String Quartet No.2 in g minor, Op.14
If you are looking for an important 20th Century Scandinavian woman composer, you need look no farther than Nancy Dalberg (1881-1949). Dalberg grew up on the Danish island of Funen (Fyn) where she leaned to play the piano. Her father, a well-off industrialist, refused her wish to study at the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen and in the end she took private composition lessons from Johan Svendsen, Fini Henriques and Carl Nielsen. She was the first Danish woman composer to write a symphony. It was premiered to critical acclaim although it was noted with surprise and perhaps a touch of condescension that Dalberg was a woman. It is a problem that is still with us today.
Of her String Quartet No.2, Op.14 in g, Wilhelm Altmann, perhaps the greatest of all chamber music critics, has written:
“Nancy Dalberg published this work without giving her forename, and, had I not learned by chance that it was composed by a woman, considering also the austerity and native strength of her music, it would never have occurred to me that it was a woman speaking to us. Her mastery of the technique of composition is remarkable, and she has something definite to say.”
Dating from 1922, the Quartet is in four movements. The opening Moderato—Allegro vivo begins with an ominous theme, based on a triplet figure. The music slowly builds to a climax wherein the others soon join. This is a big and passionate movement always tonal. An Allegro scherzando is very modern sounding, but quite clever. Next comes an Andante con moto e cantabile. This is truly a brilliant example of mixing episodes of wayward tonality with traditional melody. At times rising to high passion, at other times falling back, this music effortlessly helps to extend one’s range of hearing and appreciation of tonality to its outer limits. In the last movement, Allegro molto e con spirito, there is perhaps a touch of Nielsen but without the foreknowledge that he was her teacher, one might not reach this conclusion. Slowly she builds momentum toward a convincing conclusion.
This is a first rate work which deserves to be known outside of Denmark and belongs in the concert hall. A fine modern work that should also be investigated by experienced amateurs who will find it enjoyable.
Parts & Score: $31.95