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8.550966 - MENDELSSOHN: Piano Sextet, Op. 110 / Piano Quartet No. 1
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Sextet in D Major for violin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano, Op.
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the great Jewish thinker of the Enlightenment, was born in Hamburg in 1809, the son of a prosperous banker. His family was influential in cultural circles, and he and his sister were educated in an environment that encouraged both musical and general cultural interests. At the same time the extensive acquaintance of the Mendelssohns among artists and men of letters brought an unusual breadth of mind, a stimulus to natural curiosity.
Much of Mendelssohn's childhood was passed in Berlin, where his parents moved when he was three, to escape Napoleonic invasion. There he took lessons from Goethe's much admired Zelter, who introduced him to the old poet in Weimar. The choice of a career in music was eventually decided on the advice of Cherubini, consulted by Abraham Mendelssohn in Paris, where he was director of the Conservatoire. There followed a period of further education, a Grand Tour of Europe that took him south to Italy and north to Scotland. His professional career began in earnest with his appointment as general director of music in Düsseldorf in 1833.
Mendelssohn's subsequent career was intense and brief. He settled in Leipzig as conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, and was instrumental in establishing the Conservatory there. Briefly lured to Berlin by the King of Prussia and by the importunity of his family, he spent an unsatisfactory year or so as director of the music section of the Academy of Arts, providing music for a revival of classical drama under royal encouragement. This appointment he was glad to relinquish in 1844, later returning to his old position in Leipzig, where he died in 1847.
As a composer Mendelssohn possessed a perfect technical command of the resources available to him and was always able to write music that is felicitous, apt and often remarkably economical in the way it achieves its effects. Mendelssohn had, like the rest of his family, accepted Christian baptism, a ceremony Heine once described as a ticket of admission into European culture. Nevertheless he encountered anti-Semitic prejudice, as others were to, and false ideas put about in his own life-time have left some trace in modern repetitions of accusations of superficiality for which there is no real justification.
Mendelssohn's D major Sextet, like the three piano quartets, is the work of the early 1820s. Written in 1824, it is scored, unusually, for a single violin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano, instrumentation that provides its own rich sonorities. The strings open the first movement, immediately followed by the piano, which develops this opening. The strings, against a sustained pedal E from the double bass, lead to the second subject, entrusted to the piano, followed by material that allows the piano an accompanying triplet figuration that continues through the coda into the central development. The slow movement, in F sharp major, is started by the strings, the violin melody then taken up by the piano; proceeding thereafter to an exploration of remoter chromatic possibilities, The Minueti marked Agitato, is unusual. It is in the key of D minor, with an F major Trio, and in 6/8 metre. The calm of its ending is broken by the vigorous opening to the final Allegro vivace, led by the piano. The movement contains unusual excursions into remoter keys and at its height returns to the D minor Agitato of the so-called Minuet. The same minor key is retained for an Allegro con fuoco return of the principal theme that only returns to the key of D major in the final bars of the movement.
The first of the three piano quartets, the Piano Quartet in C minor, Opus 1, dedicated to Prince Radziwill, was written in 1822, when Mendelssohn was thirteen. It would be natural to seek other influences in the work of a composer of this age and the Piano Quartet certainly suggests a familiarity with both Mozart and, nearer in date, Weber. The opening Allegro vivace unfolds with the expected clarity of texture, with the cello introducing the E flat major second subject. The central development explores other keys, before a gradual return to the tonic for the final recapitulation in which the second subject, now in C major, is given to the lower register of the piano. The A flat major Adagio finds room for counterplay between the piano and violin, the former allowed a more elaborate role as the movement proceeds. There is a busy C minor Scherzo, repeated to frame a curious Trio section, in which the violin is silent and the pianist uses only the left hand in a three-part texture. The quartet ends with a monothematic Allegro moderato in which the piano plays an elaborately decorative part.
Bartholdy Piano Quartet
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