For several years San Francisco Performances (SFP) has presented the partnership of music historian Robert Greenberg and the Alexander String Quartet in four-event series of lecture-demonstrations, each concerned with a particular aspect of listening experiences in a concert setting. 2013 will be the centennial year for the celebration of the birth of Benjamin Britten, whose birthday is November 22. As a result, the next series of these lecture-demonstrations, which will begin next month, will honor this centennial. The title of series is The String Quartet at a Time of War: Benjamin Britten and His Contemporaries.
The war of the title of this series is the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Britten, however, was a committed pacifist and an active member of the British Peace Pledge Union. That commitment led to his leaving England in 1939, following W. H. Auden to the United States, where he had hoped to wait out the war. He remained there through 1942, after the United States joined the European alliance opposed to Nazi Germany.
This lecture-demonstration series will review the impact of World War Two on the composition of string quartets, using Britten’s music as a “spinal cord” for the overall structure. Each event will assume the title of one of the volumes of the six-volume history of the War written by Winston Churchill. The music to be discussed will be as follows:
- The Gathering Storm: This will examine three divertimenti that Britten composed for string quartet in 1933 before beginning his first quartet; it will be coupled with the third quartet composed in 1938 by Pavel Haas, a Czech who was consigned to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died in 1944.
- Their Finest Hour: Britten’s first quartet, composed in 1941, will be examined along with Béla Bartók’s last quartet, his sixth, which he composed in 1939.
- The Hinge of Fate: Britten composed his second quartet in 1945, and it will be coupled with the A minor quartet that William Walton composed shortly after the War in 1946.
- Triumph and Tragedy: The final event will involve post-War reflections, Britten’s third quartet, composed in 1975, along with the 1960 Opus 110 quartet of Dmitri Shostakovich in C minor, his eighth.
Each of these four programs will take place on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in Herbst Theatre. The dates of the programs are January 12, January 19, March 9, and March 16. These programs will be presented under the auspices of San Francisco Performances, and further information may be found at an event page for the entire series on the San Francisco Performances Web site. Prices for the full series are $180, $150, and $95, while individual tickets may be purchased for $50, $42, $27, and $15. Both series and individual tickets may be acquired through the event page or by calling 415-392-2545.