Rosy Wertheim: String Quartet

Context

The Dutch composer, Rosy Wertheim (1888-1949), was one of the first female composers who completed her professional music education and garnered some international acclaim for her music. Although spending the start and end of her life in her homeland of the Netherlands, Wertheim travelled all over the world to meet new artists and to champion social causes that were close to her heart. Wertheim lived in Paris, Vienna and New York for a number of years at a time, with Paris becoming a significant place of interest for her. When World War II broke out, Wertheim, a practising Jew, went into hiding in the Netherlands. Although faced with difficult situations throughout her life, Wertheim left behind over 80 works in her archive. 

 

The Music

Composed in 1932, Wertheim’s only String Quartet showcases her management of textures, melodies and the balancing of sounds to create a palpable chamber work. Although clocking in at just over 10 minutes in duration, Wertheim’s String Quartet manages to fit a lot into the three movements. 

 

Movement I – Allegro Con Moto

The opening viola rush signals the violins to begin their ascending passage. Once the cello enters, the full experience of Wertheim’s textures comes to fruition. The quick pace and cheeky melodies bounce around the ensemble, with all parts having their given turn. A short unison passage unites the ensemble, before the tempo picks up again the instruments go their separate ways. The themes are invigorating and exciting, with the slower passages adding a new dimension to the movement. After a quick reprise of the opening material, the first movement comes to its thrilling close. 

 

Movement II – Intermezzo

The token slow middle movement starts with the upper strings as they introduce the lamenting main theme. Firmly set in the minor here, the music is emotional and shows Wertheim’s values in building effective melodies and textures. As the ensemble rises and falls together, the music begins to fluctuate, creating rippling waves of emotions across the music. As expected, this movement ends delicately and quietly as the music fades into nothing. 

 

Movement III – Allegro Energico

The finale, full of energy and vigour, starts with the theme in the violins. As the other strings accompany, the melody is soon passed around the ensemble. Fast scalic passages begin a call and response section between the top and bottom halves of the ensemble. A slow and reflective central section highlights themes from the middle movement, and offers a sigh of relief within the music. As the tempo begins to rush off once more the final few bars of the movement tie together all of Wertheim’s best bits of the quartet, which culminate in two big unison chords before the final flourish finishes this thrilling quartet.

 

Ⓒ Alex Burns 

Happy Reading!

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