The Complete String Quartets
The Complete String Quartets
Vagn Holmboe (1909-96) counts as one of the greatest 20th-century composers of string quartets. Holmboe's music is dynamic, organic and alive, and his musical language is rooted in the Nordic landscape but also reveals his keen interest in the folk music of Eastern Europe. This unique collection comprises all Holmboe's string quartets in the highly acclaimed recording by the Kontra Quartet, who enjoyed a close collaboration with the composer.
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|1||I Affettuoso - animato||9:30||9,60 kr.|
|2||II Adagio - andante - presto - andante - adagio||9:14||9,60 kr.|
|3||III Introduzione. Lento un poco - molto vivace||8:25||9,60 kr.|
|4||I Lento||7:20||9,60 kr.|
|5||II Allegro assai e leggiero||3:48||6,40 kr.|
|6||III Andante quasi giacona||4:34||6,40 kr.|
|7||IV Allegro decido||5:04||9,60 kr.|
|8||V Lento||3:28||6,40 kr.|
|9||I Andante passionato||5:51||9,60 kr.|
|10||II Presto espansivo||6:14||9,60 kr.|
|11||III Adagio affettuosa||6:07||9,60 kr.|
|12||IV Largo e semplice||1:40||6,40 kr.|
|13||V Allegretto sereno||4:32||6,40 kr.|
|14||I Andante fluente||7:10||9,60 kr.|
|15||II Andante con moto e affetuoso||7:08||9,60 kr.|
|16||III Presto||3:56||6,40 kr.|
|17||IV Un poco adagio||2:43||6,40 kr.|
|18||V Allegro molto e leggiero||6:14||9,60 kr.|
|19||I Pesante - Fluente||9:20||9,60 kr.|
|20||II Adagio||5:50||9,60 kr.|
|21||III Energico||5:03||9,60 kr.|
|22||I Lento - Allegro coc fuoco - Lento - Allegro con fuoco - Lento||5:52||9,60 kr.|
|23||II Molto vivace2||3:25||6,40 kr.|
|24||III Adagio e piano||5:35||9,60 kr.|
|25||VI Allegro spiritoso||4:01||6,40 kr.|
|26||I Tempo guisto||6:39||9,60 kr.|
|27||II Allegro commodo||4:19||6,40 kr.|
|28||III Adagio - Vivace - Calmo - Presto||9:39||9,60 kr.|
|29||I Allegro vivace e semplice||4:17||6,40 kr.|
|30||II Andante lucido e affetuoso||5:53||9,60 kr.|
|31||III Presto volante e robusto||2:13||6,40 kr.|
|32||IV Andante quieto e rubato||2:50||6,40 kr.|
|33||V Allegro brioso e ardito||4:05||6,40 kr.|
|34||I Andante determinato||8:10||9,60 kr.|
|35||II Con vivezza||4:39||6,40 kr.|
|36||III Adagio||5:04||9,60 kr.|
|37||IV Vivace||3:34||6,40 kr.|
|38||V Andante tranquillo||3:14||6,40 kr.|
|39||I Tempo giusto - Andante - Allegro vivace||14:18||12,80 kr.|
|40||II Adagio - Molto vivace - Tempo giusto - Molto vivace||11:29||12,80 kr.|
|41||I Allegro leggiero||2:57||6,40 kr.|
|42||II Tempo giusto - Allegro robusto||4:59||6,40 kr.|
|43||III Andante tranquillo||7:02||9,60 kr.|
|44||IV Allegro brioso||3:31||6,40 kr.|
|45||I Allegro robusto||3:31||6,40 kr.|
|46||II Andante cantabile||7:28||9,60 kr.|
|47||III Allegro vivace||4:05||6,40 kr.|
|48||IV Adagio e tranquillo||2:09||6,40 kr.|
|49||V Allegro con fuoco||4:34||6,40 kr.|
|50||I Andante tenero - Poco allegro||6:05||9,60 kr.|
|51||II Allegro||4:26||6,40 kr.|
|52||III Poco adagio||4:45||6,40 kr.|
|53||IV Andante tranquillo||3:42||6,40 kr.|
|54||V Finale: Allegro||4:55||6,40 kr.|
|55||I Andante trasognamente||4:04||6,40 kr.|
|56||II Presto leggiero||2:06||6,40 kr.|
|57||III Allegro agitato||2:36||6,40 kr.|
|58||IV Adagio||3:40||6,40 kr.|
|59||V Allegro||1:37||6,40 kr.|
|60||VI Allegro vivace||4:12||6,40 kr.|
|61||I Poco allegro||3:48||6,40 kr.|
|62||II Allegro molto||2:07||6,40 kr.|
|63||III Funèbre||4:38||6,40 kr.|
|64||Poco adagio - Allegro con brio||6:01||9,60 kr.|
|65||I Allegro moderato||4:35||6,40 kr.|
|66||II Allegro sereno||3:24||6,40 kr.|
|67||III Allegretto leggiero||3:00||6,40 kr.|
|68||IV Adagio - Allegro con fuoco||4:51||6,40 kr.|
|69||V Andante tranquillo||5:58||9,60 kr.|
|70||VI Allegro rigoroso||4:28||6,40 kr.|
|71||I Allegro con fuoco||4:31||6,40 kr.|
|72||II Intermezzo giocoso: Allegro||1:21||6,40 kr.|
|73||III Allegretto||5:23||9,60 kr.|
|74||IV Adagio||4:36||6,40 kr.|
|75||Intermezzo V sereno: Poco lento||2:23||6,40 kr.|
|76||VI Allegro vivace||4:33||6,40 kr.|
|77||I Tempo giusto||5:28||9,60 kr.|
|78||II Con flessibilità||2:21||6,40 kr.|
|79||III Andante tranquillo||2:41||6,40 kr.|
|80||IV Vivace||1:50||6,40 kr.|
|81||V Adagio||3:52||6,40 kr.|
|82||Vi Allegro espansivo||4:05||6,40 kr.|
|83||I Allegro non troppo||3:13||6,40 kr.|
|84||II Molto vivace||3:26||6,40 kr.|
|85||III Adagio||5:16||9,60 kr.|
|86||IV Presto||3:48||6,40 kr.|
|87||I Andantino||3:30||6,40 kr.|
|88||II Allegretto||2:20||6,40 kr.|
|89||III Tempo guisto||4:44||6,40 kr.|
|90||IV Allegro brioso||2:52||6,40 kr.|
|91||V Adagio||4:21||6,40 kr.|
|92||VI Vivace||3:41||6,40 kr.|
|93||I Allegretto||1:32||6,40 kr.|
|94||II Allegro piacevole||1:21||6,40 kr.|
|95||III Con moto||2:27||6,40 kr.|
|96||IV Allegro barocco||1:29||6,40 kr.|
|97||V Adagio affettuoso||3:17||6,40 kr.|
|98||VI Vivace||1:54||6,40 kr.|
|99||VII Andantino ma calmato||2:48||6,40 kr.|
|100||VIII Allegro giusto||1:38||6,40 kr.|
|101||IX Adagio, ma non troppo||4:41||6,40 kr.|
|102||X Animato||1:51||6,40 kr.|
|103||XI Allegro con brio||2:05||6,40 kr.|
|104||I Adagio||4:46||6,40 kr.|
|105||II Allegro||3:53||6,40 kr.|
Vagn Holmboe and his string quartets
With his more than 20 string quartets Vagn Holmboe is one of the most prominent quartet composers of the 20th century. He wrote string quartets from his teenage years until his death at 86. In terms of the number of works, Holmboe's quartets equal Bartók's and Shostakovich's together, and in quality too his works bear com-pa-ri-son with the greatest.
