Czech Chamber Music Society • Wihan Quartet

After the cancellation of last year’s appearance, we now join with the Wihan Quartet in celebrating the 35th anniversary of their founding. The programme consists of works from the Classical, Romantic, and Impressionist periods that are popular with audiences and performers alike.

Subscription series I | Duration of the programme 1 hour 15 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (20')

Giuseppe Verdi
String Quartet in E minor (23')

— Intermission —

Maurice Ravel
String Quartet in F major (30')


Wihan Quartet
Leoš Čepický violin I
Jan Schulmeister violin II
Jakub Čepický viola
Michal Kaňka cello

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Wihan Quartet

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 100 to 350 CZK Tickets and contact information

The sale of individual tickets for subscription concerts (orchestral, chamber, educational) will begin on Wednesday 7 June 2023 at 10.00 a.m. Tickets for the public dress rehearsals will go on sale on 13 September 2023 at 10.00 a.m.

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Wihan Quartet  

Wihan Quartet

The Wihan Quartet has been described by International Record Review as: "one of the best quartets in the world today." In 2015 the Quartet celebrated 30 years since its formation, and over the years it has developed an outstanding reputation for the interpretation of its native Czech heritage, and of the many classical, romantic and modern masterpieces of the string quartet repertoire.

The Quartet’s recording of Dvorak Op.34/Op.105 was chosen as a "Recording of the Year" by MusicWeb International and BBC Music Magazine said of their Dvorak Op.61 recording: "This is the finest recorded performance I have encountered to date" The Wihan’s release of Schubert G Major received an "Outstanding" from International Record Review and The Sunday Times said of the recording: "This is playing of the highest quality…..Their tempo allows you to savor to the full the harmonic richness of this extraordinary music."

During the 2012/13 season the Quartet was Czech Chamber Music Society Resident Ensemble at the Rudolfinum Dvorak Hall, Prague. In 2008 the Quartet completed the first ever cycle of Beethoven Quartets in Prague and also repeated this cycle at Blackheath Halls, London. This landmark series of Beethoven concerts in Prague was recorded for release on CD and DVD for Nimbus Alliance and received many accolades.

The Wihan Quartet has won many International Competitions including The Prague Spring Festival and the Osaka "Chamber Festa". In 1991, they won both the First Prize and the Audience Prize in the London International String Quartet Competition. The Quartet are the "Richard Carne Quartet in Residence" at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London. They are also great supporters of the work of the CAVATINA Chamber Music Trust, which gives inspirational concerts and master classes to young people in many parts of the UK.

Jiří Zigmund, retired from the Wihan Quartet in 2014. The Quartet was very fortunate to find an excellent viola player in Jakub Čepický, son of Leoš, and his first recording with the Quartet of Suk, Dvorak and Janacek was released on Nimbus Alliance in 2016: "the Wihan Quartet give a very special performance of Dvorak's last and greatest of the most experienced and admired of chamber ensemble, The Wihan Quartet gives a deeply considered ensemble performance. The sweetness of tone achieved in the Adagio is remarkable and the first movement has irresistible impetus.....this CD shows the Wihan to be in fine form....." BBC Music Magazine, May 2016.

In 2017, after 32 years as a member of the Wihan Quartet, cellist Ales Kasprik retired from the Quartet. The Quartet have been very fortunate to find a wonderful cellist to perform with them: the excellent Michal Kanka, cellist with one of the best Czech string quartets, the Prazak Quartet.


Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95

Ludwig van Beethoven composed String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 in October 1810. At that time he was already a respected master. He had composed six symphonies, all of his piano concertos, most of his piano sonatas and a number of chamber pieces, including ten string quartets. Piano Quartet in F minor is his eleventh one. It was written in close succession after Quartet in E flat major, Op. 74, nicknamed the “Harp Quartet”, and it is often considered to be a chamber music counterpart of his famous orchestral overture Egmont. String Quartet in F minor came into being ten years after Beethoven’s first quartet series, Opus 18, during which time he wrote three compositions in this genre, namely the Razumovsky Quartets, Op. 59, (dating from 1806 to 1807). The affinity with Egmont can be detected not only in the content of the quartet, but also in its means of expression. Both compositions have a strong dramatic accent and they resound with heroic tones, although the key of F major of Egmont is more emphatic than the key of F minor of the quartet, which also contains distinct moments of a personal character. Beethoven created String Quartet in F minor shortly after one of the biggest romantic crisis of his life. He was in love with his student Tereza Malfatti, a daughter of a reputed medical doctor in Vienna, but the social barriers turned out to be totally impassable and their intended marriage did not take place.

The subtitle of the quartet, “Serioso”, indicates the gravity of its message. It is full of amorous desire, lyricism and pathos, interlaced by resignation and dramatic undertones of tragedy and defiance. However, Beethoven does not succumb to his grief, but overcomes it in the conclusion where notes of joy are heard. If we are to characterize the individual movements of the piece, the first one represents a raging conflict and discord. The lyrical second movement is opened by cello. It is followed without a pause by the third movement’s sweeping scherzo with its rebellious atmosphere. The fourth movement starts unexpectedly with a slow introduction reminiscent of the later harmonies of Wagner’s Tristan, but the quartet’s conclusion shifts into a bright F major key.

