About this Recording
8.559077 - LOEFFLER: Music for 4 Stringed Instruments / String Quartet
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Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935)

Music for Four Stringed Instruments (1917) • String Quartet in A minor (1889)

Quintet in One Movement, for Three Violins, Viola and Cello (1894)

At the time of his death in 1935 Charles Martin Loeffler was one of the most highly respected composers in America. He had been a fixture in Boston’s musical life since 1882 when he came there as assistant concertmaster of the fledgling Boston Symphony Orchestra. As his interest in composition grew his name began appearing on BSO programmes in that capacity. In addition to Boston, his orchestral works were performed by the orchestras of London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. Performances of these pieces were conducted by Mahler, Richard Strauss, Monteux, Koussevitzky, Nikisch, Stokowski, Reiner and Rodzinski, among many others. Within a decade after Loeffler’s death performances of his music dwindled almost to nothing; musical fashion had shifted to embrace a more contemporary style. It is reassuring to see that many years later musicians are rediscovering the rich legacy of Loeffler’s music and bringing it once again before the public.

The Quartet in A minor for Two Violins, Viola and Cello is among Loeffler’s earliest completed works, dating from 1889. Although it displays a variety of styles and influences, the work does not yet reflect the "decadent" harmonic language, i.e. Impressionism, which would colour his later compositions. Another aspect of the Quartet is the clear formal structure of the movements. The first movement is composed as a sonata form and the second movement as a Minuet. This ternary movement is notable for Loeffler’s use of canon between various instruments, and the fact that he later used the thematic material in the opening and closing sections of La chanson des ingénues, a song he composed in 1893 for voice, viola and piano to a text from Paul Verlaine’s collection Poèmes saturniens. The third movement, marked Andante assai (con quasi Variazioni) reflects Loeffler’s interest in early music. The movement is further marked, in German, ‘In the style of a medieval folk-song’. It consists of the opening "folk-song" melody and four variations. The finale, Rondo pastorale, is a cheerful movement marred only by the coda, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla.

The second movement of the Quartet was performed by the Adamowski String Quartet at a concert in Philadelphia during the 1889-90 season and was the first public performance of one of Loeffler’s compositions. That ensemble later presented the second and third movements to the Boston public in a concert at Union Hall on 12th April 1892. The critic from the Boston Post described Loeffler’s quartet as "clever, exceedingly clever, and one could but regret its brevity".

There are many fine examples of string quintets in which the composers have expanded the standard string quartet by adding a second viola or cello to the ensemble. Loeffler’s Quintet in One Movement, for Three Violins, Viola, and Cello is unique in its instrumentation. The combination is more unusual since Loeffler was a fine violist himself and enjoyed playing that instrument in chamber music groups. Even odder is the fact that there is no record of the composer publicly performing the piece as one of the three violinists. The Quintet in One Movement was composed in 1894 and given its première by the Kneisel Quartet, assisted by the violinist William Kraft, in Boston’s Union Hall on 18th February 1895.

Although the title does state "in One Movement", Loeffler employs different themes, tempi and textures within the Quintet. In a letter to his friend Richard Aldrich, Loeffler made the following comments concerning the work’s form: "The Quintet is in one movement Allegro commodo . . . with a first and second theme which leads up to a slavonic episode Allegretto 3/4 (I herein used a motiv belonging to a Russian folksong suggested to me by my friend Krehbiel) through an Allegro, I then drift back to the first theme (Allegro commodo) — 2d theme coda — finis." The piece was highly regarded by the public and the critics. The writer from the Boston Transcript stated that the new piece "was perhaps the most exquisite piece of string writing, as such, that we have ever heard." The Kneisel Quartet gave several further performances of the Quintet in One Movement over the next three decades, including one at the memorial service for Loeffler’s friend and publisher Gustave Schirmer in 1907. After a performance in February 1913, the critic of the New York Sun was very enthusiastic about the composition, calling it "a fresh, spontaneous and delightful piece of music of old-fashioned frankness. It vibrates with melody and it glows with opulent harmony. Graceful, fluent and melodious in thematic matter, clear, well balanced and solid in part writing, it works itself out in a lucid symmetrical shape and leaves the hearer with a refreshed mind and a warmed fancy". Typically modest and self-effacing, Loeffler made no effort to have the work published despite such reviews. The Quintet was finally printed after the composer’s death.

Loeffler’s best-known work for string ensemble is his Music for Four Stringed Instruments, composed in memory of Victor Chapman, the first American aviator to be killed in World War I. Chapman’s father was a friend of Loeffler’s and sent the composer a published volume of Victor’s wartime letters. In creating his musical memorial to the fallen pilot Loeffler turned to the plainchant of the early Christian church, specifically to chants of resurrection and redemption. The work is unified by the use of the Introit of the Mass for Easter, Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum (I have risen, and am still with you), in all three movements. This melodic material is introduced by the cellist as the opening of the first movement and later serves as the main theme for the faster portion of the movement, written in sonata form. The second movement, which has the title Le Saint Jour de Pâques, or Easter Sunday, uses the Sequence from the Mass for Easter, Victimae paschali laudes (Praise to the Paschal Victim). The final movement, originally written as a tone poem depicting the French countryside, employs the Antiphon In paradisium deducant te Angeli (May Angels lead you into Paradise), from the Burial Service for the Dead.

Loeffler completed the work in 1917, but the première was not given until 15th February 1919, by the Flonzaley Quartet in a concert at Aeolian Hall in New York City. Loeffler extensively revised the Music for Four Stringed Instruments over the next few years, allowing it to be published in 1923. The work is skilfully written for the strings and exploits Loeffler’s knowledge of the instruments’ capabilities. The second movement is of special interest owing to Loeffler’s demands upon the cellist. The player must tune the C string down to A for a portion of the piece, but after bringing it back to standard pitch, must again tune down to a B flat and then A, while playing. The final chord of the piece calls for the cellist to lower the C string a minor sixth to E, again while playing on that string.

Bruce Gbur

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