STRING QUARTET no. 2 Op. 52 by HARALD SÆVERUD
Assignment for MUV 215.
Carmen Boveda and Vladimira Scigulinska
Our assignment is based on our current project of studying and performing Harald Sæverud’s string quartets.
We have been working on Sæverud’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 55 during this last school year 2017-2018. The fact of having rehearsed weekly during 9 months has given us not only the opportunity to get to know the composer’s style of writing but also a wider knowledge of chamber music playing. During the process, we were constantly comparing between the original-handwritten score and posterior editions, finding the differences and experimenting with all the possibilities. Some of these questions were later discussed with the members of the Grieg Academy’s research group (Un)-settling sites and styles.
By learning Harald Sæverud’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 52, I, Carmen Boveda, Vladimira Scigulinska, and Oddhild Nyberg (bachelor’s in performance violin at GA), in cooperation with research group (Un)-settling sites and styles, and Ricardo Odriozola as a tutor, have been contributing to the realization of the first edition of this 45 years old masterpiece.
Our tutor, Ricardo Odriozola, got the chance to work with Harald Sæverud in person. His understanding of the composer’s music and ideas is essential when getting into the smallest details.
The aim has been to get into the same work dynamic with the Second Quartet Op. 52 for the current school year 2018/2019.
The rehearsals have taken place approximately every week, with a duration of 2 hours per practice. We first started with the first movement, and to our surprise, it did not take very long time to put together, as it did the year before, even though it was technically more challenging. The fact that we had been playing Sæverud for a whole year made a huge difference in the way we understood the material. The movement maintains the same tempo, but the rhythmical patterns, very often in unison and sometimes in opposition, were quite complicated to work with. In addition, we set as a main goal to be able to play all the individual articulations and characters written along these phrases. The composer writes very much information in a very short period of music, some notes can contain even 3 different signs of articulation, dynamic and character, and the next note will be totally different. The opening melody is a good example of it, see pdf, example 1 (in sidebar).
This phrase goes in unison, so we had to agree on how to bring up as accurate as possible what the composer writes. That means all of us playing exactly in the same way, including the correct place of the bow, pressure, speed, dynamic, vibrato, and length. In order to get all the details into place the ensemble is required to be extremely well known with the required techniques and to be able to make a difference between them. Therefore, full focus and reflecting our thoughts and ideas about the lines were essential during every single rehearsal.
Around middle of October, we got started on the second movement. In opposition to the first one, long and independent lines cross each other’s voices creating a very dense structure. The target then was to know each other's parts as good as our own in order to create a sensation of fluent phrase by shaping and taking over the melody and then carry it further into the next player. The process during the practicing was different comparing to practicing the previous movement, we had to find and define the phrase, agree on the way to play it, and listen to each other's sound and intentions, so the phrase would stay alive.
First and second movements were performed by the end of the autumn semester for the research group and at one of school’s house concerts. After the concert, as a part of the seminar for the research group (Un)-settling sites and styles, we had a short discussion with the members on how we had been working and what were the roles of each quartet member. An interesting point we were asked was how the group dynamic and decision making was distributed among the four of us. Since Ricardo is a member of the group, and clearly the most experienced in contemporary and especially Sæverud's music, he has the leading voice when it comes to aesthetics and style. Nevertheless, the rest of us has gradually taken more and more initiative in the process and started sharing ideas and suggestions of our own. This has helped incredibly much to develop our confidence and to settle a general feeling of collaboration and equality between each other instead of a teacher-student hierarchy.
Here is the performance of the first and second movements, in GSS on 14.12.2019, see YouTube
After a very long Christmas break, followed by some of us traveling on tour and being away, we started the rehearsals again in late February. We were quite stressed about the third movement, since it is very fast, busy and technically difficult yet it lasts only for three minutes. The character is sparkly and needs to feel light in spite of the difficulty. In favour of achieving the high tempo, we had to practice every detail in the "high tempo" technique although we were playing slow. One of the main challenges was to stay concentrated on our own parts and try not to listen too much to the other rhythms going on, since it is a continuous counterpoint with very illogical entrances. The most important was to trust ourselves and not rely on one another, since everyone has something completely different, especially subdivisions and dynamics. To alternate both slow tempo with final tempo even though we were not 100% ready to play it gave us a very good perspective of how the final result should sound. That kept us motivated and encouraged us to just throw ourselves into the music and forget about how "difficult" it was and take it as a fun movement.
And so, it came the time for the fourth and last movement. A culmination of the masterpiece where all the elements previously shown are combined and used one after the other together with a significant amount of sudden tempo changes. These tempo changes have been requiring most of the practice time. Each change is very abrupt, and it happens unexpectedly in the middle of the phrase, normally initiated by the player carrying the melody at that moment, and all of us have to be focused and ready to accomplish it together, avoiding any preparation such as ritardando or accelerando, as it is very difficult to continue and not to lose the fluency of the music. It requires high knowledge of the part and listening of what is happening within the group. See pdf example 2 (in sidebar).
We are still in working process, and due to the length of the fourth movement and its density, we are trying to play through without stopping so we are able to get the bigger picture. The next step will be to rehearse the whole piece on each rehearsal, since we have only played two and two movements at a time.
To sum up, this whole project has been enriching as we got the opportunity to learn the smallest details of an extremely complex work and at the same time how to interact in a professional environment. The thorough way of working, the uncountable metaphors describing the characters and the experienced insights into technical challenges have made us deeply attached to the piece, in the way that, despite the long gaps between rehearsals, we still remember the details of each passage and we are able to explore new aspects of the composition every time we meet. Not only have we grown into the piece, but also from the piece, together as a group as well as individually.
PLAN FOR THE YEAR
Rehearsals: 3-5 times per month, duration 2 hours approx. Performances:
- AUTUMN 2018: 1st movement: Allegro deciso & 2nd movement Andante misterioso for the research group and at the Grieg Academy’s house concert.
- SPRING 2019: 3rd movement: Allegro molto e ben marcato & 4th movement: Allegro deciso for the research group and at the Grieg Academy’s house concert.
- FINAL CONCERTS: String Quartet No. 2, Op. 52 during Festspillene & performance on the Sæverud seminar at Siljustøl.