Felix Mendelssohn: String Quintet No.1
Felix Mendelssohn’s First String Quintet (Op.18) was composed in 1826, and then revised later in 1832. The main cause for the revision was the composer’s dissatisfaction with the original minuet movement, so instead Mendelssohn wrote in a slow movement in memory of violinist Eduard Rietz. This was the first quintet Mendelssohn undertook, with it following his String Octet written just weeks before. At this point in time, Mendelssohn was only 17 years old.
Scored for two violins, two violas and a cello, the quintet is set in four varying movements.
The quick-paced opening movement is full of youthful writing from Mendelssohn. Quick and intricate lines are playful with one another as the themes move quickly between the ensemble. Mendelssohn has tight reins on all the voices, but especially utilises the cello, as it is the main source of bass sound. The exploratory nature of this opening movement keeps the interest high and the mind buzzing with new ideas.
The second movement, marked as an Intermezzo, is the token slow movement of the four. Led by a solo violin who is accompanied by a rich and sonorous quartet of instruments, the theme is portrayed clearly and with dignity. Throughout this movement Mendelssohn plays with the theme in nuanced ways. By slightly changing the harmony or rhythm, he is able to keep developing the sweet theme. Cascades of harmony fill this movement with Mendelssohn really showing what he’s got, even at the young age of 17.
The cheeky third movement scherzo starts as a canon. The opening buzz from the solo violin is then imitated across the ensemble. The fizz of energy changes the atmosphere greatly from the previous movement. Perhaps the most technically demanding movement of the four, the sheer concentration required from the players is commendable. As the layers build up, the movement concludes quietly.
A stately theme opens the finale movement. Led by the upper strings, the cello and lower viola provide the bassline. Certainly influenced by the likes of Mozart and Haydn, this concluding movement pays homage to some of the classics. The memorable theme is passed around the ensemble and developed into new and exciting phases. As the intensity builds towards the end of the movement, the ensemble presents fragments of the theme before uniting the final chords.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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