Jan Levoslav Bella
String Quartet No.4 in B flat Major
Jan Bella's String Quartet No.4, which is his last, shows a complete mastery of technique. It is quite original sounding, full of fresh melodies and is a very polished composition.
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.
String Quartet No.4 dates from 1887. The first theme of the opening Allegro molto is quite original both melodically and rhythmically. The longing and tender second theme does have a Slavic quality to it. The Andante sostenuto which follows begins is an dignified fashion and also seems to have this same longing and Slavic tinge. The unusual development breaks the theme apart though lighter rhythmic passages. The opening to the scherzo, Allegro, briefly quotes the main theme of the opening movement before taking off into a lilting waltz. Yet, from time to time, this quote interrupts the proceedings. The trio section is consists of a lovely, gentle melody which provides fine contrast. The bright finale, Allegretto, begins in sprightly fashion with a catchy melody. The second subject is presented in canonic fashion.
Our edition is based on the original but has corrected several errors. Amateurs and professionals should find this quartet enjoyable and of interest.
Score & Parts: $32.95