String Quartet No.1 in d minor, Op.117
Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) was born near Posen, then part of Prussian Poland. He moved to Berlin in 1865 to complete his musical education. A good pianist, he primarily devoted himself to composition and teaching at several of Berlin’s leading conservatories, finally joining the faculty and serving as director of the conservatory founded by his younger brother, Xaver. Otto Klemperer was among his many students.
During his lifetime, his orchestral compositions were featured regularly in German concert halls, but the common consensus is that his chamber music was his best work. Besides several instrumental sonatas, he wrote two string quartets and a Piano Quintet. All three of these are late works and written within a short time of each other, around 1910. The idiom is late German Romantic, which by that time was certainly a retrospective style. The appearance of these works in 1910, rather than say in 1890, no doubt played a role in their not receiving the attention they should have for they are very accomplished works.
String Quartet No.1 in d minor, Op.117 begins restlessly with a somewhat Mendelssohnian Allegro moderato. There is no sense of tragedy or doom, but of striving, tinged with melancholy. The second theme is more hopeful and unhurried. An engaging fugue is made out of the first theme. The short and spirited second movement is in the major. Marked Intermezzo, allegretto vivace, it is actually a scherzo without a real trio. The beautiful third movement, In memoriam, Andante tranquillo, is not at all funereal but more in the nature of a romanza. The finale, Allegro ma non tanto ma con spirito, though a little livelier than the first movement, more or less shares the same mood. There is much to be said in favor of this quartet—fine writing, good ideas, all well executed.