Composer: Jan Zach (1699-1773)
Zach was a Czech composer. Seems like most of his life isn't well documented but he evidently had a complex and eccentric personality" which made employment difficult. Most of his life was firmly in what is considered the Baroque era (~1600-1750)
Date: ? Somewhere between 1699-1773
Original Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello
Why this one:
Nothing exciting here, I was just poking around IMSLP with the string quartet filter on.
This was published in the 1940s as a collection of three string quartets. I went back and forth on which of the three to do. I was scared off of this one initially because of the cut-time allegro first movement, which I worried was going to be too fast. Also the rhythms in the short Andante second movement were really difficulty for me to count out when I did my first pass. I considered the second quartet in F, but I bluntly didn't understand the structure and wasn't sure where the movement boundaries were (if there even were any). Quartet 3's final movement was obviously faster than I could play anytime soon.
Later, after some other investigation, I decided my default assumption about cut-time tempos (i.e. that they were twice as fast as a common time piece at the same tempo) was probably not true. If I slowed down the first movement, it looked doable. I also put my head down on movement two and eventually worked out that the rhythms weren't as hard as they looked. When I sort of "felt" the rhythms rather than trying to strictly count them, it snapped into focus.
The piece also isn't all that long and the viola and cello parts looked pretty easy. (This one was put on the "maybe" list a while ago when i was still easily intimidated by viola and cello parts. Now I'm just moderately intimidated by them.)
Movement 1 - Allabreve
Time: 2/2 BPM = half note 100
This quick movement, marked Allegro, can be broadly divided into two sections. The violins are doing all the heavy lifting melodically in this movement, with the viola and cello almost exclusively sketching out the harmony with quarter notes.
Section 1 starts with a relatively brief and fairly simple theme in the home key of A. It sticks to a general I-ii-I-IV progression before settling on the V chord of E (0:00-0:24) . (ii chords are the relative minors to IVs, so they have almost the exact same notes and it can be hard to tell which one's the right underlying harmony if the accompaniment is sparse or ambiguous, which it is at the beginning here).
Next there's a brief passage with a non-diatonic (out of key) chord of F7. Half of the notes in F7 don't "belong" to the key of A, so it stands out and signals the start of a departure from the home key. That F7 pulls the movement to the key of E for the next part. A classical piece modulating to the key of the V chord (E in this case) is pretty standard.
The violin 1 and violin 2 harmonize and duel with each other for a bit in the key of E before the section ends. (0:32-1:10).
Section 2 starts at 1:10 in the key of Bm, a pretty in your face departure from anything in Section 1. The same motif that is played in Bm then repeats in the home key of A. At about 1:30 the piece starts to modulate again and this is kind of where I lose the harmonic thread. It transitions via G#m - F#m movement before settling on C# major, which is non-diatonic for all of the key centers we've been in. It goes back and forth between C# major and F#m and I cannot figure out what key we've settled on. So... shrug?
There's another brief modulation passage at 1:51 that repeats a B-Bm-A-E cycle as a way back to A major. The opening theme returns here, slightly abbreviated. for the "finale." The modulating F7 part returns, this time preceded by a defined shift to A minor that was absent the first time. (The melody in the violins is the same, but the underlying notes in the cello and viola that shape the A minor weren't there in the beginning. It's a small but interesting example of how the same melody can have a different harmonic feel with a slight shift in the accompanying notes.)
The same E major dueling as in Section 1 starts, but we don't stay in E major very long before shifting back to A major with some I-ii-iii-IV walkups. The movement ends with alternating violin 1 and 2 runs before ending on A.
I recorded the violin 1 part first. I pretty much had trouble in all of the spots I thought I would. There are sixteenth note flourishes at the beginning and some longer sixteenth note runs in the second half that, even at the slower pace I picked, were extremely fast. I also realized after my first pass that I was playing the rhythm on the opening theme incorrectly and had in fact been practicing it incorrectly. I fixed it but I was fighting my muscle memory.
I did the cello and viola in the same session, as they were both easy, being mostly quarter notes with only two very short fast descending passages.
The violin 2 part was harder than i anticipated and I only barely finished it in my final 2.5 hour session. This movement is on average maybe slightly easier than the violin 1, but there are 3 passages (at 0:54, 1:54, and 2:36) that are more difficult than anything in violin 1. There are lots of fast passages that harmonize with the violin 1, which required some attention to ensure they were synced.
Both sections of this movement are marked with repeats, but I opted to not play them.
Allabreve means cut time or 2/2 meter. Cut time usually used for conducting in 2 for Marches, or to make reading the music easier. Modern usage usually implies "fast" but it apparently didn't always.
Movement 2 - Andante
Key : E
Time: 2/4 BPM=75
This movement is in two parts built around two main ideas: a short-short-long motif and sixteenth note triplets (i.e. 6 notes per beat). All the melodic work is done in the violins, with the viola and cello just playing eighth notes.
Part 1 is in E and is pretty harmonically simple, alternating between E and B for a pretty standard I-V progression. There's one quick F# chord at the end of the section, which is non-diatonic to the key but is foreshadowing part 2's modulation to B major.
Part 2 uses the same rhythmic ideas and progression as part 1, with the opening of part 2 basically just the beginning again but in the new key of B. It quickly returns to the home key of E.
Both part 1 and part 2 repeat.
I, uncharacteristically, kept the repeats in this movement as it's really short.
The violin 1 went pretty well. There's three really difficult measures in the back half with quick sixteenth note triplets, some tricky string crossings, and some half-position shifts. E major is a slightly annoying key for the mandolin because you can't play the open D string but this movement only passes that tone a few times.
I had no issues with the extremely easy viola and cello which I basically one-taked.
Violin 2 was a challenge. The sixteenth note triplets in violin 2, slightly different in rhythm than in violin 1, were hard to sync up. Some of the triplets are on not on the downbeats and I think I inherited some rhythmic issues from violin 1. And there's one run in the back half that is absolutely the hardest part in this entire quartet. Took me many many tries to get a decent take. It ended up being... acceptable, I guess but I was running short on time and didn't want to do 57 takes to get something only a few percentage points better.
If I had to do it again, I would probably set the metronome to the eighth note at 150 (twice as fast) to help me sync up the 16th note triplets.
Movement 3 - Minuet
Key : A
Time: 3/4 BPM= Eighth note 225
This movement is the most harmonically structured and rigid of the piece, generally having a chord change per measure. The movement is built around A E F#m E D A Bm E progression which repeats 11 times, with two brief departures at 0:34 and 1:14.
There are two main melodic ideas, the first (right at the start) built around a triplet feel and the second (around 0:14) a long-short-long rhythmic figure. The harmonic progression shifts very slightly under the second melody, with the fourth chord (E major) being replaced with it's relative minor, C#m.
This one isn't as violin heavy as the previous two, with all the instruments making melodic contributions and the viola and cello taking over the main melody at 0:42.
This movement was by far the easiest in the piece for the violins, though they have some tricky offbeat passages at 1:00 and 1:19. I did have little trouble locking in to the click on those sections because at BPM 225 the beats go by really quickly and the default ProTools downbeat is a rather subtle variation on the other beats. The feel is also kind of elusive (and I didn't know what it was supposed to sound like). For violin 2 I ended up muting the other instruments and just using the click for those sections.
The cello and viola parts are a step up in difficulty compared to the first two movements, but still nothing too difficult.