Dame Ethel Smyth
String Quartet in e minor
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was no longer young when she finished her only string quartet in 1912. It is very different from her string quintet of 1884. In the nearly 30 years which intervened, much had happened in the musical world and Smyth, in this work, shows that she had kept abreast of modern trends. The British critic, Katharine Eggar describes the quartet as follows:
The opening Allegro lirico is a movement of great freshness and thought. The part-writing and rhythmical resource are of a high order of musicianship. The second movement, Allegro molto leggiero, deliberately lacks any lyrical quality. Its angularity an original effect of pleasing uncouthness. The slow movement, Andante, has a nobility of emotion. The finale, Allegro energico, begins with a fugue. The rhythmically unusual main subject is quite striking.
Ethel Smyth overcame the constraints of her middle-class English background by open rebellion. Taught piano and theory as ladylike accomplishments, she became so concentrated in her studies that her family deemed them unsuitably intense, and stopped her lessons. The teenaged Ethel went on a protracted and progressively more severe strike, finally confining herself to her room and refusing to attend meals, church, or social functions unless her father would send her to Leipzig to study composition. After two years the embattled Mr. Smyth gave in, and Ethel went to Leipzig where she studied with Heinrich von Herzogenberg and got to know Brahms, whom she admired greatly, Grieg among others.
Back in England, she obtained recognition mostly for her public works such as her Mass in D and her opera The Wreckers. Eventually she was raised to the rank of Dame, not only for her musical work but also for her political activities; she was one of Britain's leading suffragettes during the first part of the 20th century.
Published in 1914 and out of print for many years now, we are pleased to make this very interesting and unusual quartet work available once again.