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Name of Work

Schumann, Robert (1810-1856)
String Quartet in A, No. 3, Op. 41

Movements:
Andante espressivo – Allegro molto moderato
Assai agitato
Adagio molto
Allegro molto vivace

Performances:


May 07, 2006



Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Roger Chase, Viola
Clancy Newman, Cello


May 08, 2006



Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Roger Chase, Viola
Clancy Newman, Cello

SCHUMANN-String Quartet in A, Op. 41, No. 3 (Clara)

Composed in 1842

Schumann’s compositions up to the year 1840 were almost exclusively for solo piano, and while some of them are quite expansive, like the full-length sonatas and variation sets, most – like Carnaval and Fantasiestücke – are loosely-connected suites of short character pieces, small and brilliant facets on an exquisitely-cut stone. 1840 was the composer’s “Year of Song,” during which the miniaturist approach continues with cycles of lieder that capture moods and feelings in the vocal medium as tellingly as the piano pieces had done. The following year, with the ardent encouragement of his new wife, Clara, Schumann at last acknowledged his long-denied ambition to compose on a larger scale, and produced in fairly quick succession the “Spring” Symphony, the first version of the D Minor Symphony, the first version of the Piano Concerto, and the symphonic set called Overture, Scherzo, and Finale.


Then in 1842, he changed direction again, turning with similar energy and intensity to the writing of chamber music. To overcome what he perceived as the special challenges of the abstract string-quartet genre, he undertook a self-imposed course of special preparation, closely studying the quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and the counterpoint of Bach. One result was the opinion he expressed in a newspaper essay: “The string quartet has come to a standstill,” he declared, since the time of the great Viennese classicists. An exception, he noted, was the quartet music of Mendelssohn, his friend and colleague in Leipzig, where the Schumann family lived during the early 1840s. His own three string quartets, the triumphant fruit of his intensive study, were dedicated to Mendelssohn (who had conducted the premiere of the “Spring” Symphony with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra).

The quartets were grouped together for publication as Op. 41. They were first performed in private Leipzig settings, and the performers on these occasions were led by the noted violinist Ferdinand David, for whom Mendelssohn would later compose his E Minor Violin Concerto.

After completing the quartets in the summer of 1842, Schumann proceeded quickly to a piano quintet and piano quartet; he would write many other chamber scores in the years to come, but the works of Op. 41 remain unique in being the only ones not to involve the piano. They may or may not have been conceived as a unified cycle. That is not at all likely, of course, if it is true that the first two quartets were actually undertaken earlier than 1842. Some Schumann scholars have suggested this. On the other hand, the three works share a preoccupation with the keys of F major, A major, and A minor, all subtly intertwined, and this lends some encouragement to the “cycle” theory.

No after-the-fact interpretation is needed, however, to discern the internal cycle structure of the Quartet No. 3 in A Major, which has numerous thematic connections among its four movements, most of which are based on motivic relationships involving the interval of a falling fifth and its inversion, a rising fourth.

After a striking seventh chord, the Andante espressivo presents the first of these falling fifths. These are further exploited in the main Allegro section, which lays out two contrasting main themes in the usual sonata-form tradition. The development section, however, continues to place heavy emphasis on the characteristic chord and the fifth. Expanded to a ninth, the chord signals the recapitulation; the cello ends the movement with a falling fifth.

A rising fourth then becomes the germ of the main theme of the Assai agitato, which also briefly explores the tempi of Un poco adagio and Tempo risoluto. This quasi-scherzo movement is actually laid out as a theme with four variations. In the third and fourth of these, contrapuntal textures dominate; there is a canon between the first violin and viola in the fourth variation. Some remote keys – F-sharp and E-flat – are explored in the coda.

The songlike Adagio once again has a theme based on a rising fourth, contrasted with a shorter figure for punctuation. Three repetitions of the theme take place, each with increasingly complex counter-melodies and accompanying figures. The finale is a lively Rondo; a main theme, derived from the seventh chord of the very beginning, is alternated with shorter episode that dance nimbly in the fast pace the composer demands. There are many quick modulations in this movement, exploring relationships among F major, E major, A minor, and A major (the home key), which is firmly re-established for the final statement of the main theme and the headlong coda based on it.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: May 7 & 8, 2006



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