String Quartet No.1 in d minor
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was born into a family of Polish landowners in Ubiel, not far from Minsk in what was then Russian Poland, now Belarus. When he was 9, his family moved to Warsaw where he began piano lessons. Both his talent and interest justified sending him to Berlin to continue his studies. While in Berlin, he had an unexpected early success when he set three songs to the words of the Polish national poet, Adam Mickiewicz. Moniuszko was to become the foremost 19th century composer of Polish song.
The source of his melodies and rhythmic patterns can usually be found in Polish folkdances such as the polonaise, mazurka, krakowiak, kujawiak and oberek. The bulk of his oeuvre consists of operas, operettas, and secular and sacred songs. Among his instrumental works are two string quartets which date from 1840 toward the end of his time in Berlin.
The opening theme to the first movement, Allegro agitato, of String Quartet No.1 in d minor is a mildly agitated, a gracious second theme, sounding a bit like Schubert, follows. The second movement, Andantino, has a lovely, na´ve melody, again reminiscent of early Schubert. Dramatic tension is added during anoperatic dialogue between the first violin and cello. In the original-sounding Scherzo, the main theme is a lilting and very danceable, attractive Polish mazurka. The finale, Allegro assai, is subtitled, Un ballo compestre e sue consequenze. It begins with a traditional Polish dance, a Hajduk or Haiduk. Although the Hajduks of Polish history were rather rough and romantic characters with shaved heads and long pigtails a la Genghis Khan, what we hear at first is not the rustic revelry of rude mercenary brigands but rather a kind of formal French musette. The musette effect comes from the bagpipe drone in the viola and cello. The rousing middle section is more in keeping with the title. The main theme then returns, but this time in a foot-stomping, thigh-slapping rendition.
This quartet's melodies are fresh and attractive. It would make an ideal work for professional groups requiring a shorter work as a substitute for Mozart or Haydn, something fresh-sounding with a Polish flavor. Amateurs will certainly enjoy playing it.