Dvorák Piano Quintet in A, Opus 81
I: Allegro ma non troppo
The first movement of Dvorák's Piano Quintet starts out softly with a miniature cello sonata. During this prelude, Dvorák introduces the main theme that he will reuse again and again (but not repetitively, of course!). Notice the beautiful background of the piano to the lyrical singing of the cello? Dvorák gives us this beautiful introduction, and then sees if he can match up to its beauty later in his piece.
So, the rest of the string family burst in almost angrily, overpowering the lonely cello. The key becomes minor, immediately depressing the mood of the piece. Gone is that beautiful cello passage from the beginning. The string instruments continue fighting amongst one another until the piano settles it by replaying the starting theme.
Now, we hear the beautiful cello sonata again, but this time it's played with the violin! This time, the passage seems to have lost a little bit of it's beauty. Instead, this time it is played with a bit of a brooding undertone from the other string instruments. Suddenly, the piano cuts in again with another furiously fast passage. This fast passage is immediately repeated by the violin. It seems like almost a battle between the instruments to see who can play the most impressive passage.
Suddenly, everything is quiet. The viola plays a long solo while the piano broods in the background. Next, the violin takes the solo from the viola while the piano grows stronger. Finally, the piano gets a solo of it's own, leading into a repeat of the original viola solo. This kicks off a whole slew of variations on this theme, many of them incorporating complex arpeggiated piano harmonies.
Suddenly, the key shifts back into major and the piano plays the original cello sonata theme. But it won't last. This major theme gets converted into minor. In this fugue-like section, the various instruments take turns playing the theme in minor. Gradually, the volume builds again until suddenly drops away.
Now, the strings yell at the piano, which responds with a soft answer. This conversation continues for a while until the various instruments unite to build once again. The next section simply repeats the beginning of the movement with one difference: this time it actually builds to a climax!
You will definitely be able to hear the climax of this piece, with it's extreme slowing and lyrical singing. As soon as the climax is over, all the instruments join in to play the most beautiful spot of this piece, reusing the theme from the cello sonata at the beginning of the piece. After this incredible moment, the movement again repeats many of the earlier sections in a different key. This constitutes the recapitulation which is part of the sonata form.
As the end of the movement nears, the instruments gather again
for one last show of fireworks. A lot of angry replies are
exchanged until the brilliant conclusion is built up to and
reached. The last few lines reach a dizzying climax with a massive
increase in tempo and volume. The entire movement leaves the
audience fulfilled at hearing a such a wide variety of musical
textures and techniques.
Hear this Movement
Recorded: in the TJHSST Auditorium on June 10, 1999 and in the Lin Residence on July 5, 1999
Piano: Alvin Lin
Violins: Michael Wilber, 1st; Laura Carr, 2nd;
Viola: Debdeep Maji
Cello: Charles Han;
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