At the age of 16 Vagn Holmboe was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen as a violinist. In the entrance examination he was heard by the national composer Carl Nielsen, who also looked through some of his compositions. The earliest works by Holmboe known today were written the next year, and these include a string quartet. This was the first of no fewer than ten quartets that Holm-boe wrote before, at the age of 40, he eventually gave a work the title String Quartet no. 1.
The years at the Academy were typified by studies of the classics and polyphony, and this coloured Holmboe's music throughout his life. One of his great models was Haydn, whose vitality, elegance, humour and economy with his resources are reflec-ted in his own works. Another model was Béla Bartók. At the beginning of the 1930s, during a study trip to Paris, Holmboe met the Romanian pianist Meta Graf, whom he married, and who introduced him to the folk music of the Balkans. The direct and emotional, the feeling and the quite clear expression - that interested me greatly. There was something elemental in this music,\\ Holmboe said, looking back.
Until 1950 Holmboe taught at the Danish Institute for the Blind, and then he was engaged by the Royal Danish Academy of Music. He was professor of composition and theory there until 1965, when he retired to devote all his time to composing. He was then at the pinnacle of one of his most concentrated creative periods, and he had long since been recognized as one of the best composers in the Nordic coun-tries. Fortunately he also lived long enough to see himself recognized internationally as one of the most human and acute composers - a classic of the twentieth century.
Vagn Holmboe wrote almost 400 works, especially instrumental music. He was a nature-lover and in 1939 settled down in the beautiful countryside of northern Zea-land, where he personally planted 3000 trees over the years on his land by the lake Arresø.
The sky, the soil and the water are basic elements that can be heard in almost all Holmboe's works. Alongside his ability to sense nature he had a highly intellectual side, and this gives his music a wonderful mixture of stringent thought and organic metamorphosis - asceticism combined with freedom, or as Holmboe himself called it, \\controlled ecstasy\\. This comes clearly to expression in the two pillars of his oeuvre: the 13 symphonies and the 20 string quartets.
Like his contemporary Shostakovich, Holmboe began taking a serious interest in the string quartet genre after World War II - if we disregard the ten unnumbered quartets, which were not given an opus number and which have never been recorded either. Only one of them has been performed at all.
From these early efforts it was a great leap to the work that Holmboe entitled String Quartet No. 1 in 1949. He was aware of this himself. \\It is hardly incorrect to say that my First String Quartet marks a kind of turning point or a development point. I was prepared for it, but it broke loose,\\ Holmboe reminisced shortly before his death.
The first three quartets were written within a year and a half, and form a set that lays down the framework for his lifelong preoccupation with the genre. Holmboe often worked in series within particular work genres, and in the middle of the 1950s String Quartets Nos. 4 and 5 followed in quick succession.
After a pause of six years, String Quartet No. 6 ushers in a simpler and more concentrated style. Nos. 7-9 were written in the mid-1960s and are among his most frequently played works.
String Quartet No. 10 from 1969 is one of the most radical, written at a time when the musical avant-garde was challenging a classicist like Holmboe. Nos. 11-14 were written closely together at the beginning of the 1970s, after which Holmboe took a break from the quartet for six years. This came to end with the masterly Nos. 15 and 16, and then the last four numbered quartets form a wonderful cyclical conclusion: they represent the phases of the day (Morning, Noon, Evening and Night) and each has six movements, totalling 24, as many as the hours of the day.
In his final years Holmboe wrote two further quartets which he gave no numbers: Sværm (Swarm), composed on the basis of a work for two violins, and Quartetto sereno, the quartet on which he was working when he died. The two movements in Quartetto sereno were finished by Holmboe's close friend and pupil Per Nørgård, to whom he had touchingly dedicated his Fourth String Quartet four decades earlier.
Throughout the years of the string quartets Holmboe collaborated closely with Den-mark's leading quartet ensembles: The Koppel Quartet and the Copenhagen String Quartet, who gave most of the works their first performances, and the Kontra Quartet, who at the end of Holmboe's life began this first complete recording of all the works.
String Quartet No. 1, op. 46 (1949)
\\Variation is not in itself a form but a working method which has previously led to various patterns of form. This can also happen today. But among all the current possibilities of form, I find that the metamorphosis is the strongest because, in addition to varying a substance, it has an objective which enforces an order of progress and enables it to form a pattern of the same freedom and balance as for instance the classical sonata\\ (Vagn Holmboe in Mellemspil [Interlude], 1961).
The First String Quartet is dedicated to the Erling Bloch Quartet. The first movement starts with a nineteen-bar solo for viola after which the cello joins in with a contrapuntal counter-voice. In bar 28 the violins join in with a rhythmically marked theme where the two instruments play in seconds. The movement develops as a classical sonata movement but of course in a musical idiom which is unmistakably Holmboe's. The second movement is an Adagio where a folkloristic theme undergoes a number of metamorphoses.
The finale begins with an Introduction (lento) where a number of fortissimo chords are followed by a descending, unison passage in half-notes. This is followed by the main part of the movement, molto vivace, whose rhythm with unevenly placed accentuation makes one think of Stravinsky. The movement finishes with an energetic unison descent in the four instruments and ends with two fortissimo chords in C major.
First performed in Copenhagen on 31 January 1950 by the Erling Bloch Quartet.
String Quartet No. 2, op. 47 (1949)
The Second String Quartet is strictly classicistic. The tripartite first movement begins with a light and gracious theme in the first violin accompanied by the other strings. The time signature is 12/8, which gradually changes to 4/4 only to return again to the original metre. The second movement is based on a brief, robust motif in contrast to which an impassioned theme is developed; the original motif is, however, constantly present and achieves predominance toward the end of the movement.
The third movement is a cheerful scherzo full of witty inventions. The initial 6/8 time is modified to 3/4 and later to 9/8. The fourth movement is again based on a typical Holmboe theme, here accompanied by a three-part tremolo. This movement introduces the finale, which is reminiscent of Balkan music with its 5/8 time and characteristic shifts of stress between the second and third beat. The movement ends on a pure C major chord.
First performed in Copenhagen on 23 May 1949 by the Leo Hansen Quartet.
String Quartet No. 3, op. 48 (1949)
The Third String Quartet was dedicated to the Koppel Quartet and premiered by them in Copenhagen on 18 November 1950. It has five movements: Two slow movements encircle two quick ones which again encircle a calm Andante.
The introductory Lento starts with two big jumps of interval: a descending major seventh in the first violin and an ascending minor ninth in the viola. These two intervals act as signals throughout the movement.
In the middle part still shorter note values are used and traces of Bartók's 6th String Quartet make themselves felt in the rhythm. The second movement is an Allegro with almost the simplicity of Haydn. The central third movement is a chaconne whose theme is presented by the viola. The following Allegro again shows a fairly simple and transparent texture, whereas the finale points back to the introduction.
