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Fourth String Quartet op. 37

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1. mouvementSatz: Allegro molto; energico
        

2. mouvement: Comodo
        

3. mouvement: Largo

4. mouvement: Allegro

DURATION: ca. 32 Min.

DATE: 27. April 1936 - 26. Juni 1936

FIRST PERFORMANCE: 8. Januar 1937, Los Angeles, University of California at Los Angeles, Josiah Royce Hall (Kolisch-Quartett)

FIRST PRINT: G. Schirmer, New York 1939 (Pl. Nr. 38236c; Pl. Nr. 38742c Stimmen)

DEDICATION: »To the ideal patron of chamber music Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and to the ideal interpreters of it The Kolisch Quartet«

NOTENMATERIAL: G. Schirmer: ED 38236 (Partitur); OR 38742 (Stimmen)


Arnold Schoenberg composed his Fourth String Quartet, Opus 37 within six weeks in 1936. If one includes the quartet written in 1897 without an opus number, this was Schoenberg's fifth string quartet. He never realised plans for a sixth, for which he had made sketches. The work on his Fourth String Quartet came at a difficult time for Schoenberg: having emigrated from Germany in 1933, he moved to the East Coast of the United States following a short stay in Paris. At first he taught at two conservatories - in Boston and New York -, but his travel between the two cities as well as the climate were seriously injurious to his health, forcing him to cancel concerts and lectures. This, in turn, had a negative effect on the family's financial situation, which was already strained. Largely because of the more pleasant climate, the family decided to move to California, where Schoenberg accepted a professorship at the University of California at Los Angeles in the autumn of 1936, following a year's study at the University of Southern California. At the time of the move, Schoenberg had just started writing the Quartet, Opus 37. On 3 August 1936, he wrote to the music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had commissioned both the Third and Fourth String Quartets, that he had completed the quartet on 26 July: "[...] I would have sent it to you long ago, had I known where you are now [...]. You are probably surprised not to have heard anything from us. But you cannot imagine how much work we had because of the arrival of our furniture. I lost four weeks and have still not put my library and manuscripts in order. [...] But I used every free quarter of an hour to continue work on the string quartet. [...] I am very pleased with the work and believe that it is more pleasing than the Third. But I think that every time!" In its revue, the Los Angeles Times confirmed Schoenberg's feeling about the work, describing the quartet as: "[...] less revolutionary than expected [...] and it awakens feelings that are not far from those caused by euphony." The first movement begins with a catchy theme in which Schoenberg rejected his earlier principle of not repeating the tones of the basic form of the row in order not to destroy the equality of the tones. The main theme begins with a descending minor second, followed by a descending third. The third tone of the row is repeated three times in quavers, followed by an ascending second, also a quaver and the fourth tone of the basic row. The seventh and eleventh tones of the row also have this characteristic repetition, which is emphasised by accents. The basic row is presented in the first five bars; starting in bar six it is contrasted with a lyrical secondary theme. Over the course of the movement, lyrical episodes develop from this theme, which is repeatedly contrasted with the striking main theme. In addition to the basic row, which is notable for its tone repetition, thirds and sixths are heard not only as horizontal intervals but also as chordal elements of the accompaniment. The second movement - Comodo - shows a proximity to the classic quartet model. While there are only vague references to the classical sonata form in the first movement, here the relationship is more clearly recognisable, for example, in the A B A form, making it comparable to a minuet or scherzo movement. The trio, however, is closely tied to a development section that introduces new material as well as developing what has been previously heard. The third movement - Largo - is set off from the preceding movements by the presentation of the main theme. Schoenberg dispenses with a contrapuntal accompaniment, letting the theme sound in unison. At the beginning of the A B A B form, he first quotes the motif of the main theme of the first movement in fortissimo, but exactly one tone lower than the original. The emphasised intervals of a third as well as the cadence of the melodic-thematic phrase, ending in a fifth, create a harmonious feeling. The B sections are dominated by the rhythmic character of the second movement, again combined with motivic elements from the first movement. The reintroduction of the A section is clearly heard in the fortissimo, unison entrance, but the direction of the intervals is inverted. The transition to the B section is now more blurred. Elements of the first transition are combined with motifs of the B section, and the boundaries are not clearly recognisable. Arnold Schoenberg gives a reason for this change in his »Bemerkungen zu den vier Streichquartetten«( "Introduction to My Four Quartets"): "The departure from the first formulation of this section is quite extensive because of the different purpose. The first time, the B section serves as a lyrical contrast to the dramatic outbreak of the recitative, which it must overcome by the power of its inner warmth. The second time, when the inserted section has already lessened the tension of the beginning, its purpose is to prepare for the conclusion." The final movement is in rondo form. The theme appears five times in variation, contrasted with three episodes, each of them a kind of development after the third and fourth appearance of the varied rondo theme, and a coda. About this movement Schoenberg writes: "This Allegro movement contains a great wealth of thematic material, because each repetition is extensively altered, introducing new formulations." The harmonic relationships in this movement are particularly audible. One reason for this is that the notes B-flat and E-flat are heard twice in the basic form of the row. The latent feeling of tonality that this produces is confirmed in the tonal reference of the final cadence (E-flat major fourth and A minor fifth).

Mirjam Schlemmer
© Arnold Schönberg Center


This string quartet also has been commissioned by the great patron of chamber music Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. It was first performed on the occasion of a festival given by Mrs. Coolidge to the students of the University of California at Los Angeles. As there were no speeches made by the officials at this occasion, the public perhaps did not realize that Mrs. Coolidge wanted to honor me in choosing the programs of the four concerts performed by the world-renowned Kolisch Quartet. In each of this programs was played one of my four string quartets and one of the last four Beethoven string quartets. Even if I had not known the intention of Mrs. Coolidge, I would certainly have considered it an honor to appear in such a program, in such a neighborhood. But I had meanwhile become a California composer and professor of composition at this University. And, while every one of my premieres had caused a great sensation and excitement, so that whole cities were agitated, and visitors and critics came from neighboring towns to attend these events, and while, besides the riots with the first two quartets, there were long articles in the papers - this time it was a perfectly commonplace affair. There was no special excitement and, at least, the anticipation was in no way exaggerated. Nevertheless, I was very content with the attitude of the public. The whole audience listened with respect and sincerity to the strange sounds with which they were faced and it seems a number of them were really impressed. Of course, the appreciation for the first and second quartets was much more intense and it could not be expected that a work of my present period would provoke such enthusiasm as does my "Verklärte Nacht," this work of my first period. But, I will never forget how long it took until there was an understanding for the work of my first period and I will also not forget that even "Verklärte Nacht" caused riots and real fighting, and that the first critics in Vienna wrote "This sextett seems like a calf with six feet, such as is often shown at fairs." This string quartet, if also a calf, has at least only four feet.

(Arnold Schönberg, introductory note for the private recording with the Kolisch Quartet, Los Angeles 1936/37; vgl. Fred Steiner "A History of the First Complete Recording of the Schoenberg String Quartets," in Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute 2 (February 1978), no.2, 122–137)

Discography