Composer: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Performance date: 06/07/2018
Venue: St. Brendan’s Church
Composition Year: 1827
Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ
Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc
Instrumentation Category:String Quartet
Elias Quartet (Sara Bitlloch, Donald Grant [violins], Simone van der Giessen [viola], Marie Bitlloch [cello]) -
du stets dort in dem Laubgang,
der Weinwand meiner harrst?
den Mondschein und die Sternlein
nach mir befragst?
es wahr? Sprich!
(Is it true? That you are always
there, in the arbour, by the pergola, waiting for me? And that you question the
moon and the stars about me? Is it true? Tell me!)
This delicious song was composed
a few months before this quartet, when Mendelssohn was only eighteen. He took
the Question motto from the song and built his quartet around it. The motto
appears in its original form in the Adagio
introduction just before the main Allegro
and reappears in this form in the coda of the Finale. But it is everywhere,
modified, fragmented or inverted, and the young composer uses it to create an
overt cyclical structure. However the theme of Frage is also very close to the Muss
es sein motto of Beethoven’s Op.135 Quartet. We may then notice the
similarity between this quartet’s opening movement and Beethoven’s Op.132, not
just the key but also the short Adagio introduction
and the wholesale adoption by Mendelssohn of the principle of continuous
development. We might then realise that the recitative lead-in to the Finale
straight out of the preceding movement is also borrowed directly from Op.132.
This quartet was written only a
few months after Beethoven’s death on 26th March 1827, and it is
clear that this work is a deeply studied act of homage by the young composer.
Even the concept of cyclical form is taken from Op.131, where Beethoven
established close musical relationships between the themes in the successive
movements. In Beethoven’s case these relationships are far from obvious to the
listener and are part of his plan to increase the sense of unity in his
revolutionary work. Mendelssohn both takes up this plan and gives it added
dramatic force by quoting his theme at the beginning and end of his work.
The Adagio non lento opens with a theme closely related to the slow
introduction from the first movement and then moves into an internal fugue that
is begun by the solo viola followed by the second violin. This is exactly the
procedure that Beethoven followed in the internal fugue of the Allegretto of his miraculous Op.95.
Mendelssohn was both demonstrating that he had undertaken an in-depth study of
Beethoven’s scores and putting that study to extraordinary creative use. Like
Beethoven he twice alternates the fugal section with the opening. At the end
the two sections are combined in a way that completely blurs the distinction.
The Intermezzo is a more relaxed movement with the
delightful pizzicato accompaniment to
the simple but affecting tune. The Trio is familiar Mendelssohn territory, a
gossamer-light dance for the little people put together with enormous subtlety.
The finely-fashioned coda briefly brings back the dance before we are thrown
unsuspecting into the Finale and the spectacular recitative by the first
violin, which exactly follows the outline of Beethoven’s dramatic transition to
the last movement in his A minor Quartet. Mendelssohn however develops his
model by integrating the recitative more completely into the material of the
Finale. He also executes a breathtaking coup later in the movement by
transforming the recitative into a reminiscence of the second movement’s fugue
and then with an actual return of the fugue itself. In the coda, the first
violin in one fluid line travels from the main finale theme to the recitative
to the slow-movement fugue and back to the motto of the first movement. The
circle is complete.
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