MENDELSSOHN: Piano Quartets Nos. 2 and 3
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Piano Quartet No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 2
Piano Quartet No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 3
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the great Jewish thinker of the Enlightenment, was born in Hamburg in 1809, the son of a prosperous banker. His family was influential in cultural circles, and he and his sister were educated in an environment that encouraged both musical and general cultural interests. At the same time the extensive acquaintance of the Mendelssohns among artists and men of letters brought an unusual breadth of mind, a stimulus to natural curiosity.
Much of Mendelssohn's childhood was passed in Berlin, where his parents moved when he was three, to escape Napoleonic invasion. There he took lessons from Goethe's much admired Zelter, who introduced him to the old poet in Weimar. The choice of a career in music was eventually decided on the advice of Cherubini, consulted by Abraham Mendelssohn in Paris, where he was director of the Conservatoire. There followed a period of further education, a Grand Tour of Europe that took him south to Italy and north to Scotland. His professional career began in earnest with his appointment as general director of music in Düsseldorf in 1833.
Mendelssohn's subsequent career was intense and brief. He settled in Leipzig as conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, and was instrumental in establishing the Conservatory there. Briefly lured to Berlin by the King of Prussia and by the importunity of his family, he spent an unsatisfactory year or so as director of the music section of the Academy of Arts, providing music for a revival of classical drama under royal encouragement. This appointment he was glad to relinquish in 1844, later returning to his old position in Leipzig, where he died in 1847.
As a composer Mendelssohn possessed a perfect technical command of the resources available to him and was always able to write music that is felicitous, apt and often remarkably economical in the way it achieves its effects. Mendelssohn had, like the rest of his family, accepted Christian baptism, a ceremony Heine once described as a ticket of admission into European culture. Nevertheless he encountered anti-Semitic prejudice, as others were to, and false ideas put about in his own life-time have left some trace in modern repetitions of accusations of superficiality for which there is no real justification.
Mendelssohn's three piano quartets were written in childhood. The second, the Piano Quartet in F minor, Opus 2, was written in 1823, a year after the first, and dedicated to his teacher Zelter. The strings start the first movement, before the piano adds its own more extended comment. It is the piano that introduces the A flat major second subject, based on the descending scale. The piano part gives an appearance of virtuosity, with complications of hand-crossing to impress an audience. The strings, violin, viola and then cello, lead back, as the central development comes to an end, to the recapitulation and final more rapid coda. The piano opens the D flat major Adagio, with its shifts of tonality, and its hushed conclusion is followed by an Intermezzo, taking the place of a Minuet or Scherzo, and opening in the mood of a gentle rondo. The last movement starts with a lively violin theme, taken up by the piano and providing the basis for much that follows.
The Piano Quartet No. 3 in B minor, Opus 3, was written in 1824 and 1825 and dedicated to Goethe. It represents a still more confident and mature handling of the chosen medium. The piano starts the Allegro molto first movement, joined then by the strings and there is an interesting bridge passage leading to the piano introduction of the D major second subject and a livelier coda, preceding the central development section. Fragments of the first subject lead to the final recapitulation, with its B major second subject and B minor coda. The slow movement is an E major Andante with interesting twists of harmony, while the following F sharp minor Allegro molto, with its contrasting B major central section, suggests something of the gossamer world of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The quartet ends with a vigorous final Allegro vivace, which contains a closing reference to the first movement and again a significant amount of passage-work for the piano, a feature of these early compositions, suggesting the circumstances of their composition and intended first performance at home. It was, however, this quartet that, coupled with the obvious wealth of the Mendelssohn family, convinced Cherubini of the viability of a musical career for the boy. He perceived in the work, however, a wealth of musical ideas, prodigally displayed, if Mendelssohn did \met trop d'étoffe dans son habit".
Bartholdy Piano Quartet
The Bartholdy Piano Quartet was founded by the violinist Jörg-Wolfgang Jahn in 1968. He himself was born in Saalfeld and studied the violin in Cologne and chamber music with the Quartetto Italiano in Venice. He is joined in the quartet by the Hamburg-born viola-player Matthias Buchholz, who studied both in his native city and in the United States of America, where he was a member of the Ridge Quartet and a prize-winner in various international competitions. The cellist Franco Rossi, born in Venice, studied there and in Florence and in 1945 was a foundation member of the Quartetto Italiano, enjoying a distinguished international career. The pianist of the Bartholdy Piano Quartet is Pier Narciso Masi, a native of Siena, who trained as a musician in Florence and in Rome. He was for ten years the leader of the Quartetto Brahms and has performed duo repertoire with, among others, Pino Carmirelli, Salvatore Accardo, Uto Ughi and Franco Rossi.