It came as a surprise to me to see a largely Indian-dominant audience attend a Western Classical concert performed by Hungary's famed Kodaly String Quartet here over the weekend.
Organised by the creative community of the Le Meridian, New Delhi and the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, the nearly hour-long evening of chamber music performed by the Budapest-based quartet was mesmerising and left most in the audience in awe of the skills shown on the violin, viola and the violon-cello.
The event was an interactive experience that allowed invited guests to have an overview of the famed Kodaly String Quartet.
The quartet of Attila Falvay, Erika Toth, Janos Fejervari and Gyorgy Eder left everyone in the audience spellbound by their renditions of Mozart in B flat major K 458 and Giuseppe Verdi's String Quartet in E minor, and encored with a George Gershwin composition titled "She Loves and He Loves".
Mozart in B flat major K 458 is also known as the "Hunt" because of the hunting-call motif that opens the work.
The B flat quartet is the fourth of six string quartets composed by Mozart 1782 and 1785. Over nine years separate the first of this group, K. 387 in G, from its predecessor among the quartets, K. 173 in D minor, composed in 1773.
At that time, the string quartet was a relatively new medium and still in the process of development. The string quartet owes its fame and recognition as the most challenging of all forms of composition to one man - Joseph Haydn.
Haydn and Mozart established a friendship based on mutual admiration, and the latter even paid a touching tribute to the older master, for his "long and laborious endeavor" in creating the string quartet form of composition. This coming from the master of classical musical felicity was a unique admission.
The B flat quartet is said to have been created between 1783 and 1784. Like all its companions, it is cast in four movements. The jaunty opening of the Allegro (hunting call) was followed by the Menuetto, the Adagio and the final Allegro Assai.
Giuseppe Verdi's String Quartet in E minor was created in 1872-73, when during the winter in Naples, Italy, he decided to overhaul the opera Don Carlos, and conducted several new revivals of other works, (including one of Aida) at the city's opera house.
It was during this period that Verdi began to sketch his string quartet, which he seems to have commenced purely as a study at first, and only began to take the project seriously when he realized that a substantial work was beginning to emerge.
Verdi biographer and scholar Julian Budden details the events surrounding the String Quartet in E Minor.
"On the evening of 1 April, friends of the composer were bidden to the Hotel delle Crocelle. There, in the foyer, they found four chairs and four music-stands of an eighteenth century design with candle attached. Four players entered and without a word of explanation began to play Verdi's String Quartet in E minor. To begin with Verdi seems to have regarded it as a private diversion...later he agreed to its publication."
The work comprises four substantial and technically demanding movements, and has been widely admired for the forcefulness of its musical ideas and its structural cohesion.
It opens with a powerful Allegro, with an urgently sculpted first group giving way to a somewhat more relaxed second subject. The slow movement, marked Andantino, brings the most vocally expansive and lyrical material, though even here one would hardly credit the work to a master of the opera stage with little prior experience of writing chamber music.
This was followed by a Prestissimo movement, unsettled and vehement in mood, while the finale contained a massive fugue illustrating Verdi's mastery of contrapuntal techniques.
After their performance, the globally acclaimed Kodaly String Quartet, which was formed in 1966, was given a huge round of applause by what turned out to be a very discerning and knowledgeable audience.
The quartet has over 50 recordings, including complete cycles of Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert for Naxos, to its credit.