String Quartet in g minor, Op.2 No.1
“There has, as of late, been a spate of string quartet CDs of unknown or long-forgotten composers from the 18th century. Many of these releases only serve to confirm why these works have been deservedly forgotten. This is not the case with Johannes Spech’s three Op.2 string quartets. The Hungarians claim him now and style him Janos. However, he was more or less your typical ethnic German-Austrian, born in Pressburg then part of the Habsburg Empire, now Bratislava in the Slovak Republic. He studied composition in Vienna with Haydn and then spent most of his time in Buda and Pest, then German enclaves in Austrian Hungary. There he sought out patrons from the Hungarian nobility as had Haydn. The Op.2 quartets are dedicated to M le Comte François de Koháry. (Ferenc [Franz] Graf von Koháry) They were published in 1803. What a surprise to find, despite the low opus number, very finished and mature works which are the equal of Haydn’s Opp.71 and 74 quartets, if not those of Op.76. All three works are in 4 movements, and follow an Allegro, Andante, Menuetto, Allegro molto pattern. His use of all of the voices in the presentation of thematic material is exceptional for the time and superior to that of Haydn. The melodies are fresh and tuneful, never threadbare. These works are a real find.”—–The Chamber Music Journal
The Op.2 String Quartets, a set of three, were composed sometime between 1799 and 1803. One can clearly hear the influence of Spech’s teacher Haydn. The opening movement, Allegro, of the Quartet in g minor clearly has its roots in the Sturm and Drang era. A unisono opening begins the work. There is some very attractive use of chromaticism. Spech’s treatment of the cello is quite exceptional in that after the first violin, it is perhaps the most prominent voice. The beautiful second movement, Un poco Andante, recalls the slow movements of Haydn. The Menuetto, un poco allegro, with its pleading main main theme is particularly attractive. The charming trio section is clearly an Austrian Lāndler shared by the first violin and the cello. The exciting finale is a match for those of Haydn.
We have reprinted the one and only first edition. It is nearly 200 years old and full of all sorts of water marks, smudges, and the detritus of age. The work, as was usual, without rehearsal letters. In order to rescue this fine quartet from oblivion, we have spent many hours digitally cleaning it and adding rehearsal letters. The result is a serviceable performance edition of the sort Haydn or Beethoven would have played off of. But, it is not pristine like a newly published work nor the equal in quality of a modern edition. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact. Here is a work which can be programmed in place of the inevitable Haydn which will please audiences as well as players.