General information
Title CZSmyčcový kvartet č. 3
Title ENString Quartet No. 3
Title DEStreichquartett Nr. 3
Title FRQuatuor à cordes n° 3
CategoryChamber Music
SubcategoryString Quartets
Halbreich number183
Parts of the composition (movements)1. Allegro; 2. Andante; 3. Vivo
InstrumentsVl Vl Vla Vc
Diplomatic transcription of the dedicationAu Quatuor Roth
Note on the dedicationDedication on the first page of the printed score.
Place of compositionParis
Year of origin1929
Initiation of composition1929
Completion of composition10.12.1929
First performance
Location of the first performanceUSA
Ensemble Quatuor Roth
Roth Quartet
Autograph deposition
InstitutionBohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička
OwnerCentrum Bohuslava Martinů v Poličce
Note on the autograph depostitionPrinted score (1931) with autograph dedication to Miloš Šafránek also located at the Bohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička.
CopyrightÉditions Alphonse Leduc, Paris
Purchase linkbuy
Éditions Alphonse Leduc, Paris, 1931
Call number at the BM Institute: 1226, 1226a
Specification of the edition: 1st edition of score
Details of this edition
Éditions Alphonse Leduc, Paris, 1979
Call number at the BM Institute: 1166
Specification of the edition: Rerpint of the 1st edition; parts + pocket score
Details of this edition
References Related writings
Documents in the Library
Note Probable European premiere: Paris (SMI), 20.04.1932, Quatuor Roth. *** Title on the first page of the autograph: "III. Quatuor".
About the composition

String Quartet No. 3 is dedicated to the Roth Quartet, an ensemble principally celebrated for their interpretation of contemporary music. Three of its members were pupils of the legendary Jenö Hubay. Perhaps the very idea that the work would be premiered by this ensemble may have led Martinů to write a highly experimental piece which was unlike anything else he had produced to date. Lasting only 12 minutes, it is the shortest of all his quartets.

The music of Quartet No. 3 hovers on the border between tonality and atonality, crossing occasionally from one side to the other. Even the partially tonal sections contain a high degree of sharp dissonance. Also uncharacteristic for Martinů is the measure of objectivity of expression which, particularly in both outer movements, is firmly established in defiance of the occasional flashes of more fervent, clearly defined tonal music. He achieves this effect, among other things, by oscillating between the distinctive rich, warm sound of the strings and the abundant use of techniques which shorten the length of the note, in particular, the liberal use of pizzicato, applying the bow as close to the bridge as possible (sul ponticello), or tapping the string with the stick of the bow instead of the hair (col legno) etc. In its inventive approach to sound and emphasis on rhythm rather than melody, this work tends to evoke non-European music, rather than the customary Western aesthetic canon common until that time.

The start of the first movement Allegro introduces clear examples of some of the above-mentioned techniques – soft, dark pizzicata combined with the whisks of wood on string, creating a complex rhythmical weave. Above a regular base, Martinů introduces the first of his flamboyant, short, melodic flourishes. After this introduction, the violin enters with a short, more rhythmical than melodic pentatonic melody which is immediately developed. Martinů then gradually builds up the material, the movement culminates in an arc and slowly winds down to end in pianissimo with a variant of the introductory bar. The second movement Andante is far more subjective and tonally more explicit than both outer movements, expressing a kind of lamento, full of subdued pathos. The third movement Vivo begins and ends “in C” and is distinctive for its dynamic movement and uninterrupted succession of tonally ambiguous scales.  These only come to a halt for a moment in the middle of the movement when, above an ostinato figure, the violin plays a strange “spinning-wheel” melody using harmonics (flageolet notes) which weave chromatically in and out of the central tone of “C”. The work was premiered in the USA in 1930 by the Roth Quartet, and the first European performance was given by the same artists in Paris in April 1932.

Aleš Březina, programme of the Prague Spring's concert, 20. 5. 2003

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