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Music with a London flavourHaydn, Mozart, Pleyel and Devienne, played on period instruments

The London Abel Quartet

William Summers                       Flute
Diane Moore                                Violin
Diane Terry                                  Viola
Ibrahim Aziz                                 ‘Cello

A flute quartet is equivalent to a string quartet, but with the first violin replaced by a flute.  Its repertoire mainly spans the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, bridging the period between the lessening use of continuo and the pre-eminence of the piano, reflecting also the changes in the instruments themselves, at a time of both musical and political ferment.

The London Abel Quartet was formed initially for a project at the British Museum, exploring the use of bass viol instead of viola in the works of JC Bach and Abel.  For later repertoire a viola is used – as we do tonight.

Ignace Pleyel (1757 – 1831) – Quartet no. 2 opus 41, in F
Allegro – Andante con Variazioni (Six)

Pleyel admired, studied and collaborated with Haydn from 1772.  He worked is Strasbourg from 1784, and, like Haydn gained a popular following in London in 1791-2.  He returned to Strasbourg, where he ran into trouble with the new revolutionary establishment, and then to Paris, where he set up a flourishing publishing business in 1795.

This quartet dates from the earlier period in Pleyel’s life. Clearly written in a late Classical idiom, it contains periodic flashes of harmonic intensity in the first movement which seem to indicate both the revolutionary tenor of the times and the change to the new Romantic style.  After these prescient glimpses, the second movement spins a simple theme through changes of instrumentation including chirruping offbeat commentaries and driving demisemiquavers.  It is for the listener to decide whether this marks a return to Classical balance or a last desperate dance before impending upheaval.

Francois Devienne (1759 – 1803) – Duo 6 for Viola and Flute
Allegro Maestoso – Rondo Grazioso

Devienne is the quartet’s favourite obscure composer.  Writing extensively for the bassoon and the flute, on which he regularly featured as a soloist, he successfully integrates these instruments into the more established genres of string quartet and concerto.  Like Telemann, he wrote for many unusual combinations of instruments, including this example from a set of six.  The straightforward theme in the first movement is given added pungency by the combination of runs in the flute part underpinned by powerful chords in the viola’s alto register, and this unusual texture lends depth to the more conventional Rondo which follows.

Devienne’s career encompassed several military bands and orchestras as well as that of the main masonic lodge in Paris and the Concert Spiritual there.  He worked both as an orchestral player and soloist, and is best known today for raising the standard of composition for wind instruments and becoming the first Professor of Flute at the Paris Conservatoire when it was established in 1795.

Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) – Quartet in G, Hob, II no. 1
Vivace – Andante moderato – Minuetto, Trio – Fantasia moderato, con variazioni

Haydn is celebrated as a composer in all the main genres of his time, and is particularly revered for his extensive oeuvre of string quartets – some of which are scored for flute as an alternative to the first violin.  He visited London in 1790-91, where themes from his symphonies were darned into socks, but this particular work was written in 1766, when he was employed by the Esterhazy family. By this time, Haydn had already gained fame as a composer despite his isolated circumstances.  This piece is described as ‘Cassation’ in some sources, and this seems to have indicated a light-hearted piece in a popular style.  The use of the flute may have been intended to rehabilitate the court flautist, who was in disgrace after having accidentally burnt down a house, and the work as a whole is charming and perfectly balanced, with the flute taking periodic, well-behaved solos as well as giving way gracefully to the other instruments.


Francois Devienne – Quartetto 2 in D
Allegro – Adagio Cantabile – Rondo Allegretto

Devienne’s quartet has many of the same gestures as the preceding piece, but with less contrapuntal complexity and more focus on the flute.  The Adagio in particular marks a departure from the Classical style, anticipating the style of the Romantic concerto.  The final movement is a kind of expanded scherzo in mood, albeit in Rondo form.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) – Quartett in D, K 285
Allegro – Adagio – Rondo

Like his senior Haydn, Mozart visited London in 1764-5, mainly in search of new patronage.  There he met JC Bach, whose fluent melodic style became a lifelong influence.  JC Bach also wrote flute quartets, although he may have replaced the viola with a bass viol.  This flute quartet was composed in Mannheim in 1777.

The opening of the first movement is very similar to that of his flute concerto in the same key.  The Adagio is more concise in form than the slow movement of Devienne’s quartet, and the last movement if a joyful exposition of vigorous themes worthy of an operatic overture.  Just as in his operas, the sheer brightness of Mozart’s writing can sometimes indicate its opposite, given the careful balance of themes and textures, and this work anticipates and perhaps supersedes the flashes of darkness apparent in the rest of the programme.

The London Abel Quartet

William Summers, Baroque flute, was born and educated in Richmond, before studying music at the School of Music Colchester Institute and Trinity College of Music.  Since then, he has played early flute and recorder music regularly with leading regional Baroque orchestras, and runs regular concerts of early music in historic venues, particularly in South West London – see  www.lokimusic.co.uk, and is researching 18th century music in London and Hampton Court Palace.  William has contributed to television dramas including Poldark and Hunderby

Diane Moore, Baroque violin, went to Chethams School of Music and Cambridge University.  She subsequently specialised in Baroque violin with Simon Standage (Royal Academy of Music) and with Enrice Gatti (Scuola Civica, Milan).  She has performed and recorded with many British period-instrument orchestras including The EMglish Consort, The Sixteen and the Academy of Ancient Music, and many continental orchestras.  Diane is a core member of Duo Folia, Folia and The Purcell Players.

Diane Terry, viola, is a music graduate of Nottingham University, then studied the Baroque violin with Simon Standage, Ingrid Siefert, Micaela Comberti and Elizabeth Wilcock.  She plays regularly with leading period ensembles.  Her other musical projects take her into the field of contemporary music folk music – singing and conducting as well as playing.  She is currently working on an overseas educational development programme in the Far East.

Ibrahim Aziz, ‘cello, originally from Kuala Lumpur, has made London his home since 1999.  He studied the viola da gamba with Alison Crum, and Baroque ‘cello with Susan Sheppard at Trinity College of Music, where he was Gold Medallist.  Ibrahim plays (mostly) English consort music with the Rose Consort of Viols.  He has recorded CDs of Baroque chamber music and concertos with the Oxford-based ensemble Charivari Agreable, and has worked also with La Nuova Musica, Concerto Cristofori, and fortepianist Sharona Joshua.  Ibrahim co-founded the Chelys Consort of Viols, whose second CD on BIS records with Dame Emma Kirkby has just been released.

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