String Quartet No.4 in e minor
George Chadwick, (1854-1931), for long known as the Dean of American Composers, received his first music lessons from his brother. Soon he advanced so quickly he was serving as organist for the local church. Eventually, Chadwick found his way to the famous Leipzig Conservatory where in 1877 he studied with Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. Never regarded as an extraordinary talent, soon after entering the Conservatory, his progress and talent in composition astounded his teachers and everyone else. Several of his early works, written while there, won prizes and his name spread as far away as England. After graduating, he chose to further his studies by taking lessons privately with Joseph Rheinberger in Munich. He returned to Boston in 1880 and began a long career as a composer, conductor and teacher. Many important late 19th and early 20th century American composers were to study with him, including William Grant Still, Horatio Parker, Frederick Shepherd Converse and Arthur Farwell. Chadwick served as director of the New England Conservatory for 33 years.
String Quartet No.4 in e minor, was to be Chadwick’s most popular chamber work. Dedicated to the famous Kneisl Quartet of the Boston Symphony, it was performed by them and many other groups at concerts for several years. It was composed between 1895-6 at a time in which Dvorak was present in America. The two composers knew each other and Chadwick actually had one of his symphonies awarded the top prize in a competition which had been sponsored by the National Conservatory (precursor to the Juilliard) of which Dvorak was then director. At the time, Dvorak’s New World Symphony was taking America by storm and the Czech’s so-called use of native American melodies was much talked about in contemporary musical circles. Because the Fourth Quartet also exhibits some of these tendencies and has some echoes of Dvorak, one might think it derivative, however, it is important to remember that Chadwick had been using American themes in his works since the 1870s.
It is really only in the opening Andante moderato-Allegro that one is definitely reminded of Dvorak. Here, as in Dvorak’s American Quartet, the viola is given the opening theme to the Quartet in a slow tempo which does not last long but gives way to an exciting movement with great drive. The Andante semplice is the kind of composition of which Chadwick was a master. At once simple, as the title suggests, but with great lyric beauty. The ending, which uses a harmonic passage, is particularly striking. A scherzo, marked Giocoso, un poco moderato comes next. In a freak accident, Chadwick lost the manuscript to the original scherzo he had written for the quartet and was forced to write another. He worried whether it suited the rest of the work. It is forward-looking tonally, the first subject suggesting a bit of the frenetic music of urban 20th Century life. The second theme is clearly ‘American’ sounding and the contrasting trio introduced by the cello is masterful. The concluding Allegro molto risoluto opens with a powerful unisono theme which undergoes several treatments including a lento section in which the cello takes over playing in the treble register. This is followed by a fugue (where our soundbite starts) and an exciting presto.
This quartet definitely deserves to be heard in concert hall. Professionals and amateurs alike will find it very worthwhile.