Jan Brandts Buys
Romantische Serenade for String Quartet, Op.25
Jan Brandts Buys (1868-1939) came from a long line of professional musicians. His father was an organist in the town of Zutphen in the Netherlands where Jan was born. He studied at the Raff Conservatory in Frankfurt and in 1893 settled in Vienna where he got to know Brahms, who along with Edvard Grieg, praised his early works. His piano concerto won an important international prize and such famous artists as Lilli Lehmann often included his songs on the same program with those of Schubert. He was best known for his comic operas such as The Tailors of Schonau and The Man in the Moon, which gained considerable international acclaim. Of the ten chamber music works he wrote, only the lovely Romantische Serenade (Romantic Serenade), composed in 1905, was performed with any regularity before disappearing shortly after his death.
This exquisite five movement work begins with a Nocturne in which the viola leads the others through this haunting but gorgeous movement filled with the sounds of the jungle at night. There is an almost Latin feel reminiscent of Villa Lobos in his Fifth Quartet. Then comes an Alla marcia, a slowish Berlin/Vienna salon march from the period just before the First World War. However, this is not ‘soupy’ sentiment run wild but a superb little gem, seriously written, perfect of its kind. The exotic middle section is particularly fine. The following Serenade, Allegro molto vivace, again gives the viola the leadership throughout as it plays a very lyrical theme to a frenzied accompaniment in the other three voices. It is altogether more modern sounding than the preceding two movements. Next is Schmen, Allegro molto. This very short scherzo, though it ends on a calm note, sends the strings buzzing about like insects expressing a kind of frantic angst. The last movement is also a Nocturne, very melancholy in feeling. The cello, which has up until this point been melodically used rather sparingly is given a big singing solo in the middle section (presented in our soundbite). The music belongs on the concert stage and should be investigated by professional ensembles but will also give pleasure to amateurs as it presents no undue difficulties,