String Quintet in C Major, Op.5
For 2 Violins, 2 Violas & Cello
Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) was born in Oslo. His father was a music teacher and Svendsen learned both the violin and clarinet from him. By the time he finished school, he was working as an orchestral musician, and occasionally made short concert tours as a violinist. In Lubeck, on one of his tours, he came to the attention of a wealthy merchant who made it possible for him to study from 1863-67 at the Leipzig Conservatory. He began his studies with Mendelssohn's favorite violinist, Ferdinand David, but problems with his hand forced him to switch to composition which he studied with Carl Reinecke. Afterwards, Svendsen worked primarily as a theater director and conductor. He achieved considerable fame as the latter and, during the last 20 years of the 19th century, was considered the leading Scandinavian conductor.
All of Svendsen's chamber music was written while he was at the Leipzig Conservatory, yet these works were not then, and should not now, be considered student works. Svendsen was regarded, by general consensus, as one of the most talented students then at the Conservatory. His works won prizes and received public performances to acclaim. The String Quintet was completed in 1867 and published the next year. The opening movement has a substantial Andante introduction which builds tension and introduces the substantial main theme. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the Andante changes into an Allegro. A lighter second theme has a Nordic sea flavor. The big second movement, Tema con Variazione, is the Quintet's center of gravity. The theme is a pretty, somewhat melancholy folktune. It is the magnificent treatment of this theme given in the several superb variations which follow that has always attracted attention and high praise. Our sound-bite presents the main theme, a powerful, march-like variation and a lovely variation which is nothing less than a mini-serenade. The finale, Allegro, is built around a dance theme, perhaps a Norwegian folk dance. It becomes faster and faster while building in tension. The lyrical and more gentle second subject also has Nordic tinges about it.
The famous chamber music critic, Wilhelm Altmann, highly recommended this work to quintet groups, praising its lovely melodies, effective string writing and playability. We, too, agree and believe that they will find it highly enjoyable.