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These where among the first quartets of the 20th century which I got to know. In terms of style, I found them quite unusual, but at the same time I instantly connected with their immediacy and passion.

I had borrowed the Lindsay Quartet's recording, years later I acquired the ABQ's recording. It took a bit of time to get used to their more pared down approach.

I did a write up on the second quartet at the Janacek guestbook:

String Quartet #2 "Intimate Letters" (1928)

"Today I have written down my sweetest longings…Today, I have succeeded in writing a piece in which the earth begins to tremble. This will be my best…Here, I can find a place for my most beautiful melodies." (Janacek, in a letter to his muse Kamila Stoesslova)

Like a letter written in music, String Quartet #2 can be seen as the sum of all of Janacek's pieces inspired by his muse, Kamila. Here, his unique way of creating form through repetition, variation and contrast of melodies has fully matured. The work is unified by the two main ideas of the initial movement being carried through to the end, and the prominence of the viola throughout. It is played sul ponticello (on the bridge) to replicate the gentle, nasal, vibrating sound of the viola d'amore.

The sense of tragic passion in this music comes across as the musical equivalent of Michelangelo's captives, struggling to break out of their forms. Whether the mood is frenzied, earthy or elegant, it is always conversational. Stark contrasts, such as the outburst in the lullaby-like third movement, are directly expressive and draw the listener right in.

The final movement brings everything together. The initial Russian dance is vigorous but on its own banal, until the second violin leads a break out theme which is searching, vague and struggling to find focus. This second idea goes through many changes, from the sweetest to the harshest of sounds, alternating with the dance before the conclusion.

Video: another scene from Lion with the White Mane, showing rehearsal and performance of the quartet.

 
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