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WORKS: String Quartets
PERFORMER: Arditti Quartet; Dietrich Fischer-Diskau (speaker)
CATALOGUE NO: 465 139-2
Peter Ruzicka, born in 1948, belongs to the generation of German composers who not only inherited their predecessors’ disllusionment with the achievements of total serialism, but also grew up to question the whole notion of producing a finished, definitive masterpiece in a musical world that had become so fragmented and stylistically ill-defined. There’s something provisional about much of Ruzicka’s music; it’s constantly punctuated by silences, from which tentative ideas develop, only to lose their way and disappear again. The occasional outbursts seem like desperate attempts to impose order, to come with something definitive, and in the first of his quartets, Introspezione from 1969, the use of quotations from earlier epochs – from Beethoven’s Op 135, Pfitzner’s Second Quartet, Webern’s Bagatelles Op 9 – would seem like nostalgia for the certainties that had been lost, if the context for them was not so ambiguous.


The second quartet, ‘…fragment…’ written immediately afterwards, again resorts to quotation (Mahler’s Tenth Symphony), but this is an epigrammatic work of five movements, the longest less than three minutes, with a quotations from the poet Paul Celan prefacing the set; the third, …über ein Verschwinden (‘… about a disappearance’) quotes from Mahler again (the Ninth, this time) in the course of a long meditation on death that is sometimes as violent as it is elusive. In ‘…sich verlierend’ (1996) the quotations are entirely verbal, and the strings’ fugitive gestures are overlaid on a mosaic of spoken extracts (delivered on this remarkable performance by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, no less) which range from Valéry and Hoffmanstahl to Adorno and Wittgenstein; it’s intriguing and at times terrifying music. Andrew Clements