Arnold Schoenberg’s second string quartet – included on a previous release by the Gringolts Quartet – is often used as a reference point when the emergence of atonality is discussed. That work, where Schoenberg in the fourth movement suddenly does away with a time signature, was composed in 1907, three years after his first work in the genre: the String Quartet in D minor, Op. 7, a work which still has much in common with the Late Romantic idiom of Richard Strauss.
The D minor quartet is in one movement, but with four distinct sections which, according to a note left by the composer, chart a progression from ‘rebellion’ and ‘depression’ to ‘quiet joy and the contemplation of rest and harmony’ – a programme reminiscent of the one Strauss had used in his recent tone poem Ein Heldenleben. Albeit tonal, the harmonic language is richly chromatic, pointing forward to the inevitable break in the second quartet. Some twenty years later, Schoenberg had developed his twelve-tone method, and his Third Quartet is an example of how he was using this to refresh traditional form schemes and contrapuntal textures, while at the same time counterbalancing the modern idiom with familiar features such as a slow variation movement and a rondo finale.
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