String Quartet No.1 in E flat Major
Of his six string quartets, Luigi Cherubini's String Quartet No.1 in E flat was far and away the most popular. For the greater part of the 19th century, it was a staple of the repertoire.
Cherubini ( 1760-1842) was born Florence. He studied at the conservatories in Bologna and Milan and remained in Italy until 1788 when he moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. He made his name as a composer of opera, but by 1805 Parisian tastes had changed and the heavy, serious operas that he, Gluck and others had been writing fell out of fashion. Cherubini then turned to religious and instrumental music. He served as director of the Paris Conservatory from 1822 until his death and was regarded as one of France's leading musicians. Beethoven in 1817 wrote that he considered Cherubini the greatest living composer.
Although String Quartet No.1 was composed in 1814, it did not receive publication until 1836. While it eventually became popular, this did not happen immediately. Reviewing it in the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Schumann admitted that the style of this quartet was difficult to understand and not in the traditional language of chamber music as pioneered by Haydn and Mozart and continued by Beethoven, Onslow and Mendelssohn. He was correct in this assessment. Cherubini's style owes nothing to the Vienna Classics but was derived was the dramatic tradition of Paris opera and to a lesser degree the Quatuor Brillant. This can definitely be heard in the first two movements. The first movement has a lengthy, almost symphonic Adagio introduction. The main part of the movement, Allegro, retains this style. (our sound-bite begins with the Allegro) Speaking of this movement Schumann noted, "On first hearing, I found it disquieting, some parts operatic and overdone, others bare, trivial and tenacious. It took several hearings for me to appreciate it." The second movement, Larghetto sans lenteur, is in the form of a theme and variations. The theme is in the nature of a prayer, soft and hesitant, eventually a there is a strong dramatic outburst, much in the style as one found in the works for the Parisian Opera at that time. It was the Scherzo, with what Schumann called "its fanciful Spanish theme" which convinced him that the quartet was something special, and indeed it is. The cello, with its double-stops, creates a guitar-like background, over which the violin presents the dance-like melody. The exotic rhythm patterns do the rest. The trio is a Mendelssohnian elves dance, however, since Cherubini composed it when Mendelssohn was but 5, it would probably be more accurate to call Mendelssohn's movements "Cherubinian." Schumann called the finale, Allegro assai, "a glittering diamond that was respendent from every angle." It begins with a brief muscular introduction before the theme with its bumptious, unorthodox rhythm is stated. The second theme is lyrical and dramatic with the first violin and cello trading lines as in an operatic duet. There is a strong symphonic element to this powerful music.
This quartet is quite unlike anything from its period, and rhythmically resembles no one else. Once readily available, it has, for many years now been very hard if not impossible to obtain and we are pleased to make it available once again.
Parts & Score: $31.95