Piano Quartet No.1 in E flat Major, Op.6
Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) is a composer whose music was held in the highest regard by critics during his lifetime. No less an authority than Wilhelm Altmann, perhaps the most influential chamber music critic of all time, has written that Gernsheimís chamber music is poetic and of a high intellectual content. But Gernsheim had two misfortunes, which led to his music not obtaining the reputation it might have. The first was to be born within a decade of Brahms. A misfortune because, in what is surely an extraordinary phenomenon, virtually every composer in the German-speaking countries born within a decade either side of Brahms were so eclipsed by him that their reputation and music all but disappeared when that era was over. Names such as Rheinberger, Reinecke, Kiel, Bruch, Dessoff, and Herzogenberg, among many others, come to mind. The second misfortune was that being Jewish, his music was officially banned during the Nazi era, which insured that it would fall into oblivion. It is only now, close to a century after his death that it is being rediscovered with great delight.
Gernsheim, somewhat of a piano and violin virtuoso as a child, was eventually educated at the famous Leipzig Conservatory where he studied piano with Ignaz Moscheles and violin with Ferdinand David. After graduating, he continued his studies in Paris, getting to know Saint SaŽns, Lalo, Liszt and Rossini. Despite his admiration for France and the French, he returned to Germany and during the course of his life, he held academic and conducting positions in Cologne, Rotterdam and finally Berlin. He used his position as a conductor to advance the cause of Brahmsí music. The two, while not close friends, carried on a correspondence for many years during which it was clear that Brahms had considerable respect and admiration for Gernsheimís work. An accolade which was, in Brahmsí case, no mere flattery as Brahms only very rarely praised the works of other composers.
The First Piano Quartet dates from 1860. It was begun whilst he was in Paris and so impressed Ferdinand Hiller, director of the Cologne Conservatory, that he offered Gernsheim a position as a composition teacher there. Stylistically, an early work, it shows the Mendelssohnian influence of his Leipzig training but also of the melodic influence of Rossini. The first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, begins with a optimistic theme full of forward drive. The second theme has chorale-like quality. The extraordinarily fine second movement, Allegro vivace assai, though it starts quietly, quickly becomes is a whirlwind scherzo. This is followed by an Andante con moto, with its sweet and lovely main theme. It is in the first theme of the finale, Allegro con brio, that one hears the influence of Mendelssohn with its rhythmically driving first theme. This is followed up by a lovely second subject.
Here is proof that even early on Gernsheim was produce masterpieces of the chamber music literature which deserved to be placed in the permanent repertoire. Certainly professionals should present it in concert but amateurs will not want to miss out on the chance to play this great work. Out of print for over a century, we have reprinted the first and only edition.