String Quartet in F minor was published as late as December 1816 by Steiner of Vienna with a dedication to the composer’s dear friend and excellent cellist, Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz. Beethoven had met him some time before in the salon of Prince Lichnowsky, and maintained a friendly relationship with him for the rest of his life. As a civil servant at the court in Vienna, Zmeskall was well-acquainted with the Viennese society behind the scenes. He provided Beethoven with valuable services in his dealings with publishers, merchants and landlords, lent him books, bought music paper and wine, dined with him at the Swan Inn and even managed to step in as an instrumentalist when necessary. It is logical, therefore, that after Beethoven’s deep disappointment in his love for Therese Malfatti, Zmeskall became not only his confidant with whom he could share his pain, but also the closest person to whom the dedication of the work rightfully belonged.

Giuseppe Verdi
String Quartet in E minor

We can hardly imagine Giuseppe Verdi, the greatest Italian opera composer of the 19th century, as a chamber musician. The truth is that although he rarely devoted himself to genres other than spectacular music drama, there was such an exception in his production. Between the composition and performance of Aida (1871) and Otello (1887), there was more or less a hiatus period in Verdi’s career. At full artistic maturity, for many years he did not compose. Fortunately, he did commit himself to work on several occasions. He wrote a string quartet, and shortly afterwards, deeply shaken by the death of the poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, one of the most important representatives of the Risorgimento, whom he revered and admired, he offered the city of Milan to compose a funeral mass on the first anniversary of the poet’s death. The offer was gladly accepted, and Verdi’s magnificent Requiem was performed as promised on 22 May 1874 in the church of San Marco, conducted by Verdi himself. In the years 1879–1880, Verdi created only two small vocal pieces, Ave Maria and Pater noster.

Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor was composed in 1873 and later began to be frequently performed also in the arrangement for string orchestra. Why did Verdi, at the age of sixty, produce a chamber music work, the genre that he had not cultivated at all up to that point? Coincidence played a role, and suddenly it was as if the composer, after years of hectic work, missed a specific assignment. He wrote in a letter to a friend, “I’ve written a quartet in my leisure moments in Naples. I had it performed one evening in my house, without attaching the least importance to it and without inviting anyone in particular. Only the seven or eight persons who usually come to visit me were present. I don’t know whether the quartet is beautiful or ugly, but I do know that it’s a quartet!”

In his quartet, Verdi does not try to conceal – nor does he want to – that he is an opera composer. We can recognize the spirit of Aida in the first bars of the work and in the cello cantilena in the third movement. In addition to the intense lyricism, Verdi’s only quartet contains numerous fast allegro sections and staccato passages. In them, he seems to be getting ready for his masterful operatic epilogue, Falstaff. One can only bow in admiration at the subjectively profound content, processed with Verdi’s supreme compositional mastery. No less impressive to the listener is the fullness and inventiveness of the polyphonic work (the fugue in the final movement) and the expressive sophistication with which he achieves a balanced form throughout the work.

Maurice Ravel
String Quartet in F major

Maurice Ravel as well devoted himself to chamber music only sporadically. His compositional legacy in this genre includes just one string quartet; Introduction and Allegro septet for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet; Piano Trio for piano, violin and cello; Sonate Posthume for violin and piano; and Sonata for Violin and Cello. We cannot, however, forget his unique contribution as a songwriter.

String Quartet in F major was written in the years 1902–1903, and yet it is rightly considered Ravel’s first masterpiece. Like his older colleague Claude Debussy, Ravel created an outstanding chamber work at the very beginning of his career. Usually, composers approached quartet writing later, equipped with years of life and compositional experience. Their quartets then had very deep content and philosophical gravity, and often represented an intimate artistic statement. Ravel, at the age of 28, did not want to proceed in this way. His intention was to come to terms with the classical legacy of the past. In his autobiography he writes: “My Quartet in F responds to a desire for musical construction, which undoubtedly is inadequately realized but which emerges much more clearly than in my preceding compositions.”

It is clear that Ravel was too modest in his views. In his quartet, he tackles purely musical issues, dealing with the beauty and colorfulness of the sonic possibilities of the string ensemble, and the result – even with the apparent one-sided approach –is impressive, outstanding and artistically autonomous. Ravel’s originality lies in the harmonic richness, refined sound and delicacy with which he grasps the classical form and makes it his own. The central position here is occupied by the main idea of the first movement and its transformations; the second movement is a three-part scherzo; and in the third, despite its apparent complexity, we recognize the song form. The final movement takes the form of a rondo. Ravel dedicated the piece “To my dear master Gabriel Fauré”, but Fauré was rather critical of it. On the other hand, Claude Debussy received it with much more understanding and enthusiasm. In his letter to the baffled and grieved composer we read: “In the name of all music’s gods and for my sake, do not touch a single note you have written in your quartet!” Fortunately, Ravel received important support from a respected older peer, which restored his lost self-confidence. Ravel’s only quartet, composed in the early 20th century, soon ranked among the top creative achievements of French and European chamber music.