Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat, Op.44
Robert Schumann wrote this fine work in late 1842; his friend Felix Mendelssohn gave the first performance at a private concert, and his wife Clara (to whom the work is dedicated) premiered it in public a month later. The piece is the first piano quintet of any importance, and is still considered among the very best of its kind. There is also little doubt that this was the work that established Schumann's reputation as a composer.
Hector Berlioz even
praised the quintet. This seems extraordinary, considering that
Barlioz was not an advocate chamber music (he never wrote any
chamber works) and had heavily criticized Schumann's friend
Mendelssohn. Still, the piece met great applause not only from
Berlioz but from the public as well. Today it has become a staple
of chamber music recitals all over the world.
Hear Movements 1-3
Movement 1 | Movement 2 | Movement 3 | Movement 4
Recorded: in the TJHSST Auditorium on July 1-2, 1999
Piano: Stephen Schuresko;
Violins: Michael Wilber, 1st; Laura Carr, 2nd;
Viola: Hazel Cheilek;
Cello: Charles Han;
The piece begins enthusiastically with its bold opening chords in all instruments. The remainder of the movement largely shares its character with this first main theme, but it also has a happy way of "dissolving" into gentle lyricism at times. And themes hardly get more lyrical than the expansive second theme, which is led by the cello and shared with the viola.
The second movement showcases two contrasting episodes. The first is a broad, soaring theme in C, played by the violin and cello. The second is a stormy Agitato section, with the piano supplying a backdrop of triplets behind ominous brooding in the strings. And in between these episodes we have a clipped march, acting as the refrain.
The third movement is almost an excercise in how to bring life to the major scale. When the ensemble is not busy keeping together on these rising and falling runs, it is caught in one of the two trios. The first trio is a pleasantly easygoing diversion in G flat; the second is almost the opposite in character, a whirling and twirling section in a flat minor reminiscent of Hungarian gypsy music.
The fourth movement, which we unfortunately could not record, is
characterized by its persistent theme, which makes entrances
throughout the movement. It has a habit of also entering in the
"wrong" key, adding a touch of variety. The movement ends in a
deftly written fugue, where the
first movement's main theme returns. Shining through the
surrounding textures, this reappearance brings a sense of unity to
the work as things boil to the end.
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