Jan Levoslav Bella
String Quartet No.3 in c minor
Bella's String Quartet No.3 in c minor dates from 1876. It was championed by the famous Bohemian String Quartet, one of the foremost quartets then performing in Europe, and as a result became fairly well-known during the last decades of the 19th century right up until the First World War. The opening movement, a thrusting Allegro, almost sounds as if it is starting in the middle of a phrase with an energetic downward plunging subject. The second theme is gentler and more lyrical. A calm Andante with a noble melody comes next. The lovely second subject, sung in the violin and underpinned by the cello, is notable for its moving accompaniment in the middle voices. The main theme of the Scherzo, which serves as the third movement, is presented in lugubrious fashion by the viola and cello, giving the impression of a lumbering, heavy-footed dance, but the georgeous melody which follows is ethereal. The finale opens with a very lengthy and mysterious Grave introduction which very slowly builds to the main section, a spritely and gay Allegro.
Jan Levoslav Bella (1843-1936), for the first 76 years of his life was an Austrian, he spent his last 17 as a Czechoslovak, and today, he is posthumously a proud son of the Slovak Republic. He was born in the small town of Liptovsky St. Mikulas in what was then the Habsburg Empire. He studied both music and theology locally and was ordained as a priest in 1866. He then traveled widely in Germany where he was influenced by the music of Schumann and Liszt. In 1881, he left the priesthood and married, taking a position as City Music Director (Stadtskapellmeister) in Hermannstadt (now Sibiu, Romania), a town with a sizeable German population in what was then part of the Hapsburg Empire or Austria-Hungary. He held this position until he retired in 1921. Although, he is virtually unknown today, he was well-known and on friendly terms with many prominent musicians such as Richard Strauss, Liszt, Brahms, and Ernst von Dohnanyi, whose works he championed and performed. Though the bulk of his compositions consist of choral music, he did not ignore chamber music, writing four string quartets, two of which were often performed by well-known ensembles, and also a viola quintet. It can be said that Bella was attracted to the German neo-romantic school rather than the nationalism and dramatic naturalism of Smetana and Dvorak. His chamber music often shows the influence of Liszt.
This is a first rate work which deserves to return to the repertoire. Long unavailable, we are pleased to bring it out once again, and hope that professionals will take it up and that amateurs also will make its acquaintance.
Score & Parts: $39.95