Juan Crististomo Arriaga
String Quartet No.3 in E flat Major
Juan Cristostomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (1806-26) died shortly before his 20th birthday but during his short life showed tremendous promise. He was born in the Spanish-Basque city of Bilbao. His father was a part-time musician, and it did not escape his notice that Juan been born on the 50th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. As a result, the first two Christian names of both composers are the same. It is for this reason and his prodigious talent that Arriaga became known as the “Spanish Mozart.” Interestingly, his music sounds more like Schubert—whose music he was unlikely ever to have heard—–than that of either Mozart or Haydn.
A child prodigy, by age 10, he was playing 2nd violin in a professional string quartet and had written an Octet for String Quartet, Bass, Trumpet, Guitar and Piano. Like Mozart, Arriaga composed his first opera, Los Esclavos Felices (The Happy Slaves) at the age of 13. It was performed immediately and enjoyed considerable local success. Recognizing that their son was more than just talented, Arriaga’s parents decided to send him to Paris to further his musical education. There he studied violin with Baillot and composition with Fetis, the well-known music historian. Fetis later wrote that Arriaga mastered harmony in three months and counterpoint in under two years. By 1824, at the age of 18, Arriaga was appointed to teach harmony and counterpoint at the Conservatory. His three string quartets, which were composed during 1821-22 at the age of 15 and were the only works published during his lifetime.
The opening movement, Allegro, of String Quartet No. 3 begins restlessly as if it had begun in mid-phrase. The development section is a dialogue between the violins and cello. The second movement, Pastorale-Andantino, has for its main theme is a gentle and lilting lullaby. The extraordinary middle section is reminiscent of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony where a storm of great turbulence breaks loose. The cello and first violin trade outbursts to the pulsing tremolo in the inner voices. The storm starts to wane but then bursts forth yet again. At last it subsides and the gentle pastorale melody breaks forth. The following Menuetto shows the influence from Haydn. The finale, Presto agitato, opens in dramatic fashion with an attractive and dramatic melody. The fetching second theme sounds somewhat Spanish.