String Quartet No. 4, op. 63 (1953-54)
Like the previous string quartet, this quartet is also in five movements which are, however, arranged differently, the sequence here being calm-quick-slow-slow-calm.
The first movement starts as simply as a quartet by Haydn but quickly becomes more and more complex.
In the course of the movement the introductory theme undergoes a number of metamorphoses. The second movement is a Presto where quick, hammering triplet movements by the muted strings encircle parallel scale movements. The middle part is calmer, more simple and more subdued, but at the end the more agitated feeling returns: trills accompany glissandi in viola and cello and it all fades away to pianissimo while a trill is held by the first violin. The third movement is an emotional Adagio. Its introduction is fugal and the theme is built up of small intervals.
In the fourth movement, Largo, the instruments play without vibrato, \\senza espressivo\\ (without expression) and with mute. The movement is fairly short, occupying only one page in the score. The finale is a peaceful, light Allegretto, dying out in pianissimo and ending with a G major harmony.
The Fourth String Quartet is dedicated to Vagn Holmboe's pupil, Per Nørgård, and was performed for the first time by the Koppel Quartet in Copenhagen on 8 January 1955.
String Quartet No. 5, op. 66 (1955)
The Fifth String Quartet is a far more intense piece of work. The first movement is constructed on an introductory kernel-motif that is placed in perspective in an ensuing fluente episode, where it is exposed to a differentiated, polyphonic, and metamorphosing counterplot after which it returns in its original form toward the end of the movement. This material emerges again in the Adagio and the hectic finale (Energico), where it is presented in an entirely different atmosphere, and near the end of the quartet the introductory motif from the first movement reappears. This fascinating work sums up the composer's previous experience at the same time as announcing the advent of something entirely new.
First performed in Kolding, Jutland, on 20 February 1956 by the New Danish Quartet.
String Quartet No. 6, op. 78 (1961)
The constantly changing tempo markings in the first movement of the Sixth String Quartet are a visible sign that the metamorphosis principle is now fully operational within this genre. The work is based on a set of motifs that are all related to one another. Particularly arresting is the slow third movement (in reality an elaboration of the introductory Lento movement), where there are reminiscences of the Mesto section in Bartók's Sixth String Quartet. About halfway through the Adagio movement comes a sound field where all four instruments play harmonics, a passage of almost celestial beauty that is also a statement in favour of humanity and our debt to nature.
First performed at Hindsgavl, Jutland, in August 1962 by the Koppel Quartet.
String Quartet No. 7, op. 86 (1964-65)
This quartet is the first that Vagn Holmboe wrote for the Copenhagen String Quartet, who in the course of the next twenty years were to give the first performances of almost all his quartet compositions.
The work is in three movements. The first, tempo giusto, begins with an emphatic confrontation between sharply defined - both tonal and dissonant - chords in the three lowest strings and a relatively elaborate melody line in the first violin, presenting two of the basic ideas of the movement: trochaic phrasing as we know it not least from Bartók, and a particular kind of melodic development through combinations of whole and half steps. The latter seems to be a feature borrowed from Carl Nielsen, and indeed there is an almost direct paraphrase of a very characteristic, stepwise descending Nielsen motif some distance into the movement. Bartók seems again to be the model toward the end, where the first violin appears against a \\sound carpet\\ of polyrhythms in close interaction between the three lowest voices.
The inspiration from Bartók reveals itself again in the second movement, Allegro commodo. This is a scherzo in varying time signatures (5/8, 6/8, 4/4) with the instruments alternating between pizzicato and bowed tones. A special rhythmic effect, parallel with the shifting pulse, is achieved by juxtaposing measures in which the accented notes are robustly emphasized with measures in which there are rests at the equivalent places. A short interlude in slower tempo provides relaxation from the outbursts of energy in the rest of the movement; the musical material is, however, so intimately connected with that of the main sections that this interlude has something of the effect of a slow variation.
The third movement is the most complex in the whole work. It begins Adagio with a long-drawn-out contrapuntal section that gradually increases in intricacy and tempo, giving way in due course to a markedly more mobile passage during which the instrumentation becomes even more tightly knit, with all four instruments now playing almost the whole time. This development culminates in a homophonic statement that gradually leads back to the slow pace and understated atmosphere of the beginning; with subtle artifice Holmboe sustains this atmosphere while abruptly more than doubling the speed, so that the movement all of a sudden begins to develop in the direction of a regular dansant finale. The artifice is then repeated at a higher level of rhythmic energy, so to speak, as an extended sound-carpet passage characterized by trills and tremolo effects gives way to a much calmer, melodically simple section with gradual reduction in dynamics; then, as before, and still pianissimo, a Presto passage takes over and brings the quartet to a rapid virtuoso conclusion.
The quartet was first performed in Birkerød, Zealand, on 27 September 1965 by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 8, op. 87 (1965)
String Quartet No. 8 was written immediately after the Seventh. It is in five movements disposed symmetrically after the manner of Bartók (Allegro-Andante-Presto-Andante-Allegro).
The first movement, marked Allegro vivace e semplice, is in compact sonata form. The energetic main theme is contrasted with a gently rocking subsidiary theme, but just as important is the way in which Holmboe varies the energy level of the music by means of constant shifts of note values - half notes, quarter notes, eighth-note triplets, and sixteenth notes - within the same felt pulse, and by often directing (as also in the previous quartet) intense passages to be played in a very restrained manner. The second movement, Andante lucido e affettuoso, carries forward two of the first movement's basic ideas: the trill as a theme-like effect and the broad ascending melody lines, which here derive extra weight from the slow tempo at which they are played.
The third movement, Presto volante e robusto, is a scherzo based on uninterrupted eighth-note triplets and played at breakneck speed. The brief fourth movement has to a large extent the character of a solo cadenza for the first violin but also serves in particular as a prelude to the finale, Allegro brioso e ardito. Here, as the pulse of the music gradually accelerates from 4/4 to a waltz-like 3/4, we re-encounter several of the basic ideas of the work including trill/tremolo figurations and the massive statements all the way back from the opening.
The quartet was first performed in Frederiksberg on 14 December 1965 by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 9, op. 92 (1965-66, rev. 1969)
String Quartet No. 9 is in five movements like its predecessor but is its mirror image, so to speak, in terms of structure, with two slow movements framing a fast second and fourth movement around the axis of a slow Adagio.
The first movement, Andante determinato, is entirely based on a stepwise descending figure, very like the Carl Nielsen effect at the beginning of the Seventh Quartet. As the movement progresses this figure gradually comes into conflict with an inverted, i.e. ascending, version of itself. The ascending figure recurs in the fast, tripartite second movement, here stretched out against constantly pulsating sixteenth-note triplets that are relieved only by a short marcato middle section and by the corresponding coda that rounds off the movement. The third movement, Adagio, has the form of a single long sequence, again with the ascending figure at the centre, and with trills as a central thematic effect as in the Eighth Quartet. The fourth movement, Vivace, also has a scherzo-like tripartite structure, but now there is considerably more fullness and elbow room in the more relaxed middle section. The fifth movement, Andante tranquillo, proceeds like the third movement in one long arch of tightly-knit lines until the quartet disappears in a pianissimo with a combination of flageolet and pizzicato tones.
