Prince of Prussia
Piano Quintet in c minor, Op.1
"If he is not a composer of the Romantic era, then he must be considered the most romantic of the Classical." So wrote Robert Schumann of Louis Ferdinand Hohenzollern (1772-1806), a nephew of Frederick the Great and a Prince of Prussia. It is ironic that Schumann is often credited with creating the modern piano quintet, but Louis Ferdinand's Piano Quintet of 1801 predates Schumann's by more than almost 4 decades and which may well have served as Schumann's model.
Louis Ferdinand's Piano Quintet may not be the first piano quintet ever written, but it certainly is one of the first. No major composer, such as Mozart or Haydn had composed a piano quintet. The piano virtuoso Dussek composed one in 1799 but this was not for piano and string quartet, the so-called standard ensemble, but for piano, violin, viola cello and bass. Nonetheless, this probably served as Louis Ferdinand's model, especially in light of the fact that he was studying both composition and piano with Dussek at the time this work was composed. There is no doubt, however, that Louis Ferdinand's quintet broke new ground putting the strings virtually on equal ground and giving them a much bigger role than they play in Dussek's work.
Of the four movements, the energetic opening movement, Allegro con fuoco, shows its historical roots more than the others in that it sometimes resembles a mini-concerto for piano with the strings playing the part of a small orchestra but the part they play is nonetheless substantial. However by the second movement, a charming Minuetto with a finely contrasting trio, there is no question but that we are in the realm of pure chamber music, the strings being given individual parts to play. Next comes an Andante which is a theme and set of variations. Here it is even more apparent that the composer is breaking new ground giving variations to various string instruments, including the cello which receives one of the longer variations. The engaging finale, Rondo, allegro giocoso, begins with the piano leading the way with the strings accompanying. Soon, however, the roles are reversed and the violin and the other strings take over and the piano accompanies.
A professional soldier, who died during a battle fighting Napoleon's invading army, Louis Ferdinand was also trained as a musician, studying piano and composition with several different teachers. He was a gifted pianist, reckoned a virtuoso with few peers by those who heard him, and his compositions have always been regarded as the work of a professional composer. Musicologists generally consider him an early Romantic whose music anticipated Schubert and Schumann, but one can also hear the influence of Mozart as well as early Beethoven. Military and court life left little time to compose and he has but a few works to his credit, mostly chamber music. These include 3 piano trios, 2 piano quartets and a piano quintet.
Though given the opus number of 1, this was not the first work composed by the prince, far from it, Many unnumbered works preceded this, the first to which he chose to give an opus number and it is a highly polished and mature piece. Here we have a work which is not only historically important because it is really the only first rate piano quintet from the late classical era and perhaps the first of its kind, but also because it is good to play and to hear. Long out of print, we hope it will soon make many friends among both professionals and amateurs.