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Music from fiddles fit for an emperor

Updated: 2021-05-08 08:36 ( China Daily )
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Violinists (from left) Weigang Li, Angelo Xiang Yu, violist Honggang Li and cellist Nicholas Tzavar of Shanghai Quartet.[Photo provided to China Daily]

It does not necessarily come with the ostentation of booming drums or the sound of trumpets, but for many of its lovers that is just what gives chamber music its appeal.

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3, is a four-movement piece by Joseph Haydn popularly known as Emperor. The piece, completed in 1797, was Haydn's last complete set of string quartets and provided the melody for the national anthems of both Austria from 1797-1918 and Germany since 1922.

When the Mila Quartet, a string group consisting of Zhu Ke and Ci Huan, both violinists, Liu Zhangjuan, a violist, and Lyu Xinyang, a cellist, prepared to perform at the concert hall of Tianjin Juilliard School last October, the players decided to set themselves the challenging task of performing Haydn's Emperor.

It would be the quartet's debut after it had been formed five months earlier. By autumn the four musicians were studying for the US-accredited, two-year master of music degree in chamber music at Tianjin Julliard School as the first fellowship string quartet.

"That piece of music by Haydn is a touchstone of a string quartet's potential," says the violinist Zhu Ke. "We wanted to put on our best performance as a string quartet with that piece of music, and we succeeded."

The piece is also in the repertoire for their first national tour, which opened with a performance in Shanghai on April 23 and in Quanzhou, Fujian province, on April 24, and that will take them to Nanchang, Jiangxi province, on May 22, and Xiamen, Fujian province, on May 23.

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