Masterclass: violist Emilie Hörnlund on Beethoven String Quartet op.59 no.1

Chiaroscuro

Swedish violist Emilie Hörnlund, of the Chiaroscuro Quartet, discusses how to achieve optimal articulation, balance and flow in the first movement of the first ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet

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There’s something so joyous and youthful about this movement that it just makes me smile. It’s so sunny, positive and warm, so sparkling and alive – full of almost puppy-like anticipation. I could listen to it on repeat, and I force my kids to listen to it too! Right now it’s my favourite Beethoven quartet. Ask me tomorrow, of course, and I’ll tell you something different.

Beethoven wrote 𝅘𝅥 = 88 in his manuscript for this movement, which is quite fast. In the Chiaroscuro Quartet, violinists Alina Ibragimova and Pablo Hernán Benedí, cellist Claire Thirion and I play just under that, so that the melody sounds bubbly and light, but the triplets don’t sound manic. The main thing is to be aware, trust our instincts and listen.

To us, it’s the job of the second violin and viola to set the scene and get everything going. We breathe with Claire as she begins her melody, then play without a firm start, as though we are opening the curtains on music that has already begun. Modern players sometimes play these quavers (e) bouncily, but we use gut strings and Classical bows, so we feel that the note lengths can be healthy, as long as they don’t become dull or lose their usefulness. Of course, it is possible to do short articulation with a Classical bow, but a more brushed effect makes more sense to us musically. Whatever you decide, make sure that you are guided by what you want to hear, not by the limitations of your technique. That is also important in places such as bar 37, where the notes should sound equal wherever they fall in the bow.

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