Czech Chamber Music Society • Emerson String Quartet

The world-famous Emerson Quartet is coming to Prague on what is planned as its last tour of Europe. Besides music by the German composers Brahms and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, they will play one of Antonín Dvořák’s greatest quartets.

Subscription series II | Duration of the programme 1 hour 55 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 12 (21')

Johannes Brahms
String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67 (28')

— Intermission —

Antonín Dvořák
String Quartet in A flat major, Op. 105 (35')


Emerson String Quartet
Eugene Drucker violin I
Philip Setzer violin II
Lawrence Dutton viola
Paul Watkins cello

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Emerson String 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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Emerson String Quartet  

The Emerson String Quartet will have its final season of concerts in 2022/2023, disbanding after more than four decades as one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles. The Quartet has made more than 30 acclaimed recordings, and has been honored with nine GRAMMYs® (including two for Best Classical Album), three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year” award. As part of their larger mission to keep the string quartet form alive and relevant, they have commissioned and premiered works from some of today’s most esteemed composers, and have partnered in performance with leading soloists such as Renée Fleming, Barbara Hannigan, Evgeny Kissin, Emanuel Ax, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yefim Bronfman, and André Previn, to name a few.

In its final season, the Quartet will give farewell performances across North America and Europe, including San Francisco’s Herbst Theater, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Vienna’s Musikverein, Prague’s Rudolfinum, London’s Southbank Centre for the completion of its acclaimed cycle of Shostakovich quartets, and more, before coming home to New York City (Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall). The final performance as the Emerson String Quartet will take place in October 2023 in New York City, and will be filmed for a planned documentary by filmmaker Tristan Cook.

The Quartet’s extensive discography includes the complete string quartets of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartók, Webern, and Shostakovich, as well as multi-CD sets of the major works of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Dvořák. In its final season, the Quartet will record Schoenberg’s Second Quartet with Barbara Hannigan for release in 2023, with the sessions video documented by Mathieu Amalric for a short film. 

Formed in 1976 and based in New York City, the Emerson String Quartet was one of the first quartets whose violinists alternate in the first violin position. The Quartet, which takes its name from the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, balances busy performing careers with a commitment to teaching, and serves as Quartet-in-Residence at Stony Brook University.

In the spring of 2016, the State University of New York awarded full-time Stony Brook faculty members Philip Setzer and Lawrence Dutton the status of Distinguished Professor, and conferred the title of Honorary Distinguished Professor on part-time faculty members Eugene Drucker and Paul Watkins. The Quartet’s members also hold honorary doctorates from Middlebury College, the College of Wooster, Bard College, and the University of Hartford. In January of 2015, the Quartet received the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, Chamber Music America’s highest honor, in recognition of its significant and lasting contribution to the chamber music field.


Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 12

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12 is the work of a 20-year-old composer whose life was short, albeit filled with music since childhood. With other composers such work could easily be described as juvenilia, but with Mendelssohn it is a different story. His typical study piece for a string quartet was Twelve Fugues, which he composed at the age of 12 while studying with Carl Friedrich Zelter. Two of the best-known works from his early period, namely Octet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 20, and his overture to Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21, were composed when he was a young man of 16 and 17. To put it simply: Mendelssohn began composing early and matured quickly.

In addition to his great talent, he had the support of his wealthy, cultured parents, which enabled him to develop under the tutelage of several piano teachers and composers, the last one of whom was Ignaz Moscheles. At the University of Berlin Mendelssohn broadened his knowledge in aesthetics, philosophy of art, as well as natural sciences and history (1827–1829); traveled, established contacts, and performed as a conductor and pianist. His first string quartet, String Quartet in E flat major, dates from 1829. It was completed in London, during Mendelssohn’s trip to Britain and Scotland, and reflects the composer’s happy times. The quartet uses a cyclical form, linking movements with the same themes. The first movement opens with a slow introduction that some scholars believe is reminiscent of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 74, perhaps as a tribute to this composer, admired by Mendelssohn, who died in 1827. This is followed by the Allegro in sonata form. The second movement (Canzonetta) is refreshing in its simplicity and melody with two contrasting voices above (or below) the remaining voices, and witty in its use of pizzicato and staccato. The short slow movement (Andante espressivo) is often compared to a song. The final movement in a fast 12/8 tempo concludes with some of the content from the first movement, bringing the quartet together as a whole. Romantic, elegant, flawless, cantabile: such adjectives accompany Mendelssohn’s quartet, Op. 12.

