Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Nationality: German
Born: February 3, 1809, Hamburg Died: November 4, 1847, Leipzig (age 38)

String Quartet No. 4 in e minor, Op. 44, No. 2

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
9:16 I. Allegro assai appassionato
3:57 II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
6:10 III. Andante
6:31 IV. Presto agitato
Duration: 26 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1837 (age 27-28)
Premiere: October 29, 1837. Leipzig
Published: 1839, Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel (age 29-30)
Revised: 1839 (age 29-30)
Dedication: Crown Prince of Sweden
8 recordings, 29 videos
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10:30
Raphael Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
3:51
Raphael Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
6:20
Raphael Quartet
III. Andante
7:09
Raphael Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
10:34
Cherubini Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
4:02
Cherubini Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
5:58
Cherubini Quartet
III. Andante
6:23
Cherubini Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
7:28
Henschel Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
3:50
Henschel Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
5:57
Henschel Quartet
III. Andante
6:23
Henschel Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
9:52
Volger Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
3:58
Volger Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
5:41
Volger Quartet
III. Andante
6:16
Volger Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
7:00
Talich Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
3:41
Talich Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
6:50
Talich Quartet
III. Andante
5:59
Talich Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
7:53
Melos Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
3:51
Melos Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
5:46
Melos Quartet
III. Andante
6:21
Melos Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
9:39
Mandelring Quartet
I. Allegro assai appassionato
4:11
Mandelring Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
5:26
Mandelring Quartet
III. Andante
6:55
Mandelring Quartet
IV. Presto agitato
22:22
Bartholdy Quartett
From Kai Christiansen

Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847

String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44, No. 2, 1837

Mendelssohn composed his six four-movement string quartets over a period of twenty years, his first at eighteen in response to the death of Beethoven and his last at thirty-eight in response to the death of his sister Fanny during his own last year. In the middle, Mendelssohn in his late twenties, happy, busy, successful and famous, wrote a mature set of three quartets, Op. 44. True to his spirit, talent and style revealed in full so early in this prodigy's creative life, the Op. 44 quartets are beautifully crafted works in an agile "late" classical style instantly recognizable for their Mendelssohnian character. Full of nervous, virtuosic passion, intimate romantic lyricism, sprightly dance movements and an almost neo-Baroque perpetual counterpoint, Mendelssohn's quartets are definitely final flowers of a style closer to Haydn and Mozart (with a tinge of Schubert) than Beethoven whose far-reaching innovations cast a long, forbidding shadow over the 19th century. While on his honeymoon in 1837, Mendelssohn composed the E Minor quartet, the first of three despite its published identity as "No. 2." Because of its outer movements in the minor mode, it is perhaps the most dramatic of the three with an urgent complexion it shares with Mendelssohn's last quartet as well as his two beloved piano trios, in this case, an aching urgency recalling Mozart.

The first movement begins with a soft melancholy with a syncopated pulse, a slightly unsettling "throbbing." In one form or another, a driving pulse runs though three of the four movements with a respite only in the slow movement. This recalls Schubert as does Mendelssohn's tendency for longer, lyrical themes, a definite romantic trait when compared with the clipped motives so characteristic of the first generation classical composers. Both the first and last movements are especially vivid sonata forms in that an agitated primary theme in a minor key melts into a lyrical secondary theme brightened by the major mode. Mendelsohn intensifies the darker strands with quicksilver motion in monochromatic unisons, trills and passionate concertante flourishes passing from the first violin to the other players like lightening flashes. And so the music oscillates between its two competing natures.

Mendelssohn's most obvious and frequent personal specialty is the scherzo made idiosyncratic by at least two recurring traits: a tensile effervescence and a nearly seamless, continuous formal design. The effervescence comes from the fleet tempo and the rapid flourish of notes in a shivering rhythmic embellishment. The seamless aspect dissolves the conventional boundaries between scherzo and trio into more of an intermezzo in perpetual motion with two different contrasting themes briefly appearing and disappearing like partially spied fairies flitting through lush foliage. A change to a major key further animates the proceedings.

Mendelssohn reflects his own contemporaneous romantic context most clearly through his lovely slow movement "songs without words." Here, resonant long notes in the bass and soft, steady figurations in the middle registers support a lyrical soprano soaring in song. But the music develops through a constantly shifting texture as figurations and solo line move around the ensemble and the collective sheds its bass, airborne into higher registers. The reedy voice of the viola grounds the music again, the violin responding from yet further aloft. The transparent delicacy of this music is singular, perhaps found only in one other place: Mozart's last three "Prussian" quartets.

The ruling minor key exerts its gravity once again with a driving gallop in a triple meter, and again, with a rhythmic flourish of notes to emphasize the downbeats with a restless urgency. The sonata form yields to happier theme, but maintains a nearly consistent rhythmic drive either explicit or implied as a constant undercurrent. The surface excitement and appeal along with this practically steady pulse may easily distract one from noticing the continued fluidity of changing texture and range, the articulation of dynamic phrases, the shifting of foreground and background. Mendelssohn's music is smoothly polished, but so subtly intricate, so synaptic and alive. While it is not considered revolutionary, nor even, within his own oeuvre, necessarily evolutionary, it is as if Mendelsohn produced perfectly finished music from beginning to end, a uniquely eloquent voice within a classically rhetorical tradition.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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