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– Composer: Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 — 29 July 1856)
– Performers: Martha Argerich (piano), Dora Schwarzberg (violin), Lucia Hall (violin), Nobuko Imai (viola), Mischa Maisky (cello)
– Year of recording: 1994
Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44, written in 1842.
00:00 – I. Allegro brillante
09:07 – II. In Modo d’una Marcia. Un poco largamente
18:13 – III. Scherzo. Molto vivace – Trio 1 & 2
22:39 – IV. Allegro, ma non troppo
Robert Schumann’s Quintet for piano and strings in E flat major has earned a place of distinction among piano quintets, one of only a handful, including Johannes Brahms’ one entry in the genre and Dvorák’s Op. 81 [both uploaded on this channel], that are known to more than just a few performers. Although Schumann’s merits as a composer of “pure” instrumental music have been debated, no astute listener can doubt that the E flat Quintet is the product of a most fertile musical imagination — fresh, buoyant, and inventive. 1842 was Schumann’s year of chamber music (as 1840 was that of song): after producing three string quartets, Schumann decided to make a happy synthesis of his recently acquired fluency with strings with the piano — his native instrument.
– The first movement, marked Allegro brillante, commences with a joyous idea that rings in the ear long after the texture has taken on a gentler tone. Musings on this idea are set against characteristic pianistic figurations before the second theme, a dialogue between the cello and viola takes over. The development section begins in the key of A flat minor in the piano; fragments of melody are voiced by the other players as the music moves into distant harmonic regions. The incessant modulation and fragmentary thematic development are interrupted by a bold assertion of the previously heroic primary theme. Schumann makes little change to his exposition over the course of the recapitulation, only altering a few bars to make the necessary harmonic change, with the second theme, as expected, being re-cast in the tonic instead of dominant.
– In modo d’una Marcia, Un poco largamente is the marking of the following movement, throughout which a funereal atmosphere predominates. The stark, mysterious primary melody is introduced by the first violin against a background of simple quarter notes in the lower registers of the other four instruments. The appearance of the second theme is like a welcome ray of sunlight. Schumann’s rhythmic palette produces a magical feeling of stasis, as if time were standing still for a short, delicious time. It was at Felix Mendelssohn’s urging that Schumann decided to throw away the A flat major section that originally served as the middle portion of this strange movement and replace it with the furious onslaught in F minor (agitato) that posterity has come to know. Perhaps the most striking moment in the movement is the remarkable, purposefully crass statement by the viola (on its C string) of the primary theme in the middle of the violent triplet activity. The movement is rounded off by a return of the initial march theme, now with a thudding pizzicato background that dies away into a quiet, otherworldly chord.
– The Scherzo, molto vivace, makes a reprise of both the tonality and vivacious character of the first movement. Schumann chooses to use two separate trios in the movement, the first a lyrical canon, and the second a more robust section in A flat minor.
– Some of Schumann’s instrumental works conclude with movements that are but pale shadows of their brothers and sisters; not so with the Piano Quintet. From the opening attack in C minor (the percussiveness of which has caught many unwary listeners quite off guard) to the final glorious, contrapuntal conclusion, the composer imbues this finale with so piquant a mixture of verve, anxiety, and delicate lyricism that it must surely be considered the crowning glory of the entire work. The double fugue that serves as a coda to the finale. Taking as its one subject the principal theme of the first movement and as its other subject the principal theme of the last movement, it forms a noble and fitting conclusion.
The piece is dedicated: “Clara Schumann geb. Wieck gewidmet”.