Archive for March, 2012

Édouard Lalo, Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 7

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Édouard Lalo, 1823-1892

Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 7, 1850

Edouard Lalo Although Lalo’s lasting reputation is based primarily on operatic and orchestral compositions, he demonstrated a lifelong passion for chamber music. He played violin and viola and was the founding member of the Armingaud Quartet, established in 1855 with the mission of introducing the chamber music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann to a French public largely obsessed with grand opera. During the 1850’s, Lalo was among the first French composers to take up chamber music composition, ultimately producing three piano trios, a violin sonata, a cello sonata and a string quartet. Although these compositions are generally outside of the traditional repertoire, they are all fine works that deserve more exposure. (more…)

Carl Nielsen, String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44, 1906/1919

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Carl Nielsen, 1865-1931

String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44, 1906, revised in 1919

Carl NielsenThough Carl Nielsen was an exact contemporary of Jean Sibelius, his recognition and acceptance into the repertoire came much later. During the 1930’s, Sibelius was widely regarded as one of the great living composers while Nielsen would have been largely unknown outside of Denmark. It was primarily under the aegis and baton of Leonard Bernstein in the 1960’s that Nielsen came to light as another significant 20th century European composer now celebrated for his five symphonies, some concerti and a reasonable clutch of chamber compositions including four string quartets and a one-movement quintet. As with Sibelius, Nielsen’s style is largely rooted in late romantic tonality though marked by a more contemporary freedom of tonal migration (sometimes called “progressive tonality”) and well as relaxed formal plans. Beyond these vague generalizations, Nielsen’s music is well-crafted, superbly scored and very much of a unique, individual style. His final String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44 is a well-kept secret: rarely played but well worth appreciating. (more…)

Jean Sibelius, String Quartet in d minor, Op. 56, Voces intimae

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Jean Sibelius, 1865-1957

String Quartet in d minor, Op. 56, Voces intimae (Intimate Voices), 1909

Jean SibeliusAlthough there are literally dozens of noteworthy “Scandinavian” composers from the classical, romantic and especially modern eras, Grieg and Sibelius are apt to comprise the short list for most listeners. Sibelius was Finnish, technically not Scandinavian, though Finland is often referenced in a broader sense of Scandinavian culture. He experienced a vogue of international fame in the mid-20th century largely for his orchestral works including a celebrated cycle of seven symphonies and several tone poems representing Sibelius as a great Finnish nationalist. He was also prolific in composing chamber music though most of his quartets and trios remain outside the repertoire, regarded as “juvenilia”, house or even salon music in a light style for practical entertainment. The clear exception is the masterful String Quartet in d minor written by a 44-year-old Sibelius in 1909 just a few years after Carl Nielsen’s final quartet. The title “Intimate Voices” comes from an inscription over the staff in the third movement Adagio. (more…)

Haydn, String Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No 1

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

String Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No 1, 1799

1799 quietly witnessed a great turning point in the history of the string quartet. With Mozart gone, both an elderly Haydn and a young Beethoven were simultaneously working on a new set of string quartets: Haydn’s last and Beethoven’s first. On this noteworthy “passing of the baton”, the composers shared a common patron. A young Price Lobkowitz commissioned both composers around the same time. Beethoven’s Op. 18 was published at the end of 1801, Haydn’s Op. 77 in early 1802. It is no surprise that Haydn’s last quartets are often called “Beethovenian” just as Beethoven’s first quartets may be called “Haydnesque.” Together, they comprise a great high water mark of the mature Viennese style before Beethoven’s middle period expansion. And just as Beethoven’s quartets are “early”, hewing close to Haydn as a model, Haydn’s final quartets represent his own most modern, consolidated and polished efforts in the form with many forward looking aspects. (more…)