String Quartet in a minor
How many people know that Fritz Kreisler (1875-1963) the famous violinist and composer of works for violin and piano wrote a string quartet--and a very good one too. That it is good is really no surprise, not only because Kreisler was a talented composer, but also because he was a regular string quartet player. Of course, it does not sound anything like his sweet morsels such as Liebesfreud or Schön Rosmarin.
Kreisler's quartet was completed in 1922. In the preceding decade, there had been many new and, some would say, shocking developments in music. Those who, as Kreisler, rejected the atonalism of Schönberg and his Second Vienna School, could no longer write in the idiom of Brahms. New ways had to be found. Composers such as Dohnanyi, Weigl, Weiner, Stravinsky, to name but a few, all struck out in different directions, while retaining some aspects of traditional tonalism.
Many critics have considered Kreisler's quartet to be programmatic and autobiographical as was Smetana's From My Life. Kreisler, however, never openly admitted this although he did tell his biographer, "It is my tribute to Vienna." (his birthplace) The opening movement, Allegro moderato but also titled Fantasia, immediately strikes a note of tragic drama with the opening cello solo. The main part of the movement does not turn out to be tragic but nonetheless has an eerie aura and gives off a haunted sense. The tonality of the following Scherzo, Allegro vivo con spirito, has a waywardness about it as the music dances along, literally bursting with energy. The languid trio section provides a mighty contrast. A slow movement, Andante con moto, also has a title: Introduction & Romance. The music is poignant and portrays an aching or a yearning for something lost. In main theme of the finale, has a rhythmic gaiety to it. It is an updated version of a Viennese dance tune. Slowly the music builds to a huge dramatic climax which is capped by the restatement of the tragic utterance of the opening cello solo. The music ends peacefully on a quiet note. Perhaps eulogizing the gay Vienna of the closing decades of the Habsburg Empire, which was destroyed forever by the First World War.
This quartet is truly a modern masterwork. That it did not achieve the fame it deserved and was not taken seriously can only be due to the fact that its composer was a violin virtuoso known for writing effective encore pieces. It deserves to be heard in concert and will be enjoyed by experienced amateur players as well.