Anselm Hüttenbrenner

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String Quartet No.1 in B flat Major, Op.3

"Death & the Maiden"

"This is an historically important quartet which could be played by professionals on the same program along with Schubert’s Death & the Maiden. Stylistically they are very different works. On its own, perhaps it does not merit performance in the concert hall, but certainly amateurs will find this quartet to their taste.."--The Chamber Music Journal

There are few music lovers who have not seen Joseph Tetscher’s now famous aquarelle of Schubert and two of his close friends shown above. But how many know that the man next to him is Anselm Hüttenbrenner? After studying law at the University of Graz, Hüttenbrenner (1794-1868), who was already an accomplished pianist and composer, went to Vienna in 1815 for advanced studies with Antonio Salieri. It was there that he struck up a lifelong friendship with his fellow student Schubert, a friendship which was particularly close during the few short years that Hüttenbrenner remained in Vienna. While it cannot be claimed that Hüttenbrenner was exactly well-known during his lifetime, certainly he was not unknown. Today, his name only survives because of his connection with Schubert and Beethoven. But during his lifetime, Hüttenbrenner was respected both as a composer and pianist. He wrote a considerable amount of music including eight symphonies, a number of operas and over 200 songs. His chamber works consist of two string quartets, a string quintet and several sonatas.

Hüttenbrenner's chamber music undeniably bears a resemblance to that of Schubert. Is this because he merely copied the style of his friend? The easy answer might be yes. However, listeners will think twice after hearing Hüttenbrenner’s String Quartet No.1 in E Major which dates from 1816. It was written the year before Schubert composed his well-known song Death & the Maiden and more than seven years before Schubert composed his famous quartet known by the same name. The third movement of this quartet definitely anticipates the famous slow movement from Schubert’s quartet. Clearly a ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas was taking place. The two were school fellows and close friends who spent hour upon hour with each other, talking and carousing, showing and performing their new works to each other. How could it be otherwise but that they influenced each other. Unlike Schubert, Hüttenbrenner was able to find a publisher for his First Quartet, Steiner of Vienna, who published it immediately after its completion.

The Quartet is in four movements. The very simple, yet attractive, main theme to the Allegretto, is based on an upward harmonic progression passed from voice to voice. A lovely second theme appears in the first violin. It bears an affinity to a tune and a mood that Schubert was to create in his String Quartet No.13 in a minor. There is also a charming third subject.  Hüttenbrenner's use of the cello is far in advance of Schubert for the same period. (1816) The second movement is a short Scherzo, Allegro con spirito. The main section is simple, straight forward and charming.The brief trio has an attractive melody. It is the third movement to this quartet, Andante con variazione which makes both the player and listener sit up and take notice. Clearly, Schubert had the Hüttenbrenner Quartet No.1 in mind as he began his own slow movement. In more than one of the variations, Schubert, at least rhythmically, was inspired by what Hüttenbrenner had written. In the first variation Hüttenbrenner places the first violin high above the others and has it singing a syncopated theme against the opening repeated rhythm of a quarter noted followed by two eighths. Schubert also uses the first violin in the same way while the middle voices beat out triplets and the cello repeats the opening rhythm. Also third variation, with its repeated drum beat rhythm of a 16th note followed by two 32nds notes, all on the same pitch, is very similar to Schubert’s fourth variation. Of course, one must not speak of Schubert “stealing” Hüttenbrenner’s ideas. Most likely, neither friend would have considered it any such thing. While no one would suggest that the two quartets are comparable, what is important is to note that Schubert himself thought Hüttenbrenner had worthwhile musical ideas. The last movement to this quartet concludes with a lively Allegro.

Our edition, which is based on the 1816 Steiner edition of Vienna, has been reset with mistakes corrected. Obviously, this is a very interesting work which should be of interest to all.


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