El Greco - Italy
It was natural for the young El Greco to pursue his career in Venice, Crete having been a possession of the Republic of Venice since 1211. Though the exact year is not clear, most scholars agree that El Greco went to Venice around 1567. Knowledge of El Greco's years in Italy is limited. He lived in Venice until 1570 and was a "disciple" of Titian, who was by then in his eighties but still vigorous. Unlike other Cretan artists who had moved to Venice, El Greco substantially altered his style and sought to distinguish himself by inventing new and unusual interpretations of traditional religious subject matter. His works painted in Italy were influenced by the Venetian Renaissance style of the period, with agile, elongated figures reminiscent of Tintoretto and a chromatic framework that connects him to Titian. As a result of his stay in Rome, his works were enriched with elements such as violent perspective vanishing points or strange attitudes struck by the figures with their repeated twisting and turning and tempestuous gestures; all elements of Mannerism.Italy, full of novel bright colours, artistic finesse, home of unsurpassed masters of every known art and science, mesmerised El Greco and the world, and inspired chamber music works that carry all those merits. Philippos Tsalahouris' string quartet "A moment of time" and commissioned by George Demertzis, consists of a sequence of dramatic ways of describing impressions of El Greco's work by way of sound. Puccini's Crisantemi demonstrates the Italian's master of writing for strings, Liszt's "Après une lecture du Dante" transports us into Dante's hellish imagery with unparalleled piano virtuosity, and Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence" completes our program travel with a work conceived in Florence's landscape, letting us image Tchaikovsky walking next to young El Greco by the canals.
Philippos Tsalahouris - String Quartet No.3 "A moment of time" op.53
Giacomo Puccini - Crisantemi
Franz Liszt - Après une lecture du Dante
Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky - Souvenir de Florence op.70
String Quartet No.3 "A moment of time" op.53
Tslahouris' third string quartet was commisioned by violinist George Demertzis, leader of the New Hellenic Quartet - a commission which proved to be an invitation and a challenge alike. The request was prompted by Icelandic composer Jan Leifs' string quartet no. 3, entitled El Greco after the pseudonym of the famous painter, Dominikos Theotokopoulos. Demertzis' idea was to create another quartet inspired by the work of this great painter and then perform it together with the one by Jan Leifs. Philippos Tsalahouris accepted the commission, and proceeded to devote the next two months to the composition of his new string quartet.
Leifs chose several paintings which had made a strong impression on him during a visit to Spain, so that works such as "Toledo" or "Jesus in the Temple" were the source of his inspiration. Tsalahouris opted for portrayals of the Holy Passion: the movements of his quartet are "Agony at Gesthemane", "Arrest", "Crucifixion" and "Resurrection", corresponding to the paintings by Theotokopoulos of the same title, while a devastating likeness of Christ lent its colours and rough lines to the Prelude. Rising above typical impressionistic choices, the score consists of a sequence of dramatic ways of describing impressions by way of sound. Tsalahouris was aware that the New Hellenic Quartet intended to perform both El Greco quartets accompanied by a slide show of Theotokopoulos' paintings, which would use effective dramatourgy in order to emphasize specific details. Once again, he opted for a theatrical language, although this did not prevent an unmistakably musical text from developing as well.
I. Prelude II. Allegro III. Larghetto IV. Moderato quasi fuga
Crisantemi, Elegy For String Quartet op.114
Giacomo Puccini was the heir apparent to Giuseppe Verdi in the world of Italian opera in the late 19th and early 20th century, whose operas are still popular. He took the tradition of Italian opera in the direction of Wagner with his sense of orchestration and dramatic flow, while retaining the Italianate penchant for melody.
Puccini came from a family of musicians that stretched back 5 generations. While he was a church organist, he made the 18 mile trip to Pisa on foot to see a performance of Verdi's Aida that inspired him to become a composer of opera, counter to the history of church musicians in his family.
He admitted himself that his true talent was for the stage, and with his ten operas written between 1884 until 1924 (his last opera Turandot was unfinished at his death), he became the premiere opera composer of his time. Some of these operas went through more than one version, as Puccini rewrote parts of them for various reasons. He also left a body of works outside of opera that are less well known. Many of these were for voice and orchestra. He wrote very few instrumental works, and among them there are 4 works for string quartet; 3 minuets and the elegy Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums).
Crisantemi was written in memory of his friend the Duke of Savoy, formerly King Amadeo I Of Spain. who died in 1890. Puccini himself said he wrote it in one night after he heard the news. The original version for string quartet (the version heard on the video) is seldom heard as there is a version for string orchestra. Puccini's mastery of writing for strings is evident in this short work that lasts about 6 minutes. The work consists of two themes, the first is repeated at the end while the second one is in the middle section. It is a work of concentrated dark mood as the 4 instruments pay tribute to Puccini's friend. Puccini thought much of the two melodies used in the work as he reused them in the last act of his opera Manon Lescaut three years later in 1893.
Années de pèlegrinage deuxième année, Italie S161: Après une lecture du Dante
The Dante Sonata was originally a small piece entitled Fragment after Dante, consisting of two thematically related movements, which Liszt composed in the late 1830s. He gave the first public performance in Vienna, during November 1839. When he settled in Weimar in 1849, he revised the work along with others in the volume, and gave it its present title derived from Victor Hugo's own work of the same name. It was published in 1858 as part of Années de pèlerinage.
The piece is divided into two main subjects. The first, a chromatic theme in D minor, typifies the wailing of souls in Hell. D minor is a common key for music relating to death, as evidenced by Liszt's Totentanz and the statue scene of Wolfgang Mozart's Don Giovanni. The first theme also heavily uses the Tritone (augmented 4th or diminished 5th); this interval was known as the Devil's interval (or "Devil in music") and further reinforces the hellish imagery. The second theme is a beatific chorale in F-sharp major, derived from the first, which represents the joy of those in Heaven. The key is also symbolic here, being the signature for other uplifting works of Liszt's, including Benediction of God in Solitude (part of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses) and Les Jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este (Années de pèlerinage, Vol. 3, No. 4). The secondary theme may also represent Beatrice, as it is interspersed within chromatic areas, similar to the character's appearances in hell. The piece ends with a rapid chromatic octave section that when played at speed seems to split into three distinct themes, reflecting the three heads of Satan in Dante's Inferno.
I. Allegro con spirito
II. Adagio cantabile e con moto
III. Allegretto moderato
IV. Allegro con brio e vivace
Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky
Souvenir de Florence op.70
The String Sextet in D minor "Souvenir de Florence", Op. 70, is a string sextet scored for 2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos composed in the summer of 1890 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky dedicated the work to the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society in response to his becoming an Honorary Member. The work, in the traditional four-movement form, was titled "Souvenir de Florence" because the composer sketched one of the work's principal themes while visiting Florence, Italy, where he composed The Queen of Spades. The work was revised between December 1891 and January 1892, before being premiered in 1892.
I. Allegro con spirito
II. Adagio cantabile e con moto
II. Allegretto moderato
IV. Allegro con brio e vivace