Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Herzogenberg - Piano Quintet In C Major, Opus 17

Heinrich von Herzogenberg's first major musical influence was Robert Schumann, but he soon became a disciple of the New Music of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. When Herzogenberg undertook a thorough study of the music of J.S. Bach, his musical aesthetic changed again as he turned to the classical tradition and the music of Johannes Brahms.

In 1866 Herzogenberg married Elisabet von Stockhausen, a former piano student of Brahms. Brahms remained fond of Elisabet and she tried to get him to give some words of encouragement to her husband regarding his compositions. But the irascible Brahms gave little encouragement. Despite that, Herzogenberg went on to write a good quantity of music in all varieties of music except opera.

Herzogenberg and his wife carried on a 20 year correspondence with Brahms which makes for interesting reading concerning musical life in the last quarter of the 19th century.  Though Herzogenberg was a champion of Brahms' music, he was a very much original composer. The Piano Quintet In C Major, Opus 17 was written in 1876 and shows Herzogenberg's skill with sonata form as well as chamber ensemble composition. It is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  The piano begins the first movement with a short introduction:
This introduction contains material that is referenced throughout the first movement. After this initial introduction, the strings take up fragments of the introduction until the piano repeats the material in a different tonality. All of the instruments expand the material.  Secondary themes and fragments of themes are interspersed between repeats of the main theme. The development section concerns itself with the main theme which is treated fugally in a short lead up to the recapitulation. Herzogenberg shows considerable skill in keeping everything moving in a way that makes musical sense to the ear. The main theme builds until the end of the movement.

II. Adagio -  The second movement begins in F major with a short introduction from the piano. The first theme is gently flowing in the strings and accompanied by the piano. A secondary theme is in the minor and leads back to a repeat of the initial theme.

III. Allegro - The third movement is an accented scherzo in G major.  The second theme is lighter in character but does contain some moments of  accented, off the beat music. The first theme is repeated.

IV. Presto - The final movement begins in A minor, and like the previous movements the piano is the dominating presence. The strings add color and variety to the music as a lively theme keeps moving steadily throughout. There are fragments of other themes heard sandwiched between the driving main theme, including a reference to the main theme of the second movement. After this is heard, the music builds to a driving conclusion with the initial theme of the movement in the home key of C major.

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