The quartet was first performed in Horsens, Jutland, on 23 August 1967 by the Novák Quartet.
String Quartet No. 10, op. 102 (1969)
With its duration of 26 minutes, the two-movement String Quartet No. 10 is one of Holmboe's longest. In it one glimpses the skeleton of the five-fold quartet form that Holmboe used several times in the later quartets; that is, a relatively massive, elaborated first section (Tempo giusto, i.e. calmly), a calmlyprogressing second section (Andante), and a swirling, fast middle section (Allegro vivace) - followed in the second movement here by an intense, declamatory, slow section (Adagio) and a scintillating finale.
But although these elements are clearly felt, the basic form of the quartet is also experienced as just two overall organic progressions marked out by the movements; in both cases in the form of a gradual build-up of the level of energy from what is - in dynamic terms too - a reticent, subdued, transparent beginning towards an ever-denser and faster overall motion; which even viewed across the whole quartet emerges as one large arch where the music seems to develop both from and towards a single note, the repeated C sharp that begins and ends the quartet.
At the same time Holmboe also seems to be playing deliberately with the listener's expectations: the lowest volumes are often heard when the music is moving fastest, and this is particularly effective at the end of the first movement; and in both quick and slow passages the stress - or lack of stress - is so surprisingly and effectively turned around that the listener constantly seems to hear material and points presented from new angles.
The quartet is dedicated to the members of the Copenhagen String Quartet, who gave the work its first performance on 7 April 1970 in Gothenburg.
String Quartet No. 11, \\Rustico\\, op. 111 (1972)
Compared with the expansive, dense Tenth Quartet, String Quartet No. 11 seems an almost pointed study in the quartet format when it is realized most firmly and concentratedly - including the subtitle rustico, which the quartet incidentally shares with Holmboe's 31-year-older Third Symphony. On the other hand it is the first Holmboe quartet with a decided character indication as subtitle.
It is almost ten minutes shorter than its predecessor and has four distinct movements: a straight-forward, fast Allegro leggiero (i.e. light), a stamping two-section Tempo giusto (with a slow introduction), a calmly rocking Allegro tranquillo, and an excitedly pulsating Allegro brioso to dance off on.
But all that straightforward it isn't: there are constant tricks and subtleties in the music, which take it in quite other directions than the superficially rustic. The materials may well be raw, but the processing is anything but. This is clear quite literally from the first bars, which may flow lightly and easily, but do so by virtue of a cunning simultaneous interplay of the second violin and the viola's fast, interlaced semiquavers, the cello's merry pizzicato lines and the first violin's short, slightly hectic, leaping, irregularly stressed motifs. At the end of the movement the motion is even so to speak hollowed out from within when the first violin and the cello end as they began, around the regularly ticking chords in harmonics of the middle parts. It is at least as subtle as it sounds.
And so is the Allegro robusto movement with its busy - but never predictable - shifts between a duple and triple pulse; a device that is also used to great effect in the finale - and sounds just as seductively natural there; while by contrast the soft, wave-like motion of the Andante tranquillo movement only turns out on closer scrutiny to glide easily across quadruple, quintuple and sextuple bars. It may be that the raw materials are rustic, but their elaboration in this quartet - so subtle under the surface - is quite another matter.
The quartet was given its first performance on 8 August 1973 in Sorø by the Scandinavian String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 12, op. 116 (1973)
String Quartet No. 12 can be heard as a fully unfolded version of the five-movement form that was latent in the Tenth Quartet. The form, where the first and fifth, and the second and fourth movements more or less correspond around the middle movement, is particularly associated with Bartók - not least with his fourth and fifth string quartets - but it has been given a different twist by Holmboe.
For whereas Bartók's three middle movements are two short, quick movements around a weighty, slow, atmospheric central one, Holmboe so to speak reverses this principle, so that his middle movement is fast, while the movements around it are slow. Thus Holmboe's form is also experienced as fundamentally different, since now the first, third and fifth movements seem to correspond in character across the profundity of the two slow movements - and the quartet as such emerges as one intense course of events more than as a large arched structure.
This is how the Twelfth Quartet in particular is experienced, where the Allegro robusto opening immediately contrasts pulsating, dissonant chords with quick, fluttering motion in the first violin and cello - precisely the two rhythmic characters that dominate the whole movement along with the more drawn-out melody line that begins in the cello immediately afterwards. By contrast, the second movement, Andante cantabile, is one long slow progress where the parts enter one by one - but when the theme of the movement finally appears fully fledged with the entry of the first violin, it turns out to be directly related to the cello theme of the first movement.
We experience a similar sense of continuous rhythm in the middle movement, Allegro vivace, but at a very fast tempo, dominated by constantly flowing quaver triplets, which only stop when they are as it were transcended at the culmination point of the movement before they return again to conclude the movement. And while the rhythmic motion is thus on the whole constant, it is primarily with timbre effects that contrast is created in the central section of the movement, since all four strings play muted here.
The short fourth movement, Adagio e tranquillo, primarily functions as suspenseful anticipation of the finale, dominated on the one hand by long, upward-striving melody lines in the cello, and on the other by descending, elegiac melody lines in the first violin. The finale is however a virtuoso number in several respects: for the furious tempo at first unfolds quite pianissimo, into the bargain designated sotto voce. For several long stretches it develops through incessant quaver motion towards localized climaxes, until the movement - and the quartet - culminate in a monumental repetition of both the dissonant chords and the melodic material from the beginning of the first movement.
The quartet was given its first performance on 19 November 1973 in Hillerød by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 13, op. 124 (1975)
Compared with Holmboe's earlier five-movement quartets, No. 13 is at once more rigorous and freer. The symmetries and the formal curves are very consistently carried through in each of the first three movements; on the other hand, the overall structure is not based as directly as before - and as in his model Bartók - on symmetries where movements correspond in pairs; this quartet rather flows like a forward-moving narrative. One almost gets the feeling that the quartet points in two directions: back towards the cultivation of an overall balance and symmetry, and forward to the development of the music through the precisely measured, almost character-piece-like movements that begin with the very next, fourteenth quartet.
No. 13 is the second of Holmboe's quartets to begin with a partly slow movement, Andante tenero, i.e. tenderly, where the slightly restless, rocking character of the outer sections, in many changing times and long, sustained melody lines, imitated freely in the lines of the individual strings, including the falling semitone figure that permeates most of the quartet, is countered by the sharply profiled, quick middle section, Poco allegro. Here the rhythmic ambivalence of the slow opening is so to speak turned into its opposite: the basic pulse is for most of the time a stable 4/4, but the individual rhythmic figures move freely to and fro across the bar lines. The same is true, in the quick second movement, Allegro, of the very Bartók-like, almost fanfarelike opening motifs, while the calmer, subdued middle section is here given a more elaborated melodic character, which even manages to combine material from the quick outer section with associations from the opening of the first movement.
The slow third movement, Poco adagio, is also symmetrically structured. All four strings play throughout the movement with mutes, and the dynamic level, with the exception of a single passage, is extremely delicate; nevertheless there is a contrast between the outer sections - parallel with the first movement - with their slowly rocking, airy sonority with many pauses between notes and motifs in the melody lines, and the middle section's lightning-fast trembling scale runs at twice the pulse; on the other hand the characteristic falling semitone figure follows on directly from the preceding section.
