String Quartet No.2 in B flat Major, Op.83
"The String Quartet No.2 in B flat Major by Arnold Mendelssohn must be ranked alongside the finest compositions of Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss and Max Reger."--so wrote the respected German music critic Jürgen Böhme, while the prestigious German musical periodical, Neue Musikzeitung, reviewing Mendelssohn’s Second String Quartet, wrote: “Those who are familiar with Arnold Mendelssohn’s music will not be surprised that his String Quartet No.2 is a well conceived and executed chamber work. The thematic structure, the clear development and logic and the sureness of the part writing for each voice show that the composer is a master of great experience. Further to its credit, it offers no great technical difficulties and can therefore be recommended not only to professionals but also to amateur players.”
Mendelssohn's second string quartet was composed between 1917-1918. (although it was not published until 1926) The composer was 63 when he completed it and had witnessed a huge change from the time of his student days. In his 20's Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn stilled dominated music circles. Ten years later, Brahms was ascendant, then Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf and Max Reger. Finally in the years before World War One, the so-called Second Vienna School with Schoenberg and his 12 tone, atonalism. He assimilated and was affected by all of these influences. While rejecting atonalism, he did not stand still but recognized the new, expanding boundaries of tonality and dissonance which had been pioneered by Mahler, Strauss and Reger, all the while retaining his own individuality.
It is interesting to note that the most tonally adventurous part of the Quartet appears in the first movement, Allegro. The idiom, by and large is late Romantic, but jagged thematic material is continually perforated by dissonant leaps which a create a strident quality to the music. In the rest of the quartet, this disappears and the material glides back to a neo-classical, late romantic style. The second movement, Andante, features a swaying melody with a middle section that has a very attractive recitativ between the viola and first violin. Next comes an Allegretto scherzoso which is a cross between a Ländler and a scherzo which results in an exotic dance-like quality. The finale begins with a lengthy Lento introduction, at first meditative but rising to a dramatic climax. The main part of the movement is an upbeat, rustic Vivace.
Arnold Mendelssohn (1855-1933) was a distant relation to Felix Mendelssohn. His early schooling took place in Berlin and Danzig. His formal music training was at the Royal Church Institute of Berlin where he studied organ, piano and composition with Friedrich Kiel. He subsequently worked as an organist at churches in Bonn and Bielefeld, eventually teaching at the Cologne Conservatory where Paul Hindemith was among his many students. He composed nearly 300 works in virtually every genre from opera to chamber music, although he was perhaps best known for his church music. He was widely respected as a composer of the Neo-Romantic Style and his music was frequently performed until it was outlawed by the Nazi Regime, after which it lay forgotten for many years and is only now being rediscovered.
We believe that this quartet, like his first, belongs in the repertoire. It is an important work by a first rate composer who like Strauss and Reger, rejected atonalism but sought to further develop and expand traditional tonality, building on the style of late Romantic and experimenting with a new classicism.