Friday, September 18, 2015

Cherubini - String Quartet No. 1 In E-flat Major

Among all the composers alive Cherubini is the most worthy of respect. I am in complete agreement, too, with his conception of the 'Requiem,' and if ever I come to write one I shall take note of many things.
So said Beethoven when asked who, aside from himself,  he considered the best of his contemporary composers. High praise indeed from an artist that could be notoriously blunt in his opinion of others. Unfortunately, Cherubini's opinion of Beethoven was not as favorable. The two met in Vienna where Cherubini was staging one of his operas. Cherubini went to the premiere performance of Beethoven's opera Fidelio and was not impressed. He remarked in French that Beethoven was too rough for his taste.

Luigi Cherubini was born in Italy and was a child prodigy. He wrote operas at the beginning of his career, and after feeling stifled by the operatic traditions of his native country, he traveled to England and finally settled in France in 1790. He found the freedom his creativity needed in Paris and his operas became very popular for some years. The opera scene of the time was always in state of flux. What was popular today could become a flop tomorrow. Cherubini's operas felt the fickleness of the opera public as his operas fell from favor. He then turned to music for the church and chamber music. Cherubini was appointed director of the Conservatoire de Paris in 1822.  He was known to be somewhat of a cantankerous man and did not show as much of a gift for teaching as he did as a composer.

He composed 6 string quartets and a quintet from 1814 to 1837. His First String Quartet was written in 1814 but wasn't published until 1836. The quartet has very little in it from the quartet tradition of Haydn and Mozart, but is more of a reflection of Cherubini's operatic writing. Schumann reviewed the work after its publication and thought the form of it somewhat difficult to understand. It is in 4 movements:

I. Adagio - Allegro moderato -  A slow introduction prefaces the movement until the somewhat nervous first theme begins. Short snatches of motives weave in and out of the exposition until a secondary theme is played. The motives return and the exposition is repeated. Themes and motives are dramatically explored in the development until the recapitulation begins. and the movement ends in the tonic E-flat major.

II. Larghetto sans lenteur - The second movement is in B-flat and is a theme and variations. The theme is gentle in nature as are most of the variations except for a more dramatic outburst in the middle of the movement. After that, the music mostly stays quiet and calm until it ends in a gentle mood.

III. Scherzo: Allegretto moderato - The scherzo begins in G minor and has a subtle rhythmic drive that propels it along at a steady pace until it reaches the trio that is in G major and features rapid 16th notes in the violins. The scherzo returns and ends the movement.

IV. Finale: Allegro assai - A short introduction leads to the first theme that is framed in a quirky rhythm. The second theme is a duet between violin and cello. A very short development section full of off-the-beat accents leads to the replaying of the two major themes, and after a short coda the quartet ends with a slight stumble.

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