String Quartet No.11 in E flat Major, Op.67 No.2
Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) has to be one of the most underrated composers of the 20th century. Most who come to his music for the first time are amazed that it is not better known. He wrote some 27 symphonies and 13 string quartets. Myaskovsky was born in Congress (i.e. Russian) Poland near Warsaw, where his father, a military engineer was then serving. He took piano and violin lessons as a boy but followed in his father's footsteps, entering the military academy and graduating as an engineer. When he was posted to Moscow, he studied composition with Reinhold Gliere. Upon transfer to St. Petersburg, he finally decided to become a composer and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory where he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov. It was there he met Prokofiev with whom he became close friends. He served in WWI and was severely wounded on the Austrian front. After the war, he taught for most of his life at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his many students were Kabalevsky, Khatchaturian, Shebalin and Shchedrin.
The subtitle of the Eleventh Quartet, Reminiscences, refers us to the composerís early piano miniatures of 1906-07 and lyrical vocal works of the 1930's the melodies to which he revisits. It was completed in 1945. The unhurried first movement, Allegro tranquillo, sets the pace for the whole work. The music is elegant, transparent, and light. The second movement, Andante con moto, is clearly reminiscence of an earlier vocal work. It is a quote from his 1936 song cycle Lermontov. It is the form of a ballad, lovely and lyrical, yet unexpectedly interrupted by an emotional outburst in the middle The third movement, Allegretto pensieroso, is a slow, waltz. The smooth spinning of the repeated waltz figure, every time gaining new details, wraps a laconic rondo form in a kind of set of variations. The finale, Allegro non troppo, giocoso a festivo, is a lively dance.
While we know the quartets of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, those of Myaskovsky are every bit as deserving of our attention. Here is yet another fine work which belongs in the concert hall and which should be of interest to professional groups everywhere and which is well within the ability of amateurs.