The Celan Quartet

Mathilde Milwidsky
Timothy Crawford
Timothy Ridout
Timothy Posner

Our journey with Berg’s youthful masterpiece began in late 2012, when we spent a week piecing together the first movement on a MusicWorks course. This was our first experience of working closely on music from the Second Viennese School, both individually and as a quartet.

Visually, the music was by far the most complex we had tackled. The notation proved to be a constant battle when first building a relationship with the piece. We began working at it from quite a mathematical standpoint, attempting to fit the complex part-writing together under a strict pulse. It took many rehearsals, and even performances, for us to really get to grips with what Berg intended. Over time the rhythmical and technical challenges faded and we began to grasp what Berg was trying to express through his avid use of markings and performance indications. We became more at home in his world, able to understand and converse with each other using his unique and tailored language.

In this intensely dense music, allowing the leading voice not only to be heard, but also to be in charge of the direction and flow is a major challenge. At points the melody is greatly fragmented, appearing in each part for only a few notes before switching to another voice, often to great dramatic effect. It is clear that Berg expected a lot from performers in terms of clarity of voicing, as his part-writing makes it neither natural or intuitive. However in order to create a coherent path for the listener to follow we found it essential that the melody acts as our guide throughout the work.