Sunday, May 6, 2012
Bruckner - String Quintet in F Major
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.