The Takacs Quartet played Bartok and Schubert last week at the Savannah Music Festival. i

The Takacs Quartet played Bartok and Schubert last week at the Savannah Music Festival. Frank Stewart /Savannah Music Festival hide caption

toggle caption Frank Stewart /Savannah Music Festival
The Takacs Quartet played Bartok and Schubert last week at the Savannah Music Festival.

The Takacs Quartet played Bartok and Schubert last week at the Savannah Music Festival.

Frank Stewart /Savannah Music Festival

Classics in Concert

Takacs Quartet: Schubert Meets Bartok

Listen

Listen

Loading…

32:13
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/149918365/149614824" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

(All this week, we're featuring concerts from the ongoing Savannah Music Festival.)

The Takács Quartet traveled to the Savannah Music Festival to play Bela Bartók's knotty, challenging String Quartet No. 4. But how did they warm up the crowd? With a slice of insistent, lyrical Schubert.

In December 1820, the 23-year-old Schubert began writing a new string quartet. He got through the opening Allegro and a few bars of the second movement, but that's where it ended. Although it's unfinished, the orphaned piece has led a successful life alone under the name Quartettsatz, or Movement for String Quartet. Consider it a musical IOU for the fully realized string quartets Schubert would write in his final years. Groups like the Takács find its combination of intensity and melody irresistible.

Playing Bartók's String Quartet No. 4 must be like revisiting an old friend for the Takács Quartet. The players, especially founding members Károly Schranz and András Fejér, have kept all six of Bartók's quartets active in their repertoire for decades.

"If we play 80 concerts in a season, Bartók is on 60 of them," says Schranz, the group's second violinist. Yet Bartok's music remains some of the most difficult the Takács performs.

Read More About Bartok's 4th Quartet

Like Beethoven, Bartok wrote string quartets throughout his entire career. And like Beethoven, Bartók used the regimentation of classical form as a hothouse for experimentation, pushing the ensemble beyond its traditional limits.

That doesn't mean Bartók didn't have structure in mind — far from it. The five-movement Fourth Quartet is built like a palindrome. At the heart of the 25-minute piece is the slow movement. It's surrounded by two jittery scherzos, and those, in turn, are framed by two forceful Allegros.

"The slow movement is the nucleus of the piece," Bartók said. "The other movements are, as it were, bedded around it. The fourth movement is a free variation of the second one, and the first and fifth movements are of the identical thematic material."

A few signposts along Bartók's arching and adventurous path might be helpful:

1. Allegro: The outer shell of the piece is tough, with chords densely packed. Bartók plays with a six-note theme, spinning, and sometimes spitting, it out in many guises.

2. Prestissimo: A shifty movement played with mutes on the strings. Listen for eerie sounds that include strums, slides and pizzicatos.

3. Non troppo lento: The heart of the piece feels nocturnal, and opens under musical moonlight with a quiet yet spiky cello solo. The movement ends as it began.

4. Allegretto pizzicato: This insect-like movement is entirely plucked and features the so-called Bartók pizzicato, in which the players snap the strings back against their fingerboards.

5. Allegro molto: The other outer shell, with its whiplashing, nearly out-of-tune-sounding chords, comes across as a peasant dance with a barbarous lust for life.

Composer Bruce Adolphe thinks of the Fourth Quartet in cinematic terms. "The drama of this quartet at times seems cinematic," he says. "Bartók crosscuts musical fragments as a film director might cut back and forth between contemporaneous scenes to create suspense."

The Takács Quartet, founded in Budapest in 1975, has been in residence at the University of Colorado in Boulder since 1983. The group emigrated to the U.S. in 1986.

Personnel:
  • Edward Dusinberre, violin
  • Karoly Schranz, violin
  • Geraldine Walther, viola
  • Andras Fejer, cello

Takács Quartet, recorded Mar. 22 at The Savannah Music Festival

[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Philadelphia Orchestra with pianist Jan Lisiecki at Carnegie Hall in a program inspired by Vienna. Ebru Yildiz/for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ebru Yildiz/for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

The Philadelphia Orchestra Brings Vienna To Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin conjures the sound of old Vienna, once Europe's musical capital.

Listen Loading… 2:00:00
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/463087739/463191026" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Tiny Desk Concert with Teddy Abrams Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Teddy Abrams

Hear a young conductor, composer and pianist play Beethoven and his own jazzy pieces.

Conductor Simon Rattle took his Berlin Philharmonic and symphonies by Beethoven to Carnegie Hall for a week-long residency. AJ Wilhelm/NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm/NPR

Classics in Concert

Beethoven Symphonies At Carnegie Hall Via Berlin

WQXR radio

From a week-long residency, hear the Berlin Philharmonic in Beethoven's Sixth and Eighth.

Listen Loading… 1:30:00
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/456635697/457085467" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Conductor Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus Thursday in Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky at Carnegie Hall in New York. AJ Wilhelm for NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm for NPR

Classics in Concert

A Tale Of Two Sergeys: Boston Symphony Orchestra At Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Andris Nelsons conducts Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

Listen Loading… 2:00
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/451116807/451174052" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Alan Gilbert leads the New York Philharmonic, with pianist Evgeny Kissin, at Carnegie Hall's gala opening concert, Oct. 7. AJ Wilhelm /for NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm /for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

The New York Philharmonic At Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Pianist Evgeny Kissin brings Tchaikovsky, and a sense of history, to Carnegie's opening concert.

Listen Loading… 1:35:00
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/442287960/446705652" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Tiny Desk Concert with Jason Vieaux and Yolanda Kondonassis. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Tiny Desk

Jason Vieaux And Yolanda Kondonassis

Watch the Grammy-winning guitarist and acclaimed harpist play music influenced by Africa and Asia.

Tiny Desk Concert with Anonymous 4 on March 4. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Jan/NPR

Tiny Desk

Anonymous 4 With Bruce Molsky

The a cappella quartet, with banjo and fiddle, offers popular songs from the Civil War era.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor