Nicolai von Wilm
String Quartet No.1 in c minor, Op.4
Peter Nicolai von Wilm (1834-1911) was born in the old Hanseatic city of Riga, today’s capital of Latvia, but then part of the Russian empire. In the 19th century, Riga was still predominantly a German city and Wilm’s family was ethnic German. He first learned piano and then studied that instrument as well as composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. Subsequently, he worked as a music director in Riga and St. Petersburg after which he moved to Wiesbaden in Germany where he remained for the rest of his life. He was a prolific composer who wrote in most genres, but the bulk of his music was for piano. However, he did not ignore chamber music and besides this string quartet, also has string sextet, string nonet, a piano trio and several sonatas to his credit, all of which the famous music critic Hugo Riemann described as important works. Riemann noted that the String Nonet, for two string quartets and bass) was the only nonet exclusively for strings, all previous nonets were for mixed ensembles of winds and strings.
The Op.4 String Quartet op. 4 is the only chamber work which he did not compose while living in Wiesbaden. Although it was published in 1875, it was clearly composed many years earlier as evidenced by the influence, especially in the finale, of Mendelssohn which can be found in the music. This influence is hardly surprising given that Wilm attended the Leipzig Conservatory only a few years after its founding by Mendelssohn and studied with teachers who all the great man's acolytes. The Quartet is in four movements and opens with long brooding Poco adagio introduction. After a brief pause comes the main part of the first movement, Allegro appassionato, which as the marking suggests is passionate and full of drama. But it is not without lyricism as the lovely second theme clearly shows. The second movement, Sostenuto cantabile, is a beautul and heartfelt example of mid 19th century romantic writing. An rhythmically interesting Scherzo molto vivace comes next. It is playful and light. The compelling finale, Allegro con fuoco, opens with a loud chord followed by yearning Mendelssohnian theme.
