Český spolek pro komorní hudbu • Julia Fischer Quartet

Julia Fischer is one of today’s most sought-after violinists. Besides making solo appearances with orchestras around the world, she is also an enthusiastic chamber musician, and she will present herself to the Prague public in that role with her own quartet. The works she has chosen for her programme show her affinity for Czech music.

Subscription series I | Duration of the programme 1 hour 40 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K 465 “Dissonant” (25')

Leoš Janáček
String Quartet No. 2, JW VII/13 “Intimate Letters” (24')

— Intermission —

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor “From My Life” (30')


Julia Fischer Quartet
Julia Fischer violin
Alexander Sitkovetsky violin
Nils Mönkemeyer viola
Benjamin Nyffenegger cello

Photo illustrating the event Český spolek pro komorní hudbu • Julia Fischer Quartet

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Julia Fischer Quartet  

This season, the Julia Fischer Quartet is celebrating its 12th year. Julia Fischer was behind its founding (naturally). Besides her career as a stellar violinist, she is an established piano and violin pedagogue, and her musical successes have been documented by, among other things, many prizes including the Gramophone Award and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Her quartet colleagues are also highly sought-after soloists besides being versatile musicians: Mönkemeyer enriches his profile as a viola player not only by programming the entire range of repertoire from the Baroque era to the present day, but also by performing forgotten works, his own arrangements, and world premieres; besides Sitkovetsky’s career as a star soloist, he also devotes himself to conducting; Nyffenegger’s activities included membership in the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, and he is the artistic director of a concert series in Seon, Switzerland.

The idea of forming a quartet was born in 2010 at a festival at Lake Starnberg, where all four artists were performing. They were brought together not only by personal friendship (Fischer first met Sitkovetsky at the Yehudi Menuhin Competition, and she teaches with Mönkemeyer at the university in Munich), but also, above all, by a direct bond of musicianship and the ability to adapt perfectly to each other’s musical personalities. For these reasons, they decided to delve into the string quartet repertoire together. As Julia Fischer says: “When you play the piano, you can play trios, quartets etc. easily, without many rehearsals. You get together with friends, and in two days you can have a concert. With a string quartet, it’s much more complicated—by no means is it possible just to put four soloists together and set out immediately on a concert tour.” Although the four artists had already devoted themselves to playing chamber music in various formats and although all four are sought-after soloists, from the beginning their approach to choosing repertoire was reserved and responsible. They began with Haydn, and after four years of playing together they arrived at early Beethoven—that was in 2014, when they appeared at the Prague Spring Festival (Julia Fischer was the artist-in-residence that year). They have now gotten around to Janáček, as we can see from the programme for today’s concert.

For its 12th season, the Julia Fischer Quartet has planned a big tour taking them not only to Prague, but also to the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland, Germany, and Spain.

Julia Fischer   violin

Julia Fischer

Julia Ficher is one of today’s most prominent violinists. Her career journey has been recorded on many CDs and DVDs on the Pentatone and Decca labels and recently also on her own musical platform JF CLUB. She has been honoured with such prestigious prizes as the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and a Gramophone Award.

She was born in 1983 in Munich to German and Slovak parents who are said to have met while studying in Prague. She began playing the violin at age three, and she soon took up the piano as well under the guidance of her mother Viera Fischer. At just nine years of age, she enrolled at the university in Munich as a student of the renowned pedagogue Ana Chumachenco, whom Fischer later succeeded in that teaching position. A major milestone was her victory at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin International Competition in 1995 (at just 12 years of age!), launching her worldwide fame. Since then, we have been seeing her regularly on the world’s most famous stages, whether collaborating with major orchestras and such conductors as Herbert Blomstedt, Christian Thielemann, Juanjo Mena, Riccardo Muti, and Franz Welser-Möst, or giving solo or chamber music recitals. Besides the traditional repertoire, she also devotes herself to contemporary music, as is shown by the scheduled March world premiere of a violin concerto by Daniel Kidane with the London Philharmonic and Edward Gardner.