By contrast, the also slow fourth movement, Andante tranquillo, proceeds as one long flow. A rich, expressive viola solo leads into a close four-part passage that culminates fortissimo with all four strings at a high pitch, before the movement falls calm in a long, dying coda, now led by the first violin. The Allegro finale can on the other hand be heard as a study in pauses: like so many of Holmboe's finale movements it basically has a fast, constant pulse, but here incessantly interrupted by short but usually unexpected rests in the individual parts, which gives the movement a quite unique, slightly breathless character.
The quartet is dedicated to Holmboe's bibliographer Paul Rapoport and was premiered on 20 August 1976 in Copenhagen by the Scandinavian String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 14, op. 125 (1975)
String Quartet No. 14 was composed immediately after No. 13, and in fact managed to be played for the first time several months before its predecessor. It is substantially shorter, but on the other hand has no fewer than six movements.
The first three movements are played without a break. Like No. 13 the quartet opens with a slow movement, Andante trasognamente, i.e. day-dreaming, taking the form of a fugue in extremely slow motion; only after many solo bars for the first violin, in one long, regularly descending motion, does the viola enter, and more time passes before first the cello and finally the second violin join in. After this the pitch begins to move up again, but still falls calm again after several local climaxes and imperceptibly thins out more and more.
The second movement, Presto leggiero, is played by all four strings, muted throughout. It is fundamentally based on a lightning-fast, rolling triplet motion that rarely rises above a very quiet dynamic level full of presentiment which along the way makes effective use of rests, glissades and slower, often pizzicato note values. The third movement, Allegro agitato, which largely remains at a much more forceful dynamic level, can be heard as a contrast to and a further development of the same idea: here it is a very fast semitone tremolo that permeates the whole movement, but at the same time constantly develops into melodic motifs, increases and decreases in speed, and as was the case in the preceding movement, it is set in relief by emphatic figures in slower note values.
The next two movements are also played without a break. The fourth movement, Adagio, is on the surface a melodically rich, elegiac movement, but by virtue of a recurrent, fluid yet regularly dotted semiquaver motion, it still has an understated energy and drive, even though the execution is mainly crisp and subdued. The same cannot be said of the fifth movement, Allegro, which is played in a constant pizzicato, with a regularly tramping, stressed quaver pulse. But again what one thought was a simple rhythmic feeling quickly proves able to expand into long melodic lines, to develop extra meanings with rests, accents and instrumental contrasts. And the whole nervous energy of the quartet culminates in the sixth and last movement, Allegro vivace, where an energetic initial motif which at first moves quickly through all four strings, is regularly undermined by changing times. But this does not prevent the movement - and the quartet - from ending in a massive climax, which still suddenly thins out in the very last bars in a quiet, faintly ironic but also indisputable clarification in a quite transparent D major.
The quartet is end-dated 15.8.1975, and it was first played by the Copenhagen String Quartet on 19 April 1976, the only one of Holmboe's completed quartets to be played in the composer's home in Ramløse.
String Quartet No. 15, op. 135 (1977-78)
String Quartet No. 15 is, like the Fourteenth, one of Holmboe's shortest, but unlike the Thirteenth and Fourteenth is in a quite classical four-movement form. The opening movement, Poco allegro, operates with two basic motifs which constantly play with and against each other: an emphatic trochaic figure that is the basis of the melodic material of the movement; and an evenly flowing semiquaver motion that is the basis of the rhythm. As a special refinement the movement falls calm when the semiquaver motion broadens to half the tempo, that is to quavers - precisely the flowing, circling quaver motion that forms the basis of the next, scherzo movement, Allegro molto, played throughout with mutes. But again, typically of Holmboe's way of letting motifs vary between simple ornament or pulse to full expression as melodic material, the quaver motion quickly becomes palpably subtler, and is also itself broadened into massively stamping crotchets at the climax of the movement.
The third movement, Funèbre, is as the title indicates a slow-moving funeral march, with a character of stylized pathos which is unusual for Holmboe. Big chords, especially at the beginning, place dramatic caesurae between on the one hand solo alternation of first violin and cello, and on the other short imitative passages that involve two or more instruments. Exactly midway, though, the big chords stop, and the second section of the movement flows as one continuous, increasingly controlled and resigned farewell.
The last movement has a slow introduction, Poco adagio, which elaborates on two motifs from the dead march: an ascending figure in triple time, and a little later a descending turning figure, before an acceleration to the actual finale, Allegro con brio. Its main section consists of a combination of pulsing quavers and great melodic leaps, alternately upward and downward, while the middle section of the movement, at a slightly slower tempo, makes room for more developed melody, where the overall melodic line is regularly shuttled between the three highest strings in particular. In the concluding massive coda there are references back to the trochaic figure that opened the quartet, until the movement and the quartet end in a clear C major - openly and dramatically, with several very dissonant notes above the tonic.
The quartet is dedicated to Traute and Erik Sønderholm, and was premiered on 8 June 1978 in Reykjavík by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 16, op. 146 (1981)
Holmboe's last five string quartets were written in as many years. Number 16 is his last quartet in the traditional four-movement form.
The robust first movement, Allegro non troppo, opens with a telling falling motif which in several variations, both melodic and rhythmic, permeates the whole movement and regularly has the function of signalling that something new is about to happen. Immediately afterwards two other motif types are introduced: a calmly flowing quaver motion, and a chain of trills which on several occasions throughout the movement serves to mark points of particular intensity.
The second movement, Molto vivace, is a headlong scherzo movement in Bartók-like style, where the deep melodic drops and the collectively stamping chords that begin the movement gradually develop into a more finely-meshed weave of lines where both the actual chordal rhythm and the melodic fall are developed, among other ways in the form of a constant alternation between quavers and triplets until the movement culminates and ends in a sustained, energetic fortissimo. The third movement, Adagio, shows not least how sophisticatedly Holmboe could work, even at very slow tempi, with rhythmic variation. In the first few bars one already hears a number of different rhythmic figures: abrupt and gentle upbeats, stressed and unstressed beats. As the lines become more and more compacted each takes on its own motivic character and is further shaded in several tempo layers in the form of crotchets, quavers and semiquavers. The dynamic development of the movement too is notable: it begins forcefully, evolves to a first fortissimo climax, soon afterwards fall calm again, and despite a few local fluctuations describes a purposive motion even further down towards the absolutely quiet ending.
The fourth movement, Presto, begins so to speak where the Adagio ended and in dynamic terms describes something like the exactly opposite motion, but now with the quite delicate dynamics combined with a quick tempo in triple time and with constantly pulsing semiquavers in all parts. Here too the rhythmic element in the music proves more complex than that, as the individual figures begin to develop over, if not directly across the bars. Only towards the end does the dynamic level rise in earnest, until both the movement and the quartet culminate with the same falling motif that opened the whole work.
The quartet is dedicated to the Copenhagen String Quartet, which was also responsible for the first performance on 28 April 1982 in Copenhagen.
