Alexander Zemlinsky, String Quintet in d minor

Alexander Zemlinsky Zemlinky began work on his String Quintet in d minor in 1894. Simultaneously, he was working on a symphony, a string quartet and a trio for clarinet, cello and piano which became his Opus 3. By 1896 he had only completed two movements. Sketches to the two final movements are said to have existed but were lost and have yet to surface. After completing the second movement, he put the quintet down and did not return to it, and after meeting Schoenberg, under whose influence he fell, his style completely changed and he apparently did not wish to compose in what had become to those of the Second Vienna School, old fashioned music. The opening movement, Allegro, is written on a large scale. It is dramatic, passionate, stormy and turbulent and often comes close to breaking the bounds of chamber music and rises to a feverish almost orchestral pitch. There are many contrasting, lyrical episodes which are sweet and warm. The second movement, Prestissimo, mit humor, appears to have been conceived as the quintet’s scherzo. It is lively, exciting and genial. It, too, at times pushes the boundaries of chamber music and inches toward the orchestral. Even though there are only two movements, the scale on which the quintet was written has made it as long as a standard three or four movement work.

During his lifetime, Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) was very highly regarded not only as a composer but also as a teacher and conductor. His works are an authentic testimony of the turbulent developments in music between 1890 and 1940. He stands between times and styles but in this intermediary position he found a rich, unmistakable, musical language. His personality and work epitomize one of the most fascinating epochs of art in Europe. Zemlinsky was born in Vienna. His musical talent became evident at an early age and he was enrolled at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Konservatorium (Conservatory of the Society of the Friends of Music) when he was 13 years old. There he studied piano and composition. He was greatly influenced by Johannes Brahms, who at the time was serving as President of the Gesellschaft. Not much later, Zemlinsky also met Arnold Schoenberg. The two became close friends. Zemlinsky gave Schoenberg lessons in counterpoint, thus becoming the only formal music teacher Schoenberg would have. Later, Schonberg married Zemlinsky's sister. By 1900, Zemlinsky was firmly established as an important, though not a leading, musical figure in Vienna. He worked both as a composer and conductor. However, though he did well, he was unable to achieve the major success he had hoped for and therefore left for Prague in 1911. In Prague, he held the important post of opera conductor of the Deutsches Landestheater until 1927. He became well-known as a perceptive interpreter of Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and Schoenberg. In 1927, he moved to Berlin to take up a position as a conductor of a major opera house. In 1933, he returned to Vienna where he remained until 1938, before emigrating to New York.

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