HANS KRÁSA – The String Quartet

Hans Krása [1899-1944] was an Early Modern  Czech composer, murdered during the Holocaust at Auschwitz. He only wrote one string quartet, in 1921.

The work opens in a slightly dissonant manner, with furtive atonal phrases, at a slow tempo, but then quickens, leading to a dialogue between the violins. We now return to the opening feeling. The ensemble picks up on a melodic motif and deconstructs it. The cello probes with a call and response pattern together with all instruments involved. That motif returns and is subject to rhythmic interjections. A pause brings another change, this time a morose passage with a conspicuous violin; the mood is abstract. New motifs are introduced and the ensemble briefly works its way into a frenzy; it doesn’t last. Now a beautiful melody appears, although it is still quite sullen. The end comes with a violin note, way up in a high register.

The second movement features a cello and violin ostinato, which appears, disappears and constantly reappears. A lamenting violin now takes precedence, this is a fine moment. The composer moves on, into a propulsive section. Now, we have a return to a stunning rubato mood, which is very abstract. The cello intervenes, setting up a tempo with a pulsing motif; this causes the violins to break free, before settling back into a cello supported phase.  A pause returns to the opening theme and feeling, which is subject to ensemble interjections. The violin attempts to keep up with the melody, but is overwhelmed. Its last repeat leads to a solo violin end.

The final movement, marked lento, commences with a violin in the low register, before it is gradually joined by the ensemble. This leads to a splendid passage, very peaceful and longing. The cello rises into its high register; such a serene sound. A pause continues the very measured mood, there is little movement here. Suddenly, a pizzicato pop is heard, and the music moves into tempo, with the cello providing great support. After a bit of frantic activity, the morose feeling returns and a lone violin plays a lamenting melody. The second violin joins in to harmonise with the first violin and the music is now just two violins. Not for long however, as the cello leads the ensemble into an energised, abstract section. Again, not for long and the status quo is resumed; two violins expressing over a sombre accompaniment, notwithstanding the occasional frantic interjection. The violins are very longing, and the cello purrs with a violin to conclude.

My review copy has the quartet paired with two string quartets by Pavel Haas, including the magnificent From Monkey Mountains in the Entartete (degenerate) Music series, performed by the Hawthorne String Quartet. It is still available on Amazon US and sometimes UK. In any event, there are several versions of the work available, with different pairings. It is on Spotify, YouTube and earsense, which also has a link to Krasa’s Theme and Variations for String Quartet. This piece is a little more conservative.

Listenability: Fine, serious Early Modern work.


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