In addition, Julia Fischer is planning several European tours this year including appearances with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Royal Philharmonic, her quartet (the Julia Fischer Quartet), and the pianist Yulianna Avdeeva. She is going to Athens (4 Dec.) and Vienna (6 Dec.), and before arriving in Prague, we also find her playing a concert with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen for the occasion of the awarding of a Nobel Prize (8 Dec.). She and Avdeeva have been a seasoned duo for several years although, as Julia Fischer reveals, their meeting had been arranged: “We had musical friends in common who wanted to get us together no matter what. They were convinced that we were suited to each other. And that finally came about in 2012. What more is there to say? They were right.” The Prague public was already able to witness how well these two extraordinary women play together in 2018, when they appeared together at the Municipal House’s Smetana Hall.

Not satisfied “just” with the career of a world-famous violinist, Julia Fischer is taking advantage of her musical versatility. She will be revealing to the Prague public the quality of the aforementioned Julia Fischer Quartet as part of her residency in November (concert I2), and those who want proof of her pianistic ability can enjoy the DVD recording of her successful concert at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt in 2010, when she appeared on the first half of the programme as the soloist in a violin concerto by Saint-Saëns, then on the second half playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Besides performing, she also devotes herself to music pedagogy, with teaching activities that include leading numerous masterclasses. She joined with Johannes X. Schachter and Henri Bonamy in founding the Kindersinfoniker youth orchestra. Next year she will also become the artistic director of the Boswil Summer Festival in Switzerland. 


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K 465 “Dissonant”

Perhaps never in music history have 22 bars been the topic of so much discussion as has been the case with the introduction to the first movement of the String Quartet in C major (No. 19, KV 465) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In it, the composer set out to go against usual tonal patterns, and the melodic lines of the individual instruments are combined daringly, without avoiding resulting dissonances and cross-relations. For this reason, the quartet has been given the nickname “Dissonance”. The work is the last of a set of six quartets composed from 1782 to 14 January 1785 and dedicated to Josef Haydn. At the time, the two musicians were playing chamber music together, with Haydn on the violin part and Mozart on the viola. Haydn heard the quartets at rehearsals on 15 January and 12 February, when the composer’s father Leopold Mozart was also present. It was then that Haydn expressed his admiration for Wolfgang, whom he regarded as the greatest composer known to him because of his refined taste and perfect compositional artistry.

Mozart’s genius is fully manifest in his String Quartet in C major. In the first movement, after the Adagio introduction discussed above, the Allegro arrives with an overall sonata ground plan. The themes are subjected to sophisticated variations and modulations leading to daring harmonic and structural consequences. The result of this sophisticated organisation of the material is unusual expressiveness. The songful second movement consists of two parts linked by a brief transition. The third movement Menuet is often called the most successful part of the whole series of quartets, and it is full of surprising, passionate accents. The brilliant finale – Allegro molto – is again designed in sonata form, and like the first movement, it thrills listeners with its sophisticated treatment of themes, leading to a magnificent conclusion.

It is worth remembering that one of the rare period copies of the work was preserved in Bohemia and is found in the Lobkowicz collections together with the other quartets from this set. Mozart dedicated the quartets to Josef Haydn on the occasion of their first publication on 1 September 1785. In a text written in Italian, the author symbolically sends his compositions out into the world like children and entrusts them to the protection of the great artist, who is also his friend. He asks that possible errors be viewed benevolently, and he hopes that their friendship, which he values highly, will continue. Haydn did, in fact, assume the role of a protector because he reacted to doubts caused by the introduction to the sixth quartet of the series by saying: “If Mozart wrote it, he must have wanted it like that.”

