ARRIAGA: Complete String Quartets (Camerata Boccherini) (Naxos: 8.557628)
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Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga (1806-1826)
Interest in the music of Juan Crisostomo de Arriagabegan to revive in the late nineteenth century. Sincethen, his works have earned the admiration of the musicworld, confirming the fact that his premature deathmeant the loss not only of an individually brilliantcomposer, but also perhaps of a significant link in thedevelopment of musical history itself.
Arriaga was born in Bilbao on 27th January 1806and soon became renowned in the city's musical circles.
His earliest compositions include the divertimento Naday mucho (1817), the Overture for nonet, Op. 1, and thetwo-act opera Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves),which was completed in 1819 and first performed togreat acclaim in Bilbao a year later. That same yearArriaga wrote the Tema variado en cuarteto, Op. 17,and La h??ngara, a theme and variations for violin andad libitum bass.
In 1821 he moved to Paris, where he studied theviolin with Pierre Baillot and composition withFran?ºois-Joseph Fetis. He put in very long hours,working both as a performer and as Fetis's teachingassistant in his counterpoint and fugue classes. The greatmajority of his extant works date from his time in Paris:three string quartets, a number of stage works such asAgar and Erminia, the Symphony and the Three Studiesor Caprices for piano. His excessive workload is themost probable cause of the pulmonary infection that ledto his death in 1826.
Arriaga's three string quartets were published inParis as the Premier Livre de quatuors in 1824 and,given the composer's early death, can be seen as worksof relative maturity. These most accomplished piecesare rich in melody, with enormous technical precision inthe contrapuntal writing of the different parts. Arriaga'sgenius for invention comes through in their innovativemovement layout and structure, which differ somewhatfrom traditional models.
The Quartet No. 1 in D minor comprises fourmovements. The first, Allegro, develops a mournfultheme to which a second, folk-inspired idea thenresponds. The Adagio is based on a long drawn-outphrase for first violin. In place of a scherzo, the thirdmovement is a Menuet, whose trio features pizzicatochords with a guitar-like accompaniment. An adagiophrase which unexpectedly recurs before the conclusionacts as an introduction to the Allegretto finale.
Quartet No. 2 in A major is formally the mosttraditional of the three. The atmosphere of the Allegro isone of great vitality, in which the four instrumentsconverse together, the four parts being remarkablyindependent but well balanced. The Andante convariaciones takes the place of a slow movement, the lastvariation created by a pizzicato effect. The Menuetto isfollowed by a cadenza-like passage which is repeated inthe final Allegro, after the exposition.
Quartet No. 3 in E flat major is the most technicallydeveloped of the three pieces. The opening unison in theAllegro is followed by a concertante interchange ofmotifs between the instruments, the development beingmarked by its expressive nature and shifts in tonality.
The second movement is a Pastorale rather than anAdagio, whose different episodes feature variousdescriptive effects, for example the tremolo to suggest astorm. Arriaga then lifts his thematic writing to a highpoint in the final Presto agitato.Santiago Gorostiza