Ernst von Dohnanyi
String Quartet No.3 in a minor, Op.33
Ernst von Dohnanyi (1877-1960 Ernö Dohnányi in Hungarian) is generally regarded, after Liszt, as Hungary’s most versatile musician. He was active as a concert pianist, composer, conductor and teacher and must be considered one of the chief influences on Hungary’s musical life in the 20th century. Certainly, his chamber music is very fine, with most of it being in the masterwork category. Yet, sadly and inexplicably, it has virtually disappeared from the concert stage. Dohnanyi studied piano and composition in his native Pressburg (Bratislava) before entering the Budapest Academy. His first published work, his Piano Quintet No.1, was championed by no less an authority than Johannes Brahms. Upon graduating in the spring of 1897, Dohnanyi embarked on a dazzling career as a concert artist, often playing in chamber ensembles. Later, he also devoted considerable time to teaching and conducting.
By the time Dohnanyi composed String Quartet. No.3 in a, Op.33 in 1926, he was well into middle age and the landscape of European music had changed radically from that which had existed before World War I. He employs a different tonal language than that in his earlier works. The big first movement, Allegro agitato e appassionato, begins with a short, traditionally tonal introduction before the main theme is given in full. It is edgy and anxious, and characterized by a sense of nervous energy. There is no development and the second theme, which is slower and more lyrical, is introduced in a distant key. The theme upon which the variations to the second movement, Andante religioso con variazioni, is based is a chorale. The theme is solemn though not funereal. The first variation is quiet and reflective, while the second is a whirlwind of engery. The last variation is a powerful restatement of the theme. (our sound-bite presents the theme and second variation) The exciting finale, Vivace giocoso, though it does have a certain edginess is also light and upbeat. The main theme is based on a rising chromatic motif.
This is a very fine quartet and an important work of the period from which it comes. Either hard to obtain or out of print, we have reprinted the original edition by Rózsavölgyi. Both professionals and amateurs seeking a first class post from between the World Wars should find this quartet fills the bill.