In 1840 Robert Schumann, who had until then written mostly piano music, composed 140 songs in a single year. The following year he concentrated on symphonic music,
producing two symphonies, the “Overture, Scherzo and Finale” op. 52, and part of a piano concerto. Then in 1842 he suddenly plunged himself into the creation of chamber music. In the space of less than a year he completed the three string quartets op. 41, the Piano Quintet op. 44, the Fantasiestücke op. 88 for piano trio, and the Piano Quartet op.47 recorded in this CD. The Piano Quartet was begun on October 24, 1842, a few days after Schumann had finished Piano Quintet, and was completed by November 26. It had its first public performance in Leipzig on December 8, 1844 with Clara Schumann
playing the piano, and was published the following year.
The Piano Quartet, though not as often performed as the Piano Quintet, is a work of genius demonstrating Schumann’s mastery of the elements of classical chamber music.
From Beethoven’s compositions he had learned how to develop musical motifs; in Schubert’s music he had discovered how long melodies could be integrated into chamber music; and from the study of the works of Bach he had acquired the ability to handle contrapuntal material. The first movement of the Piano Quartet (Sostenuto assai—Allegro ma non troppo) features a slow introduction, reintroduced later in the movement, foreshadowing the main theme of the piece. The Scherzo (Molto vivace) contains two contrasting Trio sections, and in its delicacy and speed recalls similar pieces by Mendelssohn. The slow movement (Andante cantabile) is dominated by a melody first stated by the cello. Towards the close of the movement the cellist plays a long drone, above which the other players suggest in slow motion the opening motif of the finale. The Finale (Vivace) is highly contrapuntal, but seems to draw its inspiration more from the fugues of Beethoven rather than those of Bach.
Gerald Groemer (University of Yamanashi)