From the Monkey Mountains

Quartets of Pavel Haas by the Kocian Quartet: a must

Haas Kocian

Of all Leoš Janáček’s pupils, Pavel Haas (Brno 1899 – Auschwitz 1944) managed best to combine his teacher’s influence with his very own musical language.

Haas stil filmStill from the film ‘Der Fuehrer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt’. The man on the right is Pavel Haas, who is actually listening to his Study for Strings performed by the Ghetto Orchestra © United States Holocaust Museum
© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ivan Vojtech Fric

Haas was a big jazz fan and he also composed a lot of theatre and film music. The latter partly under the influence of his brother, a well-known film actor. His greatest love, however, was Moravian folk music.

The second string quartet, nicknamed ‘From the Monkey Mountains’, is an open declaration of love to Moravia. The music is programmatic, meaning that without using words, something (in this case the beauty of nature) is described in a narrative way.

Parts one and three are extremely melodious and agonizingly beautiful. In the second and fourth movements, a certain dissonance can be detected and they strongly remind me of Janáček’s Second String Quartet, composed three years later.

Haas originally composed the fourth movement for a jazz band, but the reviews of the premiere made him decide to change it. On these recordings, two percussionists were added to the string quartet. A masterstroke.

The third string quartet, already composed in 1938, was performed for the first time in January 1946, two years after the composer’s death.

Here is the string quartet in the version of the Pavel Haas Quartet:

The performance by the Kocian Quartet is very expressive, sparkling, and where necessary, wistful. This recording is almost twenty years old, but still unsurpassed. Not that they have much competition…….If only I could convince all chamber music lovers that they should buy this wonderful CD!

Haas stolperstein in Brno

                                                                                   Stolperstein for Pavel Haas in Brno

Pavel Haas
String quartets nrs. 1-3 (complete)
Kocian Quartet
Praga PRD 250 118