String Quartet No. 17, \\Mattinata\\, op. 152 (1982, rev. 1983)
To a certain extent, the last four string quartets appear to form a totality. Numbers 17, 18 and 19 were composed in quick succession; how quick is evident from the fact that No. 19 is one opus number ahead of No. 18 (and was in fact also given its first performance before it). Both these three and the slightly later No. 20 have Italian titles referring to different times of day: \\Mattinata\\ (morning), \\Giornata\\ (daytime), \\Serata\\ (evening) and \\Notturno\\ (night). In all cases, though, the original titles were changed around, and the printed edition of No. 17 does not have the subtitle, so the titles should hardly be regarded as anything but very elementary evocative headings.
More important in terms of seeing the four quartets as a whole is their overall form. All four are in six, mostly rather short movements. But the individual sequences are in each case planned differently, as varied ideas of the course of a string quartet, at once as a development and a renewal of the absolutely classical four-movement quartet form.
Quartet No. 17 begins with an Allegro moderato, whose 5/4 rhythm gives Holmboe yet another opportunity to manifest his sophisticated treatment of rhythm. First of all the massive chords are quickly succeeded by a delicate interplay of the two violins, supplemented a little later by viola and then cello as more and more different note values, upbeats, stresses and even playing techniques (bowed or pizzicato) are involved. A calmer middle section in a stable 4/4 leads into a section in 3/4, and here too it seems far less interesting for Holmboe to mark the simple triple pulse than to obscure it until the 5/4 pulse returns stably - that is, as stably as an irregular pulse like 5/4 can - in the last, fading part of the movement; which in itself sounds like a point.
And that is what it becomes in the next movement, the Allegro sereno, which begins like a kind of offbeat waltz in 5/8, before a more robust 3/4 version takes over and is maintained throughout the pianissimo conclusion of the movement, only cut off by a massive motto in the cello. The brief third movement, Allegro leggiero, follows immediately like a sprightly yet restrained play among the voices, where great melodic fluctuations are kept in check by a recurring, ticking motif on the same note, while the falling motif from the very end of the preceding movement also appears at regular intervals, especially in the cello.
The subsequent Adagio opens with the same motif, again in the cello, where it now becomes the bearing idea, not only in the slow outer sections of the movement, but also in a varied version in the fast Allegro con fuoco middle section. In the inward fifth movement, Andante tranquillo, the bearing idea is on the other hand first and foremost timbral, despite the fact that falling motifs permeate this movement too. But it is just as much the transformations in the playing with muting, flautando, with and without vibrato, that one notes as the form-giving elements, with all the greater effect at the few points where the instruments are allowed to play through with their natural sound. The last movement of the quartet, Allegro rigoroso, is on the other hand a spontaneous discharge in five sections where the outer sections and the intense energy of the middle section are set in relief partly by a calmly flowing passage in triple time with the unusual designation sdrucciolo (sliding), partly by an episode dominated by solo passages first in the cello and then in the first violin.
The quartet was given its first performance on 11 November 1985 in Copenhagen by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 18, \\Giornata\\, op. 153 (1982)
The six movements of the Eighteenth Quartet begin, unusually for Holmboe, with a movement in moderate tempo, an Andantino, hardly as calm however as this might suggest - it is borne up by an almost constant nervously trilling motion in all instruments. Its simmeringly bright feel is underscored not only by the way all four strings consistently play muted throughout the movement, but also by the way both viola and cello constantly play at a very bright pitch.
The subsequent brief Allegretto, however, is dominated by jagged, dotted rhythms, while in the third movement, Tempo giusto, the music of the outer sections of the movement rises for the first time in this quartet to louder volumes, while the delicate middle section re-uses the trill motif from before. The quick fourth movement, Allegro brioso, opens with a handful of strong chords in triple time - although the basic pulse is quadruple - which are quickly followed by a more melodically active section dominated by the same falling character as the chords. A short passage of almost pure semiquaver motion leads into a sudden ascending motion and the movement culminates in the two melodic directions so to speak being played off against each other, very quickly and very quietly.
The same idea is implemented in the fifth movement, Adagio, consistently from the beginning, where two different dotted figures move against each other from the first bar, and this is gradually developed in ever-denser lines over a single powerful climax and back to the movement's fundamental, very quiet character. The sixth and last movement, Vivace, is another of Holmboe's robust finale movements, with an insistent, trill-borne motif alternating with pulsating quavers and arching melodic motifs.
The quartet was given its first performance on 28 September 1988 in Copenhagen by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 19, \\Serata\\, op. 156 (1982, rev. 1984-85)
The Nineteenth Quartet opens very forcibly and strikingly with an Allegro con fuoco, with massive chords and close semitone motion from chord to chord. It is these semitone intervals and the figures derived from them that form the basis of the subsequent fast, intensely energetic music, which is only gradually unified into a common thrust. A rhythmically unruly section follows with quick shifts among 5/4, 4/4 and 3/4, succeeded by a passage that is calmer both melodically and rhythmically, before the movement becomes totally subdued in a sotto voce section. A fugato passage leads into a short, concluding, but again massive reminder of the opening chords.
The second movement, Intermezzo giocoso. Allegro, is a consistent, almost demonstratively executed mirroring exercise, where first violin, second violin, viola and cello enter in turn, and in the end fall away in the same order. The subsequent Allegretto liberamente is an amiable, almost effortless 3/4 movement in Siciliano rhythm, but as expected also rich in Holmboe's rhythmic refinements, as regards both variations in the basic rhythmic motifs and the concealment of the basic pulse. By contrast the sound-picture in the dark, compact, elegiac Adagio movement is quite different, borne up by long, expressive melodic lines in all four strings.
A brief, both delicate and moving Intermezzo sereno, an evening interlude, functions both as a postlude to the Adagio movement and as a bridge to the concluding, intense Allegro vivace, whose striking semitone motion points directly back to the opening movement. If we are to take the subtitle at its face value it is not an evening that ends quietly.
The quartet was given its first performance on 19 April 1988 in Copenhagen by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
String Quartet No. 20, \\Notturno\\, op. 160 (1985)
Holmboe's last proper quartet was written a few years after its predecessors, but like them is in six movements; and like them it works with very few melodic cells - semitone steps, minor and major thirds - which are constantly combined and varied in new ways.
The designation of the first movement, Tempo giusto, that is: calm, does not quite cover the nervously ticking character with which it opens. Only gradually do the parts unite; in the middle section of the movement the tempo is strikingly accelerated, and only after a hectic climax is the music calmed down to what resembles a quiet variant of the beginning.
As a contrast the second movement, Con flessibilità, purrs calmly away in a rocking 12/8 time and at a restrained volume, and the energy is also husbanded in the following Andante tranquillo, where regular powerful eruptions do not disturb the basic subdued calm. In the fourth movement, Vivace, on the contrary, energy and violence are the point of departure for the variation in the music, even though at some points the movement sounds just as restrained as it is driving in others.
The fifth movement, Adagio, is unusually constructed inasmuch as the one long melodic line of which the movement really consists at first - where the cello bears the melody - has an accompaniment in the upper parts, but then simply shifts between long solos by single instruments (viola, first violin, second violin and cello again) without the others playing much else than long holding notes. The final movement, Allegro espansivo, not only has a nod to Carl Nielsen's Espansiva in the title; its recurrent rhythmic motif refers directly to Béla Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and at the same time the movement is almost a catalogue, if not a virtuoso concluding synthesis, of many of the melodic and rhythmic motifs that are so characteristic of Holmboe's own music, not only in this quartet but in general.
