String Quartet No.2 in A Major, Op.50
Joseph Jongen's String Quartet No.2 was composed in 1916 while he was living in England, having left his native Belgium after the Germans invaded in 1914. It was premiered with considerable success in London in 1917 and remained in the repertoire of English and Belgium quartets for several years after the war before inexplicably fading from sight.
Joseph Jongen (1873-1953), on the strength of an amazing precocity for music, entered the Liege Conservatory (in Belgium) at the extraordinarily young age of seven where he spent the next sixteen years. The admission board was not disappointed. Jongen won a First Prize for Fugue in 1891, an honors diploma in piano the next year and another for organ in 1896 . In 1897, he won the prestigious Grande Prix de Rome which allowed him to travel to Italy, Germany and France. He began composing at the age of 13 and immediately exhibited extraordinary talent. By the time he published his opus one, he already had dozens of works to his credit.
Twenty two years separate the Second Quartet from his earlier work and as one might expect, Jongen's style had undergone considerable change during that time. While First Quartet, structurally, shows the influence of Cesar Franck, especially, in the use of cyclic motifs, this is completely gone in the later work. The opening movement, Allegro moderato, begins with a searching theme in the cello. Both the accompaniment and the development of the melody show the influence of Debussy. The second theme, is played in unison by all voices and is loud and thrusting, but what follows is an uncertain, melancholy tune. Underlying it all, there is a nervous tension. The main theme to the middle movement, a Lento, is a mysterious, lethargic and muted. To a repeated rhythmic accompaniment a kind of Gaelic melody is gradually released. The middle section is more energetic without become dramatic. The finale, Molto vivo, has an appealing, upbeat melody first introduced by the viola for its main theme. It sounds rather English and perhaps was a tip of the hat to his host country. The second theme is a kind of restless traveling music.
This is a big, first rate work which absolutely belongs in the repertoire and is an exciting alternative to either the Debussy or Ravel quartets. Experienced amateurs will also enjoy playing it.