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Work of the Week: Olli Mustonen – String Quartet No. 1

Olli Mustonen’s first String Quartet receives its world premiere in Gravdal, Norway, on 12 July. The Engegård Quartet will perform the work as part of the Lofoten International Chamber Music Festival.

Mustonen’s works encompass a range of instrumentations, from pieces for solo piano (he is an in-demand pianist) to large symphonies. It seems appropriate for Mustonen, a composer rooted in the classical-romantic tradition, to finally take up the genre of the string quartet, which has remained a favoured but challenging branch of chamber music since Haydn.

Mustonen’s String Quartet No. 1: With passion and fire

Mustonen goes against the 20th century trend of re-structuring the string quartet. String Quartet No. 1 is classically structured in four movements and follows the tempi of 18th century quartets: the third movement is a slow Grave, whilst the fourth is Impetuoso, con passione e molto rubato and brought to a “firey” end. Melodies are alternated between different instruments as in classical quartets and there are thematic elements too. However, the quartet remains very firmly contemporary with a free use of tempo and harmony. The first movement contains the direction quasi senza tempo – “almost without tempo” – and includes a minimally accompanied viola cadenza, whilst only the second movement includes no changes in tempo.

Olli Mustonen is a postmodern composer building a bridge over Western classical music from baroque to minimalism, from late romanticism to the new spirituality of the 21st century. Music can capture the secret of life. Susanna Välimäki

This year’s Lofoten Festival has a programmatic focus on Mustonen. In addition to the premiere of his String Quartet, performances of Nonet No. 2, his Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet will be performed over 11-12 July, with the composer at the piano.


Photo: Engegård Quartet