Beethoven Bartók Now

Beethoven Bartók Now brings together the late quartets of Beethoven and the quartets of Bartók, uniquely reimagined with music from composers of today in six parts.

At the heart of this ambitious project is collaboration. Composers Aaron Parker, Jasmine Morris, David John Roche, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Edmund Finnis, and Bushra El-Turk have all been commissioned to write substantial new works, to be heard among and interwoven with the historic works of Beethoven and Bartók.

Each of these six events is paired with wraparound digital content, Unpacking BBN, providing an access point for new audiences, along with Writing for Quartet workshops – a rich resource for a network of composers.

‘Keeping it fresh and mixing it up’ Solem Quartet interview with The Strad

Beethoven Bartók Now: THE SIX PARTS

BBN Part I: Night Music (premiere July 2021)

Lonely melodies supported by eerie dissonances punctuated with sounds of the nature characterise Bartók’s ‘night music’ style, while Beethoven’s op. 130 contains an extraordinary palette of dark and light. Aaron Parker has written a spell-binding new work featuring references to Bartók’s ‘night music’ and the depth of harmonic expression found so richly in Beethoven’s op. 130, but with an added experimental electronic edge. In this hour-long playlist-form programme, the Solem Quartet take audiences on a journey through the sounds and atmospheres of the night, uniting musical worlds old and new.

Beethoven op. 130 | Bartók Quartet no. 5 | Aaron Parker tuóretu

BBN: Night Music programme notes

BBN Part II: Song & Dance (premiere Feb 2022 with students from Trinity-Laban Conservatoire)

In a one-hour playlist-form programme, the Solem Quartet tell a story of song and dance through the music of Beethoven, Bartók and Jasmine Morris – a winner of the Solem Quartet’s 2021 Call for Scores competition. Morris’s new piece Hitogata for string quartet and electronics ‘explores the twisted and almost nightmarish movements and contortions of Butoh dance’, a Japanese dance form. Using this exciting work as a springboard, the Solem Quartet produce a musical journey juxtaposing old and new music, and in doing so showcase fundamental aspects of the human experience: song and dance.

Beethoven op. 127 | Bartók Quartet no. 4 | Jamsine Morris Hitogata

BBN: Song & Dance programme notes

BBN Part III: Pioneers (premiere May 2022)

In the years directly preceding the completion of the First Quartet, Bartók had experienced huge upheaval in his personal life and had embarked on his lifelong dedication to the collection of folk music. Beethoven’s op. 131 – the composer’s favourite of the ‘late quartets’ – is a truly pioneering and exploratory 7-movement work. David John Roche, a winner of the BBN: Call for Scores competition, has created a piece which echoes to the energy and shock of these innovative works: he says “I want listeners to feel like they’ve had a wild, blistering experience with bold, exciting, relentlessly powerful music!” By presenting all these works together in an hour-long playlist-form programme, the Solem Quartet gives the music of Beethoven and Bartók a truly contemporary context, highlighting their power to astonish and excite in equal measure.

Beethoven op. 131 | Bartók Quartet no. 1 | David John Roche A Prayer at the Edge of Silence

BBN Part IV: Experiments (premiere July 2022, Island Suite premiere Wigmore Hall, May 2022)

This programme sees the Solem Quartet perform with composer-performer Ayanna Witter-Johnson – one of the foremost experimental voices of our time. Ayanna’s piece is a musical and narrative journey which takes inspiration from Jamaican folk song to create a work that defies genre, and tells the story of her ancestry and musical identity. In the op. 133 Grosse Fugue, Beethoven pushed the restraints of the fugal form to the limit, creating ‘an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever’ according to Stravinsky. Paired with this experiment in form is Bartók’s most compact quartet, where the composer found his true voice channelling and manipulating the Eastern-European folk music he so loved.

Beethoven op. 133 | Bartók Quartet no. 3 | Ayanna Witter-Johnson Island Suite

BBN: Experiments programme notes

BBN Part V: Courage (premiere May 2023)

Beethoven op. 135 | Bartók Quartet no. 6 | Bushra El-Turk Rostan, Rastan, Rast-Kara

Bartók sixth and final quartet was written in 1939, at a time when the composer was watching Europe collapse with the unfolding catastrophe of World War II. Each movement begins with a theme marked “Mesto” (sad) and this theme’s first utterance notably ends with three notes directly quoted from Beethoven’s final quartet, op. 135, under which Beethoven wrote “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?). Yet despite this sadness, within both works are moments of profound hope. Bushra El-Turk’s Rostan, Rastan and Rast-Kara is inspired by the ongoing revolution in Iran and the place of women in its society. In this programme, the Solem Quartet expand to a quintet, with the addition of Kamancheh player, Faraz Eshghi, proving the ever-evolving nature of the string quartet, and the power of music to unite.

BBN Part VI: Life Episodes (premiere May 2023)

Beethoven op. 132 | Bartók Quartet no. 2 | Edmund Finnis Quartet No. 3 ‘Devotions’

The third movement of Beethoven’s op. 132 was written while convalescing at Baden after a serious illness in 1824-25. He wrote the slow movement entitled ‘’Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart’’ as a hymn of thanks to God for his recovery, praising his reawakened life. Edmund Finnis has used this profoundly uplifting movement as the inspiration for his Third Quartet, ‘Devotions’. Bartók’s brooding 2nd Quartet is written in three parts which his friend and colleague Zoltán Kodály described as “life episodes”. BBN: Life Episodes will be paired with a film made by Jessie Rodger, presenting stories of ordinary people who, like Beethoven, have overcome adversity.

Beethoven Bartók Now: WRITING FOR QUARTET

At the heart of BBN is the championing of new writing for string quartet, alongside that of historic greats. As a quartet, we feel strongly about presenting the music of our time that chimes with audiences of today.

Writing For Quartet is a series of workshops, online and in person, providing a rich resource for a network of composers.

Our last BBN: Writing for Quartet workshop was held at Royal Overseas League, London, with support from Royal Overseas League and the RPS Enterprise Fund in association with Harriet’s Trust.