Piano Quintet No.1 in d minor, Op.35
You could not ask for a better example of why Friedrich Gernsheim is among those unknown composers most deserving of recognition and acclaim than his Piano Quintet No.1 in d minor, Op.35. Here is an extraordinarily fine work which could stand alongside of that of Brahms and not come away the worse for it. Listen to the sound-bites and judge for yourself.
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 Quintet dates from 1877. Though he was only 28, Gernsheim had by then obtained his own voice and had freed himself from the influence of Mendelssohn, Schumann and even Brahms, whom he admired. The opening Allegro moderato, after a very brief introduction, opens with a powerful theme of destiny. Two lyrical tunes immediately follow, one after the other, without development, which is saved for later. A slow movement, Andante molto cantabile, has a lovely, long-lined melody presented by the first violin. Almost unnoticed, the other voices unobtrusively join in, bringing with them a satisfyingly rich tonality. The Vivace ed energico, which comes next, serves as a powerful scherzo, its nervous main theme brings with it tremendous forward motion and drama. The trio, with its languid melody, provides an excellent contrast. The finale, Allegro con brio, begins in an interesting fashion--with a hesitant fugue. The main theme takes a few moments to surface but as soon as the fugue reaches its first marker, the piano produces a gorgeous and compelling melody, which is quickly taken up by the strings. From here on out, the music just flows effortlessly along. A lyrical second theme takes up the current. The handling of each voice is truly masterful. We wish to thank Mark Thomas who generously made the sound-bites available to us.
In our opinion, here is an important masterwork, deserving of rescue. We hope that professional players will be enticed to undertake this worthwhile task, while inviting amateur players to add an exceptional work to their chamber music libraries. Out of print for over a century, we have reprinted the first and only edition, however, we have corrected a few mistakes and added rehearsal numbers.