Piano Quartet No.3 in G Major, Op.50
Friedrich Kiel's third and final piano quartet was composed in 1868, a year after his first two. This work, along with his two other piano quartets, is among the best 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.
Unlike the other two, Piano Quartet No.3 is in three and not four movements. It begins with a somewhat solemn Adagio con espressione introduction before the entrance of the more buoyant Allegro. (Our soundbite begins here) The lovely middle movement, Andante quasi allegretto, has the quality of a Lied or song. A faster trio section in the minor provides a fine contrast. An exciting finale, Presto assai, caps this superb work. In the best Schubertian tradition, it races along in 6/8 with barely a moment's rest until the appearance of the second theme.
As with the other two, this work has been out of print for more than a century and undoubtedly would be a great success and audience pleaser in concert. Amateur music makers will also derive great pleasure playing a work of this quality.