Piano Quartet No.3 in F Major, Op.47
Gernsheim's Third Piano Quartet was composed in 1883, during his long tenure as director of the Rotterdam Conservatory. It is perhaps not a coincidence that it bears the same opus number as Schumann's only piano quartet. And, it comes at a time when Gernsheim was greatly influenced by his friend Brahms. This work along with a few others earned Gernsheim the sobriquet of the 'Dutch Brahms'.
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.
Although Piano Quartet No.3 does show the influence of Brahms it is in no way imitative. More than elsewhere, the big first movement, Allegro tranquillo, with its rhythmic phrases and dark tone color brings Brahms to mind. But where Brahms generally has the strings play as a group against the piano, Gernsheim uses this technique only rarely. The movement begins quietly, the strings slip in gradually and only then does the tempo increase. The music, which is overflowing with wonderful melody after another is mostly genial and the combination of the instruments is superb. The second movement, Allegro energico e appassionato, a blustering and exciting scherzo, is for its time quite modern sounding. From the opening notes, its begins in dramatic and exciting fashion. However, Gernheim plays with the listener, constantly interrupting the music just when one expects a theme to receive a more lengthy treatment. This creates a very impressive effect. The slow movement, Andante cantabile, brings relief with its long-lined soothing melody, it could almost be called a song without words. The finale, Tema con varizione, has for its main theme a simple, child-like tune which is first given out by the piano. In the several variations which follows, Gernsheim demonstrates his mastery of form and instrumental technique and finishes it off with an exciting conclusion.
This is unquestionably a masterpiece of the piano quartet literature. Professionals who present it in concert will surely enjoy a triumph and amateurs will also revel, playing this great work. Out of print for over a century, we have reprinted the first and only edition, but corrected mistakes and added rehearsal numbers.