Double Quartet No.1 in d minor, Op.65
The Double Quartet format--for 2 string quartets-- is not only unusual but is virtually unique to Spohr and must be ranked as his most important contribution to the realm of chamber music.
Louis Spohr (1784-1859 also known as Ludwig) was born in the German city of Braunschweig. From early childhood, he showed a great aptitude for the violin. He studied with the virtuoso violinist Franz Anton Eck in St. Petersburg and ultimately became one of the leading violinists in the first half of the 19th century. But he was also an important composer and conductor. Spohr wrote in virtually every genre, not the least being chamber music. He composed some 36 string quartets, 7 string quintets, five piano trios, four double quartets and several other chamber pieces.
In his memoirs, Spohr wrote that the idea of the double quartet came to him from friend and colleague, the famous violinist, Andreas Romberg. Quite apart from a standard octet which works as one large group, the idea of the Double Quartet was to have two separate, but equally important groups which could enter into the most varied of relationships. He set himself the task of using two quartets in frequent contrast in the manner of a double choir and saving the combining of the groups into an octet for the climaxes of the work. Hence the alternating of presentation of the thematic material of the two quartets creates a ongoing dialogue and is crucial to the structure of the work. It also allows for an even greater use of tonal coloration than the standard octet. In line with this, Spohr specified that the seating arrangement for a double quartet had to be different from an octet. He decreed that the two quartets were to be seated opposite one another with the first violin and cello of each quartet sitting directly across from his counterpart.
The First Double Quartet, Op.65, was written during the spring of 1823 and published two years later. Writing in his Chamber Music Handbook, the famous critic and scholar Wilhelm Altmann describes the work as follows:
"This is a work which should not be overlooked. The first movement, Allegro, begins immediately with a statement of the main theme in unison by all eight voices. In the forefront throughout the movement, it is skillfully employed in a variety of ways. The second movement, Scherzo, vivace, with its delicious melody is full of a droll humor while the rhythmic accompaniment of the second quartet is finely intertwined with the thematic material of the first. A serene though at times passionate Larghetto follows. The lively and joyous Allegretto molto makes a very suitable finale for this fine work."
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