Double Quartet No.3 in e minor, Op.87
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.
Spohr completed his Third Double Quartet, Op.87 in e minor in 1833. It became the best known of the four double quartets he wrote and was often performed throughout the 19th and first part of the 20th century. The work begins with an Adagio introduction but the main part of the first movement is a lyrical, spacious Allegro. (our soundbite begins here) The first theme has a deep felt sense of yearn while the second subject is calmer. The theme of the second movement, Andante con variazione is divided between the two quartets and forms the basis of a lively dialogue between the two, full of dazzling passage work. An energetic Scherzo comes next. It has a Beethovenian aura to it, alternating as it does between forward drive and lyrical calm. A dainty trio provides good contrast. In the finale, Allegro, a vigorous optimism infuses the main subject which has a fiery march-like quality. The second theme has a hymn-like quality and makes an excellent compliment to the first.
Any professional group which presents this work, instead of the inevitable Mendelssohn, will certainly win a triumph in the concert hall and experienced amateurs will definitely want to include this work on the program of their octet evenings.
Parts & Score: $59.95