Piano Quartet No.2 in c minor, Op.202 No.2
During the last ten years of his life and for the three decades following it, Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was regularly mentioned in the same breath as Wagner, Liszt, and Brahms as one of Germany's leading composers. The experts and the public judged him to be the equal to such past masters as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. Incredibly, by the 1920's his music had all but disappeared from the concert stage. It seems virtually unimaginable that a composer whose talent was recognized and whose music was admired by Mendelssohn and Liszt, could become a mere footnote, yet this is what became of Raff and his music for most of the 20th century. Only now is he being rediscovered to the delight of those fortunate enough to hear his music.
The Piano Quartet No.2 in c minor Op.202 No.2 dates from 1877 and is Raff's last major piece of chamber music. It is a substantial work in four movements. The huge opening Allegro begins somberly with an ominous short motif on the piano. The mood is one of foreboding which is hardly relieved by a second and more lyrical, but no less anxious, melody which has little time to establish itself before a final forceful and more confident idea, a series of stepwise descending jumps, asserts itself. The hard-driving second movement, also an Allegro, is much shorter than the preceding one. Strongly rhythmic, Raff squeezes five delightful melodies into this tiny gem. Next comes a slow movement, Larghetto. It is the emotional center of the work. The piano begins it with a haunting melody played straightforwardly. Later the violin takes up this melody which is now revealed in all its wistful beauty. The pace speeds up as the piano introduces a second subject. The finale, a third Allegro, is a happy affair beginning in C Major. The piano begins in declamatory fashion, answered by violin and cello before they launch straight into the first of three joyous themes upon which the movement is based.
This fine work belongs in the first rank of the standard literature for piano quartet. That it has fallen into oblivion is truly a shame and we hope that by making it available once again, amateurs and professionals will take the time to make its acquaintance.