The quartet was given its first performance on 18 September 1988 in Copenhagen by the Copenhagen String Quartet.
Sværm (\\Swarm\\), op. 190b (1992)
The Twentieth Quartet is Holmboe's last numbered string quartet, but not the last work he wrote for this kind of ensemble. Among his very last, incomplete works is a string quartet that was developed into a concerto for string quartet and orchestra, and a few years before this he arranged the small quartet piece Via Peria - his first work for the Kontra Quartet - and the ten violin duos Sværm opus 190a as a collection of eleven movements in all for string quartet.
As the movements sound, however, there is no feel of arrangement to them. On the contrary the eleven miniatures stand here as a concluding catalogue, indeed almost an index of the wealth and subtlety of the resources with which Holmboe worked within the genre he cultivated most devotedly and persistently. Here we hear the string quartet as four soloists, as four parts that move in and out, with and against one another, and as a collectivity. Holmboe's rhythm can range from a fixed pulse through a supple motion across times and phrases, notes, note lengths and rests, just as a small melodic cell can be expanded into long sequences and complex fabrics; and all this preserving the emotion, elegance and energy that in his larger quartet movements before this helped to create a quartet oeuvre that has few parallels in volume or substance in the music of the twentieth century.
The quartet version of Sværm was given its first performance on 22 March 1997 in Odense by the Kontra Quartet.
Quartetto sereno, op. 197 (op. posth.).
Holmboe's last quartet work, which is unofficially also String Quartet No. 21, was the last work he ever composed, and was unfinished on his death in 1996. His pupil Per Nørgård has finished the quartet, and himself characterizes his contribution by saying that the score existed \\in an only partly completed form, which could however be written out with only a few cases of doubt\\. With only two movements and a playing time of about nine minutes it is at its existing length the shortest of Holmboe's string quartets. The first movement takes the form of one long arch in a rocking triple time which constantly shifts among different tempo and pulse sensations. At the same time the rhythmic energy increases until the movement, in a faster Con moto tempo accelerates to a more flowing 12/8 time, coloured both rhythmically by cross-rhythms in duple time and timbrally by harmonics in the viola. In its middle section, Con fuoco, the movement culminates in both tempo and expression until it falls calm in brief recapitulations in reverse order of the first two sections. The rocking feeling continues in the second movement, but now at a more extroverted level from the outset, Allegro and pizzicato. The energy builds up further as the mood intensifies to Con fuoco, while all instruments go over to bowed playing, but like the first movement, this movement ends Adagio - here however not as a gradual attenuation but through a sudden shift in tempo to a calm, imitative passage before the movement slowly thins out to the almost inaudible through a last, dense, open-sounding chord with a brief violin solo above it.
The quartet is dedicated to Holmboe's wife Meta May Holmboe, and was given its first performance by the Kontra Quartet on 22 March 1997 at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense.
Vagn Holmboe und seine streichquartette
Mit seinen mehr als zwanzig Streichquartetten zählt Vagn Holmboe zu den markantesten Quartettkomponisten des 20. Jahrhunderts. Er schrieb schon als Teenager Streichquartette und tat das bis zu seinem Tod als Sechsundachzigjähriger. Quantitativ gesehen komponierte Holmboe etwa so viele Quartette wie Bartók und Schostakowitsch zusammengenommen, doch auch qualitativ nehmen es seine Werke mit den Größten auf.
Holmboe kam mit sechzehn Jahren als Violinist an das Königlich Dänische Musikkonservatorium in Kopenhagen. Die Aufnahmeprüfung wurde vom dänischen Nationalkomponisten Carl Nielsen abgenommen, der auch einige von Holmboes Kompositionen durchsah. Die frühesten heute bekannten Werke wurden im Jahr danach geschrieben, darunter auch ein Streichquartett. Es war das erste von nicht weniger als zehn Quartetten, die Holmboe komponierte, bevor er als Vierzigjähriger einem Werk den Titel Streichquartett Nr. 1 gab.
Die Konservatoriumsjahre waren dem Studium der Klassiker und der Polyphonie gewidmet, was Holmboes Musik sein ganzes Leben hindurch prägte. Eines seiner großen Vorbilder war Haydn, dessen Lebenskraft, Eleganz, Humor und sparsamer Umgang mit den Mitteln sich in seinen eigenen Werken widerspiegelt. Auch Béla Bartók war ihm Vorbild. Zu Beginn der 1930er Jahre lernte Holmboe während eines Studienaufenthalts in Berlin die rumänische Pianistin Meta Graf kennen, die er heiratete und die ihm die Volksmusik des Balkans nahe brachte. „Das Direkte und Emotionale, das Gefühlsmäßige und der ganze klare Ausdruck - das interessierte mich sehr. Diese Musik hatte etwas Elementares\\, erklärte Holmboe rückblickend.
Bis 1950 unterrichtete Holmboe am dänischen Blindeninstitut. Danach wurde er am Königlich Dänischen Musikkonservatorium angestellt, wo er Professor für Komposition und Theorie war, bis er sich 1965 zurückzog, um sich ganz seiner Komponistentätigkeit zu widmen. Er befand sich da auf dem Höhepunkt einer seiner konzentriertesten Schaffensphasen und galt schon lange als einer der besten nordischen Komponisten. Glücklicherweise lebte er lange genug, um sich auch international als einer der humanistischsten und scharfsinnigsten Klassiker des 20. Jahrhunderts anerkannt zu sehen.
Holmboe schrieb fast vierhundert Werke, vor allem Instrumentalmusik. Er war ein Naturmensch und zog deshalb 1939 im schönen Nordseeland aufs Land, wo er auf seinem Grundstück am Arresø im Laufe der Jahre eigenhändig dreitausend Bäume pflanzte.
Himmel, Erde und Wasser sind Grundelemente, die in fast allen Holmboeschen Werken zu hören sind. Neben seinem Naturgespür besaß er aber auch eine sehr intellektuelle Seite, was seine Musik zu einer erstaunlichen Mischung aus stringentem Gedanken und organischer Metamorphose macht. Askese vereint mit Freiheit oder, wie Holmboe selbst es nannte, „gesteuerte Ekstase\\. Das kommt in den beiden tragenden Säulen seines Werkes, den dreizehn Sinfonien und den zwanzig Streichquartetten, deutlich zum Ausdruck.
Wie der gleichaltrige Schostakowitsch, so begann sich auch Holmboe erst nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg ernsthaft für das Streichquartettgenre zu interessieren, wenn man einmal von den zehn nicht nummerierten Quartetten absieht, die keine Werknummer erhielten und auch nie eingespielt wurden. Nur ein einziges davon wurde überhaupt aufgeführt.
Von diesen frühen Versuchen war es ein großer Schritt zu dem Werk, dem Holmboe 1949 den Titel Streichquartett Nr. 1 gab. Das war ihm selbst auch klar. „Man geht kaum fehl in der Annahme, dass mein erstes Streichquartett eine Art Wendepunkt oder einen Entwicklungspunkt bezeichnet. Ich war darauf vorbereitet, doch plötzlich bricht es los\\, erinnerte sich Holmboe kurz vor seinem Tod.
