String Quartet in F Major, Op.7
Felix Otto Dessoff (1835-1892) was born in Leipzig and entered the conservatory there where he studied composition, piano and conducting with some of the foremost teachers of the day. It was as a conductor that he primarily established his reputation. By 19, he was theater director in Dusseldorf and a mere 5 years later was offered a guest position with, perhaps the premiere theater, the Vienna Court Opera House. In Vienna, he became friends with Brahms and later was to premiere several of that composer’s orchestral works. Although he had composed some works during the 1850’s and early 60’s, he gave up composing when his career as a conductor blossomed.
In 1878, the urge came upon him again to compose and among other things he produced his String Quartet Op.7 in F. Though it met with success in its premiere, Dessoff was still not sure it was worth publishing and sent the score to Brahms asking for his candid opinion and offering to dedicate to him. Brahms wrote back praising the work and said, “...you would do me a great honor by writing my name over the quartet title—if need be then, we’ll take the blows together should the public find it not to their liking.” Much gratified, Dessoff wrote back—and the measure of their friendship can be seen in this free and bantering reply, exactly the sort Brahms himself was fond of writing, “...you will be relieved to see your name on the title page of the quartet preserved for posterity. When people have forgotten your German Requiem, people will then say, ‘Brahms’? Oh yes, he’s the one to whom Dessoff’s Op.7 is dedicated!”
The opening Allegro ben moderato begins with a joyous first theme. The second theme is quite Brahmsian in flavor. A unisono pizzicato introduction begins a somber, almost funeral-like, march Larghetto. This is very original in conception. A second subject is both more lyrical and optimistic in mood. The short third movement, Poco Andante, is a slow but sunny waltz with a cleverly contrasting scherzando. The finale, Allegro con brio, opens with a cascading Brahms-like melody and proceeds jovially to a happy ending. Although this is only an opus 7, Dessoff was close to 40 at the time he composed this piece, and though it is marked by youthful vitality throughout, it is clearly the work of a very mature and accomplished composer.
This quartet ought to be played in concert—that it has not been can only be due to the fact that so much of the spirit and sound of Brahms is infused in it. Yet it would be wrong to say this work is mere imitation, it is not. Fresh and original sounding it is certainly rhythmically more straight forward than Brahms. The famous chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann recommends it to both professionals and amateurs alike.