Listen to the Ciompi Quartet

by Christopher Toenes on September 29, 2010

An unfinished portrait of Mozart by his brother-in-law, Joseph Lange

As traditions go, the music of Mozart has proven to be an elastic but intrinsically steadfast touchstone. You might say the same thing of the Ciompi Quartet, the 45-year-old institution comprised of Duke University professors. On Saturday, October 2, the Ciompi Quartet will play Mozart’s “String Quartet in D Major, K. 499,” often called “Hoffmeister” after Mozart’s friend who published it in 1786, alongside complementary works by Shostakovich, Webern, and Smetana. In the music and the vibrant ensemble, timelessness and the breath of modern life will recombine.

Ciompi Quartet

“Hoffmeister” has a beautiful and stately demeanor, but it debuted to less fanfare than the six quartets Mozart had completed not long before and named for his friend Joseph Haydn. It possesses more polyphonic characteristics than many works of its time, which may be a hint at why it is more embraced today. “Hoffmeister” is great as an entry point for classical music novices, like old glass suffused with new light, reminding us that every new thing out in music-land today was in some way already conceived centuries ago by some mad genius with a quill. This is how classical music remains exciting, especially when handled with the fine touch of an ensemble like Ciompi, who draw out its power to produce epiphanies of insight and comprehension in generation after generation of music lovers, even as more radical innovations flow by. You can hear some highlights from the Ciompi Quaret’s 2009 season below.

From Beethoven’s “String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6″

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From Chiayu Hsu’s “Journey to the West”

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From Dvorak’s “String Quartet No. 11 in C Major, Op. 61″

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