Rhapsody for Piano Quartet, Op.37
Paul Juon (1872-1940) was the son of Swiss parents who emigrated to Moscow where he was born. Educated at the Moscow German High School, he entered the Moscow Conservatory where he studied violin with Jan Hrimaly and composition with Anton Arensky and Sergei Taneyev. After graduating, he went to Berlin for further composition instruction from Woldemar Bargiel (we have published Bargiel's Piano Trio No.1). In 1906, after holding various posts in Russia, Juon was invited by Joseph Joachim, head of the prestigious Berlin Hochschule für Musik, to become a of Professor of Composition, a post which he held until 1934 when he returned to Switzerland, where lived for the rest of his life.
Juon was widely regarded as a first rate composer and his works were given frequent performance throughout Europe during his lifetime. Chamber music plays a large part of his output which numbers more than 100 works.
The Rhapsody for Piano Quartet, sometimes referred to as his Piano Quartet No.1, dates from 1907-8, just after he had taken up his professorship in Berlin. Juon had recently read the popular novel, Gosta Berling's Saga and was deeply impressed by it when he sat down to write the Rhapsody. Many commentators believe Juon attempted to express the feelings he had experienced reading the novel. Gosta Berling's Saga, by the Swedish Nobel Literature Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, is about a fallen pastor who is forced out of his ministry and must make a new life for himself. It is set in the Sweden of the 1830's and is at one and the same time highly romantic and also mystical. The atmosphere is a cross between Henrik Ibsen and Jack London, combining the eccentric upper-class nobility of Sweden with magical snow scenes involving wolves. While the Rhapsody is not really programmatic music, it is at least worth knowing the source of the romantic outpouring which has made the Rhapsody one of Juon's most personal and emotional works.
One thing the music is not, is Nordic-sounding. If anything, it is tinged with Slavic, and in particular Russian folkdance melodies, no doubt the result of his having lived the greater portion of his life there. The opening Moderato begins with a emotionally charged and dramatic statement in the cello which the others soon take up. Surprisingly, as the piano enters with a jazz-like interlude, we hear what sounds like Gershwin (who was only 10 at the time!). The second theme is a kind of tense and nervous music of forward motion with a sense of impending disaster. Written on a large scale this movement boldly travels across a huge emotional canvas, perhaps in this sense like a Norse Saga. The main theme to the second movement, Allegretto, introduced by the piano is clearly a Russian folk dance melody. It sounds vaguely Hebraic. Yet when the strings enter, we briefly hear a traditional, even Schubertian, German romanticism. The second theme is a very romantic song of love. Next comes a scherzo-like interlude which features a dance from the Caucasus. (Juon taught there in Baku for a year). The huge finale, Sostenuto-Allegretto, as the movement marking suggests, alternates between slow and fast sections. The mood is constantly changing from the reflective sostenuto, to a gay, almost care-free some Viennese-sounding dance (our sound-bite begins here) and before a more dramatic and serious element is welded on the the preceding dance.
We are pleased to reintroduce this long unavailable great masterpiece in the literature for piano quartet.