In search of the sources II: Boston
During his investigations into the meaning and performance practice of works of
the Second Viennese School, Henk Guittart came across the old recordings of the
This Quartet gave the first performances of most of the Second Viennese School
string quartets, in close collaboration with Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Fascinated
by the possibility of obtaining information first-hand, Guittart attended a course
given in 1977 by Rudolf Kolisch in the house in Mödling, near Vienna, where
Schoenberg had lived. Given Kolisch's inability to communicate with students who
were not yet at home in this repertoire, it was a terrible disappointment. Several
years later Robert Mann advised him, as already mentioned, to make contact with
Eugene Lehner, another member of the Kolisch Quartet. Following a renewed bout
of study in Los Angeles, Guittart travelled on to Boston, where he met Lehner.
The latter agreed to coach the Schoenberg Quartet and exactly one year later the
Quartet embarked on its first sessions with Lehner. From 1983 to 1989 the Quartet
worked through the entire repertoire of the Second Viennese School with Lehner.
The quartet's warm memories of those sittings could fill a book. Asked why the
quartet and Lehner were so immediately compatible, Wim de Jong volunteers a number
of several answers. "In America he was seldom asked to teach this repertoire.
He did give lessons, but he was always approached for the music of Bartók.
His contact with us reminded him of his earlier days. For him it was therefore
natural that he spoke German with us, even though he could obviously just as well
have spoken English. It was a very special relationship. That man was this music.
His lessons actually confirmed what we were already doing. That's why it so greatly
aroused his passion. From his own past he recognised our approach to the music.What
we learned from him didn't have so much to do with technique - at the most he
might occasionally say, that would be better played up bow - as with musical perception.
Making music, that was what it was all about. Sometimes he would say let me dance
it out, upon which he would demonstrate the movement of the music." Janneke
van de Meer also remembers that Lehner was primarily concerned with the expressive
power of the music. "He gave few technical instructions. He always talked
about the expression of the music. One thing I found quite funny, because it also
came up in Baroque performance around the same time, was the light emphasis, an
agogic accent, on the first beat of the measure. That was also strongly characteristic
of his own playing. He had a telling way of playing, vastly different from the
horizontal singing that string players have come to favour more and more."
Hans Woudenberg's recollections are similar. "Lehner was totally focused
on the search for freedom of musical expression. He had absorbed the entire classical
string quartet repertoire to such a degree that he was able to say, I have lived
for so long with this music that it feels as if I have written it myself. Please
do not regard this as arrogance or a vain illusion, but indeed as a sign of my
unbounded love for what has become the true substance of my life. I shall never
forget how we studied Berg's Opus 3 with him. At the end there is a passage for
solo cello marked ganz frei zu gestalten, or something like that. Lehner said,
the point at which it really starts getting difficult is when it has to be free.
I'll never forget the mobility of his face. When we started working with him he
was already about eighty, but when we played his face took on a youthful look.
If he then went on to sing or dance something - and he did that too - his face
became incredibly expressive whereby he illustrated the music, as it were, and
we immediately understood his meaning. A really special quality of his was that
he managed to reach into the core of every one of us. In that way he managed to
get the best out of us and for him we played at our best."