String Quartet No.1 in G Major, Op.22
It seemed unlikely that Vitĕzslav Novák (1870-1949) would become a musician having begun by hating music as a result of being brutally forced to study the violin and the piano as a young child. But a fascination for composition, which he discovered in his teens, led to his decision to enter the Prague Conservatory, where he studied with Dvorak among others. Dvorak's example of using Czech folk melody in his music to foster the nationalist cause at a time when the Czech and Slovak peoples were seeking statehood from Austria encouraged the young composer to follow this path. After graduating from the Conservatory in 1896, he traveled to eastern Moravia and Slovakia where the local folk melodies he found served as a source of inspiration for him. It was a seminal moment which led to Novák becoming a leading proponent of the Czech nationalism in music in the generation after Dvorak and Smetana.
String Quartet No.1, bears the fruits of Novák's travels and is brimming with the melodies and rhythms of the regions he visited during his trip. Composed in 1899, it won the 1900 Czech Chamber Music Society Prize. Novák wrote that the opening movement, Allegro moderato, was inspired by the landscape of eastern Moravia. The first violin brings forth a calm melody, full of longing, perhaps a kind of homesickness one might feel. Novák tells us that this soft melody was an attempt to recreating the "hailing" calls of the hill shepherds with their flocks. The second movement, Scherzo, Allegro commodo, is actually a rather leisurely peasant dance. There is a sly, humorous quality to it. The finale, Andante mesto--Allegro ben ritmico, is full of the folk tunes of Slovakia. It seems to have trouble getting started, trouble deciding on a tempo or a temperament. Again and again the tempo is doubled only to return to the slower, deliberate opening tempo. The mood of the music is like shifting sands under one's feet, now gay, now passionate, now reflective and yearning, now defiant. When put altogether it creates a beautiful mosaic made out of Slavic folk music. This quartet is a gem which deserves regular concert performance outside of the Czech Republic. In addition, amateurs will find it a very appealing post Dvorak, late romantic work.
Parts & Score: $31.95