Dissonant chords appear in other works by Mozart (such as The Marriage of Figaro or his late works for solo piano). At the time when it was written and in the 19th century, the quartet was accepted without reservations only in exceptional cases. It tended to be misunderstood and rejected, like when Italian publishers sent the score back because of supposed errors or when the score was “corrected”. Real enthusiasm over this unusual introduction did not begin to appear until the early 20th century, when the figures who founded the “Second Viennese School” issued theoretical and philosophical proclamations on atonal music and drew attention to this and other examples from the past.

Leoš Janáček
String Quartet No. 2, JW VII/13 “Intimate Letters”

Leoš Janáček composed his most famous works during the first three decades of the 20th century. Although the composer followed contemporary trends in the arts until the end of his life, he never completely trusted atonality, but dissonance is a frequent element in his late works. To put it briefly, in Janáček’s conception of music theory, dissonance strengthens the effect of subsequent consonance and enhances in general the perception of a composition’s content and programmatic aspects by expressing disagreement, misfortune, or sorrowful emotion.

Janáček’s Second String Quartet, subtitled “Intimate Letters” (1928, originally titled “Love Letters”), is dedicated to his friend Kamila Stösslová (1891–1935). Meeting this woman brought more than ten years of illumination to end of the composer’s life, and the Second String Quartet, which was supposed to depict their relationship, is filled not only with lovely melodies, but also with dramatic, even disturbing passages. The original manuscript is dated from 29 January to 19 February 1928. In his last chamber composition, Janáček makes maximum use of technical and expressive resources with an emphasis on content. The number of musical motifs is sparing, but the composer’s treatment of them is extraordinarily variable. There are wide swings of the material’s metrical structure and tempo, the harmony makes frequent use of chords built on the interval of the fourth, and polyphony appears frequently. The sound level and strategic dynamic structure are supported by long trills and figurations. Janáček paid heightened attention to timbre (sul ponticello). He strongly desired to use the viola dʼamore in his composition because of the symbolism of the instrument’s name, but attempts to employ the instrument were not positively received during his lifetime. The musical structure of the individual movements approaches that of a free rondo. While the form is not schematic, it is consistent thanks to the composer’s intuition and inner conviction. The composition was first performed privately by the Moravian Quartet at Janáček’s house in Brno on 18 and 25 May and on 27 June 1928, when the composer was making his final revisions to the score. The Moravian Quartet also played the work’s public premiere in Brno on 7 September 1928 at a gathering held in the recently deceased composer’s memory. 

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor “From My Life”

Bedřich Smetana apparently gave his First String Quartet in E minor the nickname “From My Life” before its first public performance. He worked on the quartet from October until 29 December 1876, by which time he was already suffering from deafness. The impulse for the work’s creation was the founding of the Czech-German Chamber Music Society in Prague. The quartet was supposed to have been presented at the society’s first concert in February 1877, but the performance did not take place when the performers realised the difficulty of their task. The quartet was first heard in April 1878 at a private performance (with Antonín Dvořák playing the viola part) in the home of the composer’s friend Josef Srb, a Czech historian and writer. For the occasion, Smetana supplied the quartet with detailed commentary describing the quartet’s programme, saying he wished to “depict the course of my life in tones”. The opening movement expresses a romantic mood and the desires of youth, and there is a foreboding of future tragedy near the end, “the fateful whistling of the highest tones in my ear, which announced the onset of my deafness in 1874.” The polka in the second movement evokes joyous times, “when as a composer of dance pieces I surrounded myself with the world of youth, where I became known for my passionate dancing.” The difficulty of the middle section, Meno vivo (in D flat major), was said to have been the reason for cancelling the originally planned premiere. The third movement “recalls the bliss of my first love for the girl who later became my faithful wife.“ The tragic mood of this movement bears musical witness to the sorrow caused by the premature death of Smetana’s first wife Kateřina Otylie. The final movement is a summary of positive and tragic impressions, with the often surprising overlapping of those polarities, just as they came about in the composer’s real life.