Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

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

String Quartet No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 44, No. 3

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
11:53 I. Allegro vivace
4:07 II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
8:48 III. Adagio non troppo
8:47 IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
Duration: 34 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1838 (age 28-29)
Published: 1839, Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel (age 29-30)
Dedication: Crown Prince of Sweden
9 recordings, 35 videos
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13:24
Escher String Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
8:38
Escher String Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
8:48
Escher String Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
9:48
Aurora String Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:06
Aurora String Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
8:30
Aurora String Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
8:37
Aurora String Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
8:52
Talich Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:13
Talich Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
8:40
Talich Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
8:26
Talich Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
12:34
Parker Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:00
Parker Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
7:51
Parker Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
8:10
Parker Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
13:24
Cherubini Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
3:56
Cherubini Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
9:11
Cherubini Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
8:51
Cherubini Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
12:43
New Zealand String Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:10
New Zealand String Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
9:27
New Zealand String Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
9:15
New Zealand String Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
13:34
English String Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:11
English String Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
10:11
English String Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
9:15
English String Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
9:46
Melos Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:06
Melos Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
7:36
Melos Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
9:16
Melos Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
12:07
Mandelring Quartet
I. Allegro vivace
4:10
Mandelring Quartet
II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
8:21
Mandelring Quartet
III. Adagio non troppo
8:47
Mandelring Quartet
IV. Molto allegro con fuoco
From Kai Christiansen

Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847

String Quartet in E-flat, Op. 44, No. 3, 1838

Felix MendelssohnBeginning with his astonishing masterpiece for string octet written at the age of sixteen and ending with the turbulent String Quartet in f minor, an elegy for his sister written shortly before his own death at the age of thirty-eight, Felix Mendelssohn composed chamber music throughout his short but productive life. In addition to the octet, piano trios, piano quartets, string quintets, sextets and a variety of duo sonatas, Mendelssohn wrote six mature quartets and four individual movements since grouped into a single opus. The quartets fall into three groups, each separated by about ten years. First is the pair of Op. 12 and Op. 13 quartets written within a few years of each other and published in 1830 when Mendelssohn was twenty-one. Last is the lone quartet, Op. 80, his final completed chamber music work. In the middle, a mature Mendelssohn of twenty-nine published a set of three string quartets, Op. 44. While the early quartets were influenced by Beethoven's late quartets and the last quartet was a new, original conception, Mendelssohn's so-called "middle" quartets hearken back to Haydn and Mozart. Published in a set like their historical forerunners, the Op. 44 quartets are regarded as Mendelssohn's most classical works, poised, balanced and well crafted. Some have suggested that they reflect Mendelssohn's sense of professional and personal well being at this point in his life: enjoying a successful career, a new wife and a first child. Although given the number "3", the String Quartet in E-flat major was actually the second in order of composition, dating from 1838.

The opening Allegro is a sonata wrought in a truly classical fashion. It is built from three different themes that are themselves essentially chains of one or more motifs: melodic and harmonic gestures that readily decompose into small, distinctive and recurring rhythmic fragments. Particularly prominent is the five-note motif at the very beginning, stamping the exposition and saturating the development. In essence, the music is built up from motifs that give contour to large-scale gestures as well as contrasting motif tiled tightly together in repetitive sequences known as figuration. Multiplied and distributed across the multi-part texture of the quartet in a myriad of juxtapositions, the motifs describe a rich musical design of living tissue as cells, strands, planes and large-scale features grow together into a complex entity. While, in the true fashion of the classical quartet, Mendelssohn gives independence and interest to each of the four parts, the first movement frequently finds a florid first violin standing apart in concertante style from the other three strings that band together in a cooperative counter-ensemble giving the movement a lush and occasional orchestral feel. The sonata includes a significant coda, a "tail" of additional musical development following the natural conclusion of the exposition. It begins with clear signal: the only use of pizzicato in the movement.

The scherzo is perhaps the finest part of this quartet, utterly characteristic of Mendelssohn in the manner of many scherzi that grace his works of every genre. With its swift, hypnotic 6/8 lilt, its wavelike melodic contour flecked with trills, and a hint of danger with its shift to C minor, the main refrain conjures an otherworldly energy that is taut but light, mysterious but magical. As he would do later in a piano trio, Mendelssohn uses a form that is at once more complex as well as more subtle than a conventional scherzo and trio: it is a multi-sectional rondo with intervening episodes blended into a continuous skein of like character. Maintaining the same tempo, key and rhythmic drive, the two episodes are both little fugues signaled by the thinning of the texture to one voice that builds again into a complex web of layered repetitions. The thematic complexity doubles (and thus the musical tension) when the second fugal episode interweaves a chromatic countersubject. With steady dynamics, monochromatic timbre, continuous motion and a keening balance of the utmost delicacy (leggiero), the scherzo is a study in the dynamics of pure texture painted in fleeting strokes by a very fine set of brushes.

Mendelssohn rounds out his four-movement classical plan with a lyrical slow movement and a brisk finale. The Adagio is warm and heartfelt as any Mozart or Haydn slow movement, by turns gentle and tender, longing and mournful, resolving into luscious catharsis. It constantly features the rich singing of each quartet member in a skillful, luxuriant polyphony that deftly shifts the emphasis from voice to voice in a fluid musical dialog. The finale recalls the busy and constant motion of the scherzo, likewise occasionally veering into a darker minor tonality, though ultimately dedicated to sunny triumph, a buoyant finish of the most classical sort. Typical of many Mendelssohn finales, however, it bustles with an almost nervous fervor, pushing the classical into the romantic con fuoco (with fire).

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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