String Quartet in f# minor, Op.23
Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) was an important figure in Russian musical life at the turn of the 20th century and is generally considered the father of Russian modernism. He was born in Moscow to a French noble family which had emigrated to Russia in the early 19th century. Although fascinated by music, he studied mathematics and science at the University of Moscow, graduating in 1884. After graduation, however, he decided to devote himself to music. His early compositions showed the influence of Tchaikovsky who described Catoire as talented but in need of serious training. Eventually Catoire was to study composition with Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov, Arensky and Taneyev. In 1916, he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Moscow Conservatory, a position he held for the rest of his life. Catoire wrote several treatises on music theory, which became the foundation for the teaching of music theory in Russia.
His composition style was a synthesis Russian, German and French influences--Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Cesar Franck, Debussy and Richard Wagner were the chief influences. From them, Catoire developed a highly personal and original idiom. It was from his piano teacher Karl Klindworth, a close friend of Wagner’s, that Catoire came to admire Wagner. He was one of the few Russian composers to do so. His championing of Wagner is partially responsible for the fact that his works are relatively unknown today. Rimsky-Korsakov's circle disliked Wagner's music intensely and did little to promote it. This resulted in its being barely known in Russia. They also shunned Catoire’s music because he was a Wagnerite.
Catoire wrote two symphonies, a piano concerto, choral works, songs, and a considerable amount of chamber music. The String Quartet in f# minor dates from 1913 and is in four movements. The opening Allegro moderato begins with a late Russian romantic theme which has a restless and searching quality to it. Catoire quickly brings it to an impressive climax. The riveting second movement, Allegro fantastico, is a very original sounding scherzo with some very expressive and unusual tonal effects. The big third movement, Andante, is a theme and set of seven variations. The theme is a highly romantic, lyrical melody. Each of the variations shows a different mood, some are extraordinarily powerful. In the brooding finale, Allegro impetuoso, echoes of Tchaikovsky can be heard. Almost immediately, Catoire builds dramatic tension and excitement.
This very fine work has been out of print for nearly a century and was rarely available in the West. It should interest professionals and ought to be in the repertoire but is in no way beyond the reach of experienced amateur players who will also enjoy it.