String Quartet No.3 in C Major, Op.17
Henri Marteau (1874-1934) was born in the French city of Reims. It was said that as a boy of 5, he was presented with a toy violin by Paganiniís only student, the virtuoso Sivori. He took private lessons from Hubert Leonard, head of the violin department at the Paris Conservatory and soon became one of the leading soloists of his time. Later he taught at the Geneva Conservatory and was appointed as Joseph Joachimís successor at the Hochschule for Musik in Berlin. Besides his solo work, Marteau was a strong advocate of chamber music, frequently taking part in chamber music concerts and a great number of his compositions are for chamber ensembles. He was friends with many of the leading personalities of his time, including Brahms, Reger and many others.
Marteau's String Quartet No.3 dates from 1916 and is one of his most accessible works. The big, opening movement, Commodo, begins with a sunny, playful melody. The the music is painted on a broad canvas and features some rather interesting harmonic surprises. The extraordinary, second movement, Adagio molto, bears the title given in both French--Hymne ŗ la douleur--and in German--Hymne an den Schmerz. It opens darkly and slowly becomes a dirge that is interrupted by sudden but brief chromatic outbursts of pain. But then in the powerful, dramatic climax of the movement, a torrent of sound, of dread and horror, is loosed. One cannot wonder if this movement, written as it was during the height of the First World War, was meant to express the horrific experience that had grasped the European continent. Then comes a upbeat Scherzo, allegro, the first section to which is played entirely pizzicato. It makes an indelible impression. There is a jazzy feel it which is confirmed when the players pick up there bows and play a somewhat lopsided dance, rather like a Viennese waltz not quite right. The strident, Adagio introduction to the finale, immediately recalls the mood of the second movement. The main section, Allegro, opens with a subdued unisono which suddenly explodes in a panoply of different moods rising to joyful climax but then immediately followed by a said plaint first heard in the cello and then the violin. The music continues on through several twists and turns to a rollicking coda.
This is a highly original and riveting early modern work which truly deserves concert performance where it is sure to make an indelible impression. Though not a work for beginners, it is in now way beyond experienced amateur players. Out of print for more than half a century, we are very pleased to make it available once again and hope that players will give it a chance.