Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Nationality: Czech
Born: September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, Bohema Died: May 1, 1904, Prague (age 62)

Piano Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 23, B. 53

(for violin, viola, cello and piano)
15:23 I. Allegro moderato
11:08 II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
7:45 III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
Duration: 33 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1875 (age 33-34)
Premiere: December 16, 1880. Prague. Vaclav Kopta, Petr Mares, Alois Neruda, Karel Slavkovsky
Published: 1880, Berlin. Schlesinger (age 38-39)
7 recordings, 19 videos
autoopen autoplay
15:16
Dvořák Piano Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
12:54
Dvořák Piano Quartet
II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
8:17
Dvořák Piano Quartet
III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
15:18
Vlach Quartet Prague
I. Allegro moderato
11:29
Vlach Quartet Prague
II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
7:40
Vlach Quartet Prague
III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
14:52
London Bridge Trio
I. Allegro moderato
10:41
London Bridge Trio
II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
7:25
London Bridge Trio
III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
16:16
Suk, et. al.
I. Allegro moderato
10:59
Suk, et. al.
II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
7:18
Suk, et. al.
III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
34:29
Suk Trio, Koďousek
15:33
Ensemble Raro
I. Allegro moderato
12:21
Ensemble Raro
II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
7:55
Ensemble Raro
III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
15:00
Ames Piano Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
9:41
Ames Piano Quartet
II. Andantino (Tema con variazioni)
7:51
Ames Piano Quartet
III. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
From Kai Christiansen

Antonín Dvořák, 1841-1904

Piano Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 23, 1875

Antonín DvořákDvořák composed his first piano quartet in 1875, the same year that Brahms composed his third and final work for the same ensemble. Dvořák was 34 with still merely a local reputation despite all his hard work. He was yet a few years away from his international "breakthrough" with the Slavonic Dances and even more years from what in hindsight are regarded as his mature chamber masterworks. Yet still, within a few measures of the opening, one can recognize Dvořák's distinctive musical personality. The initial themes of the first movement already suggest the folk-like modal simplicity some would associate with his "American" phase nearly two decades hence. Along with Dvořák's gift for lyricism and color, this early quartet demonstrates numerous evocations of Slavonic national character that give nearly all of Dvořák's work a special, novel cast when compared with every composer that preceded him (save Smetana). If one looks for any particularly youthful trait in this quartet, it might be sheer, undaunted ambition: with only three movements, the quartet is huge in scale with a confident if not overzealous generosity of musical content, perhaps even just a trace of self-indulgence and Schubert's self-absorbed propensity for "heavenly lengths."

The vast opening sonata has a wealth of themes that range from brief motives to winning melodies with a stormy romantic bravado sweeping in and out of view. Compared with the Mozart quartet, Dvořák's scoring is vastly different. The quartet works much more as a unity of individuals rather than a division between piano and strings. There is far less a sense of latent piano concerto with trio accompaniment due to both the overall integration of players as well as a much stronger independence of individual string parts, particularly the cello whose true individualism in chamber music comes only after Mozart. Yet Dvořák manages to provide a nearly classical balance of parts with a fully aerated texture, a feature Mozart might well have admired and found lacking in such composers as Mendelssohn or Brahms. What Dvořák adds to this classical balance is a vivid and ever-changing ensemble color that far exceeds the palettes of earlier composers save Schubert, a composer with whom Dvořák was intimately familiar and, from his own words, shared a kindred spirit.

The central movement is an extraordinary theme and variations that can't fail to suggest Dvořák's love for Schubert if not an immediate association with latter's "Death and the Maiden" variations for string quartet. The mood is somber and melancholy with tender but unfulfilled longings occasionally illuminating the gloom. A theme and variations is the ideal vehicle to explore every nook and cranny of textural possibilities if the composer's imagination is sufficient to the task. Dvořák succeeds admirably making this the plausible treasure of the entire quartet. Narrative interest, variety and shape are particularly challenging in a series of variations based in a minor key but Dvořák invests his musical story with fine attributes including a progressively growing sense of rhythmic lilt, a heartwarming bloom into a major key followed by an ever darker cooling down into a slightly oblique coda that breaks the final traces of momentum.

Dvořák's finale for this early chamber music foray appears at first to be a rather conventional rondo complete with a moderate allegretto triple meter and a light, easygoing theme. Sure enough, the skittering refrain recurs in periodic signposts that anchor the garlands of episodic development in between them. But Dvořák launches several additional balls in the air in this is somewhat peripatetic conclusion. The episodes ambitiously develop along sonata lines creating a much more dramatic tension than a typical rondo finale. At the same time, Dvořák seems compelled to emphasize the scherzando in his title as if to squeeze in the missing middle dance movement. There are quasi-humorous strong offbeat accents, rhythmic displacements and disintegrations that simultaneous summon the flavor of vigorous eastern European folk dances and a sort of rustic, virile humor found in Beethoven's music. A deft use of rapid scale passages and Dvořák's uncanny gift for ensemble color add yet additional layers to this busy box of music leaving the listener somewhat reeling for a focal point. He would eventually create some of the finest dance movements and finales chamber music had ever seen, but here, Dvořák might be considered still a bit green.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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