Prince of Prussia
Piano Quartet No.1 in E flat Major, Op.5
"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.
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.
The First Piano Quartet, published during the prince's lifetime, was completed around 1804. The piano, as one might expect from a virtuoso pianist, has a brilliant part, much the sort that Mendelssohn wrote for himself in his piano quartets. The opening movement, Allegro espressivo, is classical in structure. Two themes are presented and the development of each is given extensive treatment. The highly romantic Adagio which follows begins mildly but becomes tinged with gloom as the movement progresses. The main theme of the Tempo di menuetto, which serves as the third movement, has echoes of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, while the mood anticipates that of a Schubert scherzo. The finale is a large scale Rondo, moderato.
Despite the brilliance of the piano part, the strings are shown to good advantage both alone and as an ensemble and treated as equal partners, and it is this treatment which lifts Louis Ferdinand's piano quartet to the first rank of such works from this period.