Piano Quartet No.2 in E Major, Op.44
Friedrich Kiel's Piano Quartet No.2 in E Major, Op.44 was composed immediately after his First. Both were published in 1867. This work, along with his two others piano quartets, is among the best and the most important works of this genre. Today, we have forgotten that up until the First World War, piano quartets were more frequently composed and performed than the now more often performed piano quintet. (For example, Mendelssohn wrote piano quartets but no quintets, Brahms wrote only one piano quintet but three piano quartets)
Writing of the chamber music of Friedrich Kiel (1821-1885), Wilhelm Altmann—perhaps the greatest of chamber music critics—notes that it was Kiel’s extreme modesty which kept him and his exceptional works from receiving the consideration they deserved. And what consideration did Altmann feel these works deserved? After mentioning Brahms and others, Altmann writes, “He produced a number of chamber works, which...need fear no comparison.” Altmann, himself, said that he found in Kiel’s chamber music a “never ending source of delight.” That his works remained relatively unknown was due mostly to his modesty but also, Altmann explains, to the high cost of the original editions.
Kiel was taught the rudiments of music and received his first piano lessons from his father but was in large part self-taught. Something of a prodigy, he played the piano almost without instruction at the age of six, and by his thirteenth year he had composed much music. Kiel eventually won a scholarship which allowed him to study in Berlin with the renowned theorist and teacher Siefried Dehn. By 1866, Kiel obtained a teaching position at the prestigious Stern Conservatory and was elevated to a professorship three years later. In 1870 he joined the faculty of the newly founded Hochschule für Musik which was shortly thereafter considered one of the finest music schools in Germany. Among his many students were Noskowski, Paderewski and Stanford. Kiel's hobby was mountaineering and at age 60--two years before his tragic death as the result of a traffic accident--he climbed Europe's second highest peak, Monte Rosa.
The big, spacious, Allegro moderato ma con spirito, which begins the work starts quietly and in a calm fashion. It is only after much searching that we are presented with the heroic main theme. The lovely string writing recalls Schubert. The second movement, Intermezzo, allegro, is a very interesting kind of scherzo in which the tempo is hard to pin down, at times slow and almost lumbering, at others nimble. The trio section is a lovely waltz. The slow movement, Largo ma non troppo, begins with the piano alone, giving off a very solemn theme. When the strings diffidently enter, we here echoes of Late Beethoven. In a way, this short, ominous movement is nothing but a long introduction to the finale, Rondo, allegro grazioso. The charming main theme has a fleet elegance. There is much excitement and lovely melody throughout.
Out of print for more than a century, this work would be an unqualified success and audience pleaser in concert. Amateur music makers will surely get great fun out of having the chance to play such a sparkling work.