Thursday, October 24, 2013

Schumann - String Quartet No. 1 In A Minor

After a long  (and often times clandestine) courtship,  Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck were married in 1840, very much against her father's wishes. Clara's father immediately filed legal charges against the marriage but after a long (and nasty) legal battle the court ruled in favor of the newlyweds. The end of all the stress of the legal battles caused by Clara's father brought forth a burst of creative energy from Schumann. Up until then, all of his compositions were for the piano alone, but now with Clara's urging he began to branch out into works for voice, orchestra, and chamber music.

In 1842 Schumann wrote his first chamber pieces, a piano quartet and piano quintet, and began serious study of the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, along with counterpoint and fugue. He also had the opportunity to hear string quartets of these composers played. His labor paid off, as Schumann wrote the three quartets of his opus 41 in two months. In a span of but six months in 1842, Schumann had written these quartets plus three other chamber works.

Schumann's first string quartet is in 4 movements:
I. Introduzione: Andante espressivo - Allegro - The first movement begins with a short introduction with the 4 instruments entering one after another until the first theme of the movement proper begins in the 1st violin, in of all things, the key of F Major. This theme is treated fugally, after which what at first appear to be snippets of other themes appear, but in actuality they are but fragments of the main theme. Schumann makes good use of his counterpoint study as the theme is developed this way throughout the movement. As this movement is in sonata form, there is a recapitulation of the opening material.

II. Scherzo: Presto - Intermezzo -  The music of this movement (in A minor) at first seems Mendelssohnian, but Schumann gives his own 'bite' to the music as the strings spit out the notes of the dominant rhythm of the scherzo. The trio section of most scherzos remains 3-in-a-bar like the scherzo itself, but Schumann changes it to an alla breve two-in-a-bar.

III. Adagio - A short introduction leads to the main theme played by the violin. The main theme is then taken up by the cello. A central section adds contrast before the opening theme returns.

IV. Presto - The finale begins with an energetic first theme. The second theme also bristles with energy. Themes are developed, after which a contrasting section slow in tempo and consisting of chords accompanying a different theme. The energy of the opening returns in a short coda.

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