Giovanni Battista Viotti
String Quartet in B Flat Major, G.113
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) was probably the greatest violin virtuoso of the 18th century. He is generally regarded as the precursor to Paganini, not only in his development of violin technique but also in his use of Italian vocal melody in instrumental music. Viotti was a student of Gaetano Pugnani one of the greatest violinists of the first part of the 18th century. He toured throughout Europe eventually settling in Paris where he lived for many years before moving to London where he stayed until his death.
The String Quartet in B Flat Major, G.113 is one of a set of three which were composed around 1815 and published in Paris two years later. They are concertante quartets, that is written in a style where one voice has the solo and the others have a simple accompaniment rather than more complex supporting harmonies, the style pioneered by Haydn. But these three are among the best of their type. Each instrument is given solos throughout and Viotti's gift for lovely melodies is everywhere apparent.
In four movements, the quartet begins with an introductory Larghetto, which is quite unusual for featuring three short cadenzas, one after another (first the 1st Violin, then the 2nd Violin, then the cello) before the main part of the movement Tempo giusto gets under way. The lovely melody reminds one that it was Viotti upon whom Paganini built. The second movement, Andante, is the least concertante in style of the four movements and more in the harmonic style pioneered by the Vienna Classical Composers. It is a theme with a lovely set of variations. Our sound-bite is from a variation in the minor where each instrument has its say. The third movement, a Minuetto, begins with an interesting stutter-step rhythm and has a somewhat sad quality to it. The finale, Allegretto, once again, gives us an example of the kind writing we associate with Paganini--but, of course, it was Paganini who learned from Viotti and not the other way around. The First Violin presents the opening theme with the Viola giving a jaunty rejoinder. Later, we hear the cello bring forth the lovely second theme high in its tenor register.
This quartet is not only fun to play and to hear, it is strong enough to be presented in concert by those groups wishing to perform a contemporary alternative to the Vienna composers.