Schumann — Quartet in A minor Op.41 no.1
String Quartet in A minor Op.41 No.1 - Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Introduzione: Andante espressivo - Allegro
Scherzo: Presto - Intermezzo
Schumann’s earliest efforts in chamber music composition, at the age of 31, resulted in three string quartets, completed as a set during the months of June and July 1842. The composer dedicated the group of quartets to Felix Mendelssohn, whose success in the field of chamber music writing was well known. It is inspiring to discover that Schumann felt a strong inclination to attempt the quartet genre, writing, in a letter to Clara Wieck that “the piano is becoming too narrow for me”. Furthermore, he took great pleasure in composing his quartets and believed
in them; In Schumann’s words they “seemed to give great pleasure to players and listeners, and especially also to Mendelssohn”.
The quartet no. 1 is centred on the keys of A minor and F major, and both outer movements are notable in that the principal material is developed extensively, rendering unnecessary any formal second subject or theme. The first movement, however, has an Introduzione of great tenderness, which fails to point clearly to either major or minor tonality, resulting in the surprise of F major in the Allegro to follow. Sfortzandos and accents add to the sense of expressive ambiguity –the bar lines, as so often the case in Schumann’s music, practically devoid of influence.
The Scherzo is a kind of extension of the frenzied staccato quavers found initially in the first movement’s developmental passages – its Intermezzo suspended almost entirely on a held ‘cello pedal - an immovable bass note - whilst wistful chromaticism prevails above. Schumann’s highly personal approach to harmonic development within thematic motives is present in the Adagio in which the sublime theme is interrupted by suspended passages of near-dissonant character, eventually giving way to a transcendental enharmonic modulation from Ab minor to A major.
A dramatic Presto Finale, constructed of endless broken thirds, transports the music through keys relative to A minor. A brief interlude – like a pastoral-song - brings momentary repose, before Schumann concludes the work in the major key with spectacular flair - following in the footsteps of his inspiration, Mendelssohn.
Feargus Hetherington 2011