).
By Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
Krzysztof Meyer (b. 1943)
String Quartets Nos 7, 10 and 13
Krzysztof Meyer was born in Kraków on 11 August 1943 and commenced his formal studies when he was eleven at the Kraków Academy, first with Stanisław Wiechowicz then with Krzysztof Penderecki (receiving his diploma in 1965) while also participating in courses with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He himself taught at the Kraków Academy from 1965 to 1987, after which he became professor in composition at the Hochschüle für Musik in Cologne. Equally active as a pianist, he was a member of the new music ensemble MW2 during 1965–67, and also served as President of the Polish Composers’ Union during 1985–89. From 1974 to 1988 he served on the committee of the Warsaw Autumn Festival, having first appeared there in 1965 as the youngest composer in its history. His various awards for composition include first prize at the Prince Rainier of Monaco competition in 1960 and the prize of the Polish Composers’ Union in 1992.
In addition to his composing, performing and teaching, Meyer has published on a varied number of musical topics. His two-volume study of Witold Lutosławski (2003/4: co-written with Danuta Gwizdalanka) remains the most extensive in Polish, while his monograph on the life and music of Dmitry Shostakovich (1973, new edition 1994) has now been translated into several European languages. A noted authority on the Russian composer, his completion of the opera The Gambler was first performed in Wuppertal on 12 June 1984 and has subsequently been recorded as well as staged.
In his own music, Meyer has shown a keen awareness of the stylistic paths in music after 1945 and a conviction in using them for his own ends. Serial and sonorist as well as aleatoric means have periodically informed his compositions, yet, as he himself stated in an interview four decades ago, “Applying various techniques is for me only a means to composition, and it is by no means an exaggeration…to say that I enter some regions of my inner soundscape using any technical means available and that I will still arrive at a result that I had aimed at from the start, regardless of the means applied”. Although his sizable output takes in the broad spectrum of musical genres, the on-going series of seven symphonies and thirteen string quartets stand at the very centre of his achievement—with this latter series covering 47 years (thus far) of his composing career [Nos 5, 6 and 8 appear on Naxos 8.570776 while Nos 9, 11 and 12 can be found on 8.572656].
The Seventh Quartet (1985) is cast in a single movement that makes repeated and effective use of the contrasts between solo and ensemble writing, in the process setting up a cumulative musical entity which purposefully alternates stasis and dynamism. The work commences with inward exchanges in the middle register such as gradually rise through the texture, before the cello adds its presence while the music gradually becomes more animated with frequent recourse to tremolo writing. The cello continues its rumination then the expressive range intensifies as the whole ensemble engages in heated contrapuntal discourse which is subsequently curtailed as each of the four instruments seems intent on going its own way. Presently the music opens out onto a complex heterophonic texture which slows down into forceful gestures in rhythmic unison, after which momentum slackens towards fugitive gestures in pizzicatos and harmonics. The briefest of outbursts leads to an introspective monologue for unaccompanied viola which rounds off the piece by gradually fading into silence.
The Tenth Quartet (1994), among the most extended of the cycle, is in four movements such as constitute a work that is ostensibly within the classical tradition of quartet writing—notably that of Beethoven (thus the ‘La Malinconia’ subtitle of the fourth movement’s introduction)—albeit filtered through a lineage which draws upon such notable later exponents as Bartók and Shostakovich in what might be described as a synthesis of Meyer’s experience with the genre. The first movement opens with a searching discourse that alternates between livelier and more rhythmic writing, the latter coming into greater focus as the two types are purposefully superimposed and then elaborated. At length the initial music returns to the fore but the earlier momentum is gradually regained on the way to a powerful culmination that in turn loses its impetus as the initial music re-emerges. The second movement then begins in not dissimilar fashion, though here the underlying eloquence is sustained in music of impressive emotional breadth and finely wrought polyphony. Just over a third of the way through, the texture briefly fragments to admit of greater rhythmic variety as the music heads towards an impassioned climax that recasts the earlier discourse in much more intense terms. From here it winds down to a more restrained dialogue that, in time, is further reduced to sparse exchanges against luminous chords in the violins. The third movement is a scherzo whose vigorous initial discourse elicits a correlating momentum which drives forward to impulsive interplay across the ensemble, replete with grinding rhythmic figures in the lower strings, before a methodical return to its opening gestures. The finale starts out somewhat equivocally, though such uncertainty proves to be no more than a foil to the energetic music which soon takes precedence as a spirited dialogue is pursued. Earlier elements return, however, as a forceful climax is reached—after which, calm is quickly and unexpectedly attained. From here the movement seems to be heading to a conclusion of relative repose, but the energetic music returns to see the work through to its capricious close.
The Thirteenth Quartet (2010), Meyer’s most recent such work to date, is in five movements, although these are all played continuously, the second and fourth of them being lively transitions between odd-numbered movements such as chart a steady progression from relative repose to unequivocal energy, with seamless control over the underlying momentum. The first movement opens with curt pizzicatos that then open out onto wistful exchanges over somnolent held chords. Livelier rustling gestures increase the tension only incrementally, with the cello assuming a degree of prominence as a stern climax is reached. All of the elements previously heard are now brought into play, prior to a peremptory close. Without pause the brief second movement fairly explodes with a controlled decrescendo of energy and emotion, in turn heading into a third movement whose emotional fervency unfolds via a series of accompanied solos gradually coalescing into more sustained textures, and from which brusque pizzicato writing brings about a calmer and increasingly inward conclusion. Such poise is presently countered by the brief fourth movement, its trenchant exchanges in the lower strings spilling over into a finale whose rushing motion brings with it fleeting recollections of ideas heard earlier in the work and where a balance between the eloquent and the sardonic is preserved through to a close in which forceful unison chords have the decisive last word.
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