Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tchaikovsky - String Quartet No. 3 In E-flat Minor, Opus 30

Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote very little chamber music, only eight pieces in all. An early string quartet and quintet for harp and string quartet went without opus numbers. Of the six numbered compositions there are three string quartets, a work for violin and piano, the In Memory Of A Great Artist piano trio and the Souvenir of Florence string sextet.

All three numbered sring quartets were written between 1871-1876, with the 3rd quartet being written in Paris and Moscow early in 1876. The work was dedicated to Tchaikovsky's friend Ferdinand Laub, who played first violin in the premieres of the first two string quartets. Laub had died suddenly in 1875 at 43 years of age.

The quartet was first played a few weeks after its composition at the home of Nikolai Rubinstein's house (who died in 1881 and was the dedicatee of Tchaikovsky's piano trio in 1882). It has 4 movements:

Ferdinand Laub
I. Andante Sostenuto - Allegro moderato - The work begins in a solemn mood with a long introduction that consists of two themes. The initial theme is carried by the first violin with interjections of harmony by the other strings. The next theme also begins on the first violin with pizzicato accompaniment. The theme is then taken up by the cello. The proper beginning of the movement is marked by the playing of a quietly agitated theme. The next theme is more lyrical but remains laced with underlying tension. A short section leads to the development section where the two themes struggle back and forth. The themes change guises as they return for the recapitulation. Material from the introduction returns and the movement quietly ends.

II.  Allegretto vivo e scherzando - After the long and uneasy first movement, the scherzo brings a welcome contrast. The scherzo itself is restless as it bounces notes from instrument to instrument. The middle section highlights a mellow theme played by the viola. The scherzo returns and after a short coda the movement ends quietly.

III. Andante funebre e doloroso, ma con moto -  Contrast is provided by a third movement that is not only considerably longer than the previous one, but of a lugubrious character as well. Tchaikovsky creates a sullen mood immediately by the playing of a funeral march.
Muted strings played at a relatively loud volume create an other-worldly sound and add to the sadness. This movement is the heart of the quartet, and conveys Tchaikovsky's loss of  friend and colleague Ferdinand Laub. A mellow theme plays after the march and is traded off between violin and cello. The funeral march returns as the first violin plays a lament over it. The mellow theme returns and segues back into the funeral march. As the march plays, the cello intones a repeated B-flat as the march and other materials reappear. The movement ends with all four instruments playing a high pianissimo E-flat minor chord.

IV. Finale: Allegro non troppo e risoluto - A vigorous rondo movement ends the quartet. Themes are reminiscent of Russian folksong, along with a continuation of the overall uneasiness of the previous movements. There is a manic quality to this movement that is halted by the recollection of a fragment of the 1st movement. The manic music picks up where it left off and ends the movement.

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