- Quintet in E-flat major for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello, Op. 44 (1842)
In modo d'una marcia, un poco largamente
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Allegro ma non troppo
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano; Ani Kavafian, violin; Chad Hoopes, violin; Matthew Lipman, viola; Nicholas Canellakis, cello
— INTERMISSION (Q&A with the artists) —
Robert Schumann (Zwickau, 1810 – Endenich, 1856)
In addition to composing, Schumann was a writer, pianist, and conductor. In his early years he mainly composed for the piano but as he got more serious he focused in intense bursts on Lieder (1840-41), symphonic music (1841), chamber music (1842-43), and then his oratorio Paradise and the Peri (1843). During these intense periods, he cranked out a huge volume of work in each genre. Schumann’s chamber music period began in spring 1842 with the study of quartets by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He composed his three quartets in June and July, went on vacation to Bohemia in August, and returned for a special private premiere of the quartets at the Schumanns’ home on September 13, 1842, Clara Schumann’s 23rd birthday. Robert then composed his Piano Quintet, Piano Quartet, and piano trio Phantasiestücke by the end of the year. Early the following year he wrote an Andante and Variations for the unusual instrumentation of two pianos, two cellos, and horn. Except for piano trio, he never wrote for any of these ensembles again.
Before Schumann, the existing piano quintets were few and far between.
The genre didn’t have the deep history of the string quartet or even the many famous examples of piano trios or piano quartets to guide him. The field was wide open. Schumann made the piano quintet his own by balancing the piano against the strings and harnessing the power of this large chamber ensemble. The first movement contrasts a striding opening theme with a lyrical second theme led by the cello. The second movement, a funeral march, is a perfectly balanced mix of drama and restraint. Schumann, bursting with ideas, provides not one but two contrasting episodes in both this movement and the following movement. The scherzo features a romping theme in carefree scales. The finale is a dashing rondo that ends with a remarkable double fugue that brings back the opening theme from the first movement. The quintet was dedicated to his wife Clara Schumann, a virtuoso pianist of immense talent and sensitivity.
Bloch uses the full power of the quintet to create a starkly visceral experience.
Ernest Bloch (Geneva, 1880 – Portland, OR, 1959)
Ernest Bloch was a Swiss composer who had a huge influence on musical life in the United States. He was a highly regarded educator and his career at various conservatories took him all around the country. He started out teaching at the Mannes College of Music in New York (1917-20), then moved to direct the newly founded Cleveland Institute of Music (1920-25), and finally led the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (1925-30). After a period back in Europe, he moved to the US for good in 1940, living at Agate Beach, Oregon and regularly traveling to Berkeley to teach at the University of California.
His educational duties consumed a lot of his time but he still squeezed in composing whenever he could. He wrote this Piano Quintet during his down time at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The first movement was sketched in 1921 and the first two movements were written in spring 1922. He then put the piece aside for a bit and completed it in spring 1923. It premiered on November 11, 1923 in New York City by pianist Harold Bauer and the Lenox Quartet. Reviews of the first performance were somewhat mixed but the quintet went on to have many other performances in the US and Europe in the following years.
The quintet begins with tiny intervals—quarter tones—in the strings. Quarter tones were a Bloch favorite, particularly in his pieces on Jewish themes. Forceful rising triplets open a movement that is as menacing as it is eerie. Bloch uses the full power of the quintet to create a starkly visceral experience. The second movement, appropriately titled Andante mistico, begins with troubled but rising figures that feel like watching the sun rise on another planet. The movement builds to a climax on material from the first movement and eventually subsides into long-held chords that make time stand still. The last movement also traverses strange emotional territory, working out various marching and galloping themes—plus a grace-note theme marked ‘like an exotic bird’—before ending in a shimmering, transcendent apotheosis.
Program notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
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