Recorded on 03/01/2004, uploaded on 03/30/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
During 1837-38, Felix Mendelssohn composed the three string quartets that make up his opus 44 and were dedicated to the Crown Prince Gustavus of Sweden. Of the three, the middle quartet, that in E minor, has become his most popular work for the chamber ensemble.
The quartet opens quietly with syncopated notes in the second violin and viola over a steady E in the cello, creating the sense that one is entering upon a scene already set and action previously in motion. Three ideas form the dramatic elements of the first movement: first, an arching E minor melody full of pathos heard in the first violin; second, a turbulent run of sixteenth notes culminating in an intense arpeggiatic fall; third, a lyrical tune in G major that does not long escape the intense action of the movement’s opening. Finally, a statement of the opening theme, displaced into a warm G major, closes the exposition. Throughout the remainder of the sonata form movement, the G major second theme makes valiant attempts to pacify the storm that rages around it but to no avail. In the coda, the theme steals upon the scene with tranquil repose only to be thwarted by the return of E minor and the movement ends with a passionate statement of the opening theme.
The second movement is a nimble scherzo in E major beginning with a burst of excitement from all four instruments. Unusually, the scherzo does not have a full-fledged trio section. Only a brief section in C sharp minor featuring a folk-like tune in the viola provides a point of rest from the lively scherzo. This melody, in expanded form, returns transposed into the key of E major in the coda and precedes the final chords that end the movement.
Opening over a long tonic pedal with a shimmering accompaniment in the second violin, the Andante third movement, with its continuous lyrical melody, could well be considered akin to his many songs without words for piano. Hardly does the melody leave its lofty position in the first violin; it appears only once in the brilliant upper register of the cello. Throughout, the other instruments provide a luscious and ornamental accompaniment to the melody.
The Presto finale returns to the liveliness of the scherzo but mixed with the turbulent air of the E minor opening movement. The excited tremolo figure which opened the scherzo returns to begin the finale but transformed into a determined three-note motif hammered from the three lower instruments. A lyrical second theme in G major, gracefully rising up, first a ninth and then an eleventh, forms the second theme. This melody returns in E major in the recapitulation and one expects that the music will remain in the major mode but, instead, the coda returns to the dramatic tone of E minor. A long, passionate crescendo builds up to the conclusion and a rapid ascension in all the instruments leads to the final climatic chords. Joseph DuBose
String Quartet in E minor, op. 44, no. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn
The Allegro assai appassionato (Rather lively, passionate) opening of the of the Quartet in E Minor, with its singing main theme over restless lines of accompaniment, has reminded some commentators of the much more familiar opening of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in the same key. In this work, the second movement is a very rapidly-paced Scherzo that again recalls the Scherzo from AMidsummer Night's Dream. A soulful Andante leads into a finale whose rhythms are cast in triple meter, not the duple meter that characterized the earlier movements. (Mendelssohn liked to use the contrast of triple meter, often 6/8; throughout the quartets he often varies the pace with triplet figurations in movements cast in 2/4 or 4/4 time.)
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