Johannes Brahms
String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67

Johannes Brahms, born in Hamburg just like Mendelssohn, wrote only three string quartets: two under opus number 51 and the third, String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67. His chamber works for piano are much more numerous. Brahms’s respect for the string quartet as a musical genre, as represented, for example, by Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn, reached such an extent that he allegedly destroyed twenty of his attempts at a string quartet before being satisfied with the three compositions mentioned above. Brahms prepared String Quartet No. 1 in C minor and String Quartet No. 2 in A minor in 1873 to be published as Op. 51. Two years later, during a summer stay in Ziegelhausen, he composed String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67. At that time, Brahms was approximately in the middle of his career. He became artistic director of the Gesellschaft für Musikfreunde in Vienna (1872–1875) and moved permanently to Vienna. During the summer months he would travel to quieter places in order to devote himself fully to composing, such as Tutzing in Bavaria, Lake Zurich or Ziegelhausen near Heidelberg. He dedicated his third string quartet to his friend, Professor Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann, an amateur cellist from Utrecht, with a funny piece of advice: “There’s no cello solo in it, but such a tender viola solo that you may want to change your instrument for its sake!” Engelmann’s wife, Emma, née Brandes, was an accomplished pianist, so it is not surprising that the Engelmanns often hosted Brahms, Clara Schumann and other musical friends.

Simultaneously with the third string quartet, Brahms was working on his Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68, which took him 14 years from the initial sketches until its completion in 1876. The optimistic quartet, “a useless trifle”, as he himself put it, offered Brahms some relief from facing the composition of a symphony. This brilliant piece begins with a witty fast movement alternating 6/8 and 2/4 time signatures. The second movement features the first violin playing an impressive heartfelt cantilena (with equally impressive “Baroque” entries). This is followed by the third movement, where the viola occupies an unusually important place, being conceived almost as a solo instrument. Everything is crowned by the final fourth movement with a set of variations. The quartet was first performed on 30 October 1876 in Berlin by the Joachim Quartet, and that from the autograph before the score was printed by the Berlin publisher Fritz Simrock.

Antonín Dvořák
Smyčcový kvartet As dur op. 105

In the imaginative comparison of Mendelssohn – Brahms – Dvořák, Dvořák clearly leads with his 14 string quartets and several other works for this ensemble. At the time when Brahms composed his third quartet, Dvořák submitted his first application for a state scholarship – and as is well known, he entered this competition repeatedly in the following years with the same success. Brahms sat on the jury evaluating the compositions and was highly impressed with Dvořák, who earned his respect and support, which later led to a deep and lasting friendship. String Quartet in A flat major, Op. 105 (B.193), from 1895, comes from Dvořák’s late period, after which he devoted himself only to programmatic music and operas. His 13th String Quartet in G major, Op. 106, and 14th String Quartet in A flat major, Op. 105, form a pair of works written essentially one over the other and completed only a short time apart in December 1895. Dvořák noted down a sketch for Opus 105 in New York at the end of his American sojourn, but eventually he retained only the exposition of the first movement and, beginning with the development, wrote new music. String Quartet in A flat major reflects the composer’s joy of over returning to Bohemia. As Dvořák confided in his letter to Alois Göbl, he and his entire family “feel inexpressibly happy” to be finally together at home.

The first movement opens with a short contrapuntal introduction in A flat minor (Adagio ma non troppo), but quickly switches to the cantabile main theme in the major key and a rhythmically expressive additional theme (Allegro appassionato). The second movement is conceived as a scherzo in three-part A-B-A form. The third movement exudes a happy mood which cannot be disrupted even by the more serious middle section in the minor key. The quartet, which capitalizes on Dvořák’s almost prodigal melodic invention as well as his spontaneous musicality and compositional mastery, ends with an exultant Allegro. Expectations placed on Dvořák’s new compositions were naturally high on the part of publisher Simrock, performers and listeners alike. Therefore, even before its publication in the summer of 1896, the String Quartet in A flat major was heard privately at the Music Club in Platýz (16 April 1896), and very soon it was also played by foreign ensembles, such as the Rosé-Quartett and the Dannreuthers Quartet. In the Czech Chamber Music Society, it was presented for the first time on 21 January 1897 by the Bohemian Quartet.