Die ersten drei Quartette wurden im Laufe von anderthalb Jahren geschrieben und bilden ein Set, das den Rahmen für seine lebenslange Beschäftigung mit dem Genre absteckt. Holmboe arbeitete in bestimmten Werkgattungen oft in Serien, weshalb Mitte der 1950er Jahre die Streichquartette Nr. 4 und 5 rasch aufeinander folgten.
Nach sechs Jahren Pause kündigt das Streichquartett Nr. 6 einen einfacheren und konzentrierteren Stil an. Nr. 7-9 wurden Mitte der 60er Jahre komponiert und zählen zu den am häufigsten gespielten des Komponisten.
Das Streichquartett Nr. 10 von 1969 gehört zu den radikalsten. Es wurde zu einer Zeit geschrieben, als die musikalische Avantgarde einen Klassizisten wie Holmboe herausforderte. Nr. 11-14 folgen zu Beginn der 70er Jahre eng aufeinander, wonach Holmboe sechs Jahre lang eine Quartettpause einlegte. Beendet wurde diese durch die meisterhaften Quartette Nr. 15 und 16, worauf die letzten vier nummerierten Quartette einen erstaunlichen zyklischen Abschluss bilden: Sie stellen die Phasen des Tages (Morgen, Mittag, Abend und Nacht) dar und haben jeweils sechs Sätze, insgesamt vierundzwanzig, also die gleiche Anzahl wie die Stunden des Tages.
In seinen letzten Jahren schrieb Holmboe zwei weitere Quartette, denen er keine Nummer gab, nämlich das auf der Grundlage eines Werkes für zwei Geigen komponierte Sværm (Schwarm) sowie Quartetto sereno, das Werk, an dem er bei seinem Tod arbeitete. Die beiden Sätze von Quartetto sereno wurden von Holmboes treuem Schüler Per Nørgård fertiggestellt, dem Holmboe vier Jahrzehnte zuvor sein viertes Streichquartett rührenderweise gewidmet hatte.
In all den Streichquartettjahren arbeitete Holmboe eng mit dem Koppel-Quartett und dem Kopenhagener Streichquartett, den führenden dänischen Quartettensembles, zusammen, die die meisten der Werke uraufführten, aber auch mit dem Kontra-Quartett, das gegen Ende von Holmboes Leben diese erste Gesamtaufnahme aller Werke begann.
Streichquartett Nr. 1, op. 46 (1949)
„Variation an sich ist keine Form, sondern eine Arbeitsmethode, die früher zu unterschiedlichen Formtypen führte. Das kann auch heute passieren. Doch von allen aktuellen Formmöglichkeiten halte ich die Metamorphose für die stärkste, weil sie nicht nur ein Material variiert, sondern darüber hinaus einen Zweck verfolgt, der eine fortschreitende Entwicklung erzwingt und es ermöglicht, ein Modell mit der gleichen Freiheit und Ausgewogenheit wie beispielsweise die klassische Sonatenform zu gestalten\\ (Vagn Holmboe in Mellemspil, 1961).
Das erste Quartett ist dem Erling-Bloch-Quartett gewidmet. Der erste Satz beginnt mit einem langgestreckten elegischen Bratschensolo, dem ein Kontrapunkt des Cellos folgt, worauf die Geigen mit einem rhythmisch markanten Thema einsetzen, bei dem die beiden Instrumente in Sekundenintervallen ineinander verschlungen sind. Der Satz entwickelt sich wie eine klassische Sonatenform, natürlich jedoch in einer unverkennbar Holmboeschen musikalischen Tonsprache. Der zweite Satz ist ein Adagio, dessen folkloristisches Thema eine Reihe Metamorphosen durchläuft. Das Finale setzt mit einer langsamen Einleitung ein, bei der auf einige Fortissimo-Akkorde eine fallende unisone Halbnotenpassage folgt. Danach kommt der Hauptteil des Satzes in molto vivace, dessen Rhythmik mit verschobenen Betonungen an Strawinsky erinnern kann. Der Satz schließt mit energischen unison fallenden Notenwerten aller vier Instrumente, die zu zwei Fortissimo-Akkorden in C-Dur hinführen.
Uraufführung: Kopenhagen 31. Januar 1950, Erling Bloch Quartett.
Streichquartett Nr. 2, op. 47 (1949)
Das 2. Streichquartett ist streng klassizistisch. Den dreiteiligen 1. Satz leitet in der ersten Violinstimme ein leichtes und graziöses, von den übrigen Streichern begleitetes Thema ein. Der 12/8-Takt wird allmählich zu 4/4 umgedeutet, um danach zur ursprünglichen Metrik zurückzukehren. Der 2. Satz wird von einem robusten, kurzgefaßten Motiv getragen. Als Kontrast dazu wird ein leidenschaftliches Thema entwickelt, doch das Urmotiv bleibt bestehen und setzt sich gegen Ende des Satzes durch.
Beim 3. Satz handelt es sich um ein aufgeräumtes Scherzo voller lustiger Einfalle. Der zugrundeliegende 6/8-Takt wird zum 3/4- und später zum 9/8-Takt umgedeutet.
Den 4. Satz trägt erneut ein charakteristisches Holmboethema, das von einem dreistimmigen Tremolo begleitet wird. Der Satz dient als Einleitung des Finalesarzes, der mit seinem 5/8-Takt und dem typischen Betonungswechsel zwischen zweitem und drittem Schlag an Balkanmusik erinnert. Der Satz mündet in einen reinen C-dur-Klang ein.
Uraufführung: Kopenhagen 23. Mai 1949, Leo Hansen Quartett.
Streichquartett Nr. 3, op. 48 (1949)
Das dritte Quartett war dem Koppel-Quartett gewidmet, das das Werk am 18. November 1950 in Kopenhagen uraufführte. Es besteht aus fünf Sätzen. Zwei langsame Außensätze umrahmen zwei schnelle, die wiederum ein ruhiges Andante umschließen. Der einleitende Lento-Satz beginnt mit zwei großen Intervallsprüngen, nämlich einer fallenden Septime der ersten Geige und einer steigenden None der Bratsche. Diese beiden Intervalle treten den ganzen Satz hindurch als Signale auf. Im Mittelteil werden immer kürzere Notenwerte eingesetzt, die Rhythmik zeigt Anklänge an Bartóks sechstes Streichquartett.
Der zweite Satz, ein Allegro, erinnert in seiner Einfachheit an Haydn. Der zentrale dritte Satz ist eine Chaconne, deren Thema von der Bratsche vorgestellt wird. Das anschließende Allegro zeigt wiederum eine recht einfache und durchsichtige Satztechnik, während das Finale auf das einleitende Lento zurückgreift.
Streichquartett Nr. 4, op. 63 (1953-54)
Wie das vorige Quartett, so ist auch dieses in fünf Sätzen angelegt, die allerdings, was Tempo und Charakter betrifft, anders disponiert sind. Der erste Satz beginnt ganz einfach wie ein Haydn-Quartett, wird aber ziemlich schnell immer komplizierter. Im Laufe des Satzes wird das einleitende Thema der erwähnten Metamorphosentechnik ausgesetzt.