Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bruckner - String Quintet in F Major

Bruckner's fame as a composer rests solidly with his symphonies. As far as number of compositions, he composed more music for chorus and soloists, sacred and secular, than any other type. His piano compositions are few, most of them being teaching pieces. And despite being a world-renown organ virtuoso, he wrote very few pieces for the instrument. As for chamber music, he wrote a String Quartet in C Minor in 1862 and a String Quintet in F Major in 1879, plus an alternative movement for the quintet scherzo and a piece for piano and violin called Abendklänge (Evening Sounds).

The String quintet for two violins, two violas and cello was written at the suggestion of the contemporary Viennese violinist Joseph Hellmesberger.  Bruckner had already written five symphonies (seven if his two early efforts are counted) by the time he wrote the quintet. The premiere of the work was given in 1881 and was received very well. It was one of Bruckner's most performed works during his lifetime. The work is in 4 movements:
I. Gemäßigt (Moderato) -  Some commentators have called the quintet a symphony for five strings. While Bruckner doesn't deviate far from his usual style of composition and use of sonata form,  it is in the character of the themes that he uses which assures the listener that he understood the medium more than some would give him credit for. The first movement is a good example of this, for the themes he uses are more lyrical and have less of the rhythmic drive than some of the themes used in his symphonies.  As is often the case with Bruckner's first movements, he uses three themes or groups of themes. The first theme is broad, expressive music that lends itself to much development later. The second theme is lyrical, and the third theme has some of the rhythmic drive Bruckner was known for. The themes are treated to free modulation into many keys and are contrapuntally treated in the development. The movement ends with a coda that is one of the two places in the work where Bruckner lapses into symphonic composition,  but not to the point that the five stringed instruments  can't manage.
II. Scherzo: Schnell (Fast) -Trio: Langsamer (Slower)-  The character of the theme of the scherzo is  quirky and rhythmically alive, different enough from Bruckner's symphonic scherzo themes but still identifiable as Bruckner music.  This is the movement that gave Hellmesberger the most trouble technically, so Bruckner wrote an Intermezzo to replace it. Evidently the Intermezzo pleased Hellmesberger even less than the original scherzo, because when he finally got around to performing the work in 1885 it was with the original scherzo movement.
III. Adagio - This movement was the most popular of the quintet, and has been performed in transcription for string orchestra. There is no problem with Bruckner writing for five strings instead of an orchestra when it came to this kind of music. He was known for his slow movements in the symphonies. He had the depth of feeling that it takes to write slow movements, regardless of the number of instruments within the ensemble.
IV. Finale: Lebhaft bewegt  (Very animated) -  The finale is in Brucknerian sonata form. The themes are stated and developed in true Bruckner fashion. It is in the final few bars that sees the music attempt symphonic sonority. Considering Bruckner's main interest was in the composition of symphonies, it is interesting that the quintet is written as well as it is. Most if it is in a true chamber music mood, and although the final bars are a little much, that shouldn't distract from the composition as a whole.


  1. Bruckner was a frustrating beast at times!. He undoubtedly has such an original style of composing yet I would just love it had he wrote this chamber work a little differently from his symphonies. What we basically have here is a symphony written for 5 instruments. Maybe it brings into doubt his flexibility compared to the likes of Brahms and Beethoven. But yet this is what is so fascinating about the man. And the musical world is richer because of him..

  2. To me Bruckner is a giant. Leaving behind a unique legacy. His quintet is certainly no symphony, accept the music as it is snd simply enjoy. Even in the setting for string orchestra it stsys light and yet typical Bruckner. So to me, a wonderful piece. And the blog is well written! Well done and thank you.

  3. a great blog, thank you very much
    best regards



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