String Quartet No.2 in G Major, Op.70 No.2
Today, Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) is primarily remembered as a friend and student of Beethoven, as well as his first biographer. However, during his lifetime and for much of the 19 century Ries was remembered as a fine composer and virtuoso pianist. He showed musical promise from an early age, studying both violin and piano with his father, and the cello with Bernhard Romberg. In 1801, he went to Vienna to study with Beethoven. He studied piano and composition with him for nearly 5 years. Thereafter Ries concertized throughout Europe for a number of years before settling in London and then finally retiring in Frankfurt. He wrote a considerable amount of music including several piano concertos and a large quantity of chamber music which was many years often performed and well thought of. Ries composed string quartets throughout his entire life, some 26 in all. He wrote many more string quartets than he did piano sonatas, piano trios, piano quartets or other works with piano, surprising for a virtuoso pianist and one is forced to conclude that he felt the string quartet to be a far more important medium than those with piano or at the very least he harbored real ambition to make an important contribution to it as had his teacher Beethoven. And like Beethoven, he took his time, trying other chamber music genres before turning to the quartet. His Opus 70 were a set of three quartets composed in 1812 while he was touring Russia. He mailed them to his publisher but they were lost. Finally, in 1815 he sent them again and they were published in 1816 by C.F. Peters.
Opus 70 No.2 was singled out by the famous chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann, writing in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, as being particularly fine, a rich work. James Whitby, writing in The Chamber Music Journal noted that “The writing is good and interesting for all players, and quite often sounds much like Beethoven,” Even Beethoven recognized this and was somewhat annoyed. The opening movement, a pleasant Allegro, calls to mind Beethoven’s Op.18, in particular the second and third of that series. In the second movement, a lively Andante and engaging set of variations, though not so marked, we hear Ries and not Beethoven. All is masterly executed in this very effective movement. Next comes a Scherzo, allegro vivace, it is full forward motion, powerful in a Beethovenesque way but not particularly sounding like him. A rather slow trio provides fine contrast. The finale, Allegro molto, races at breakneck speed, full of excitement and elan, maintaining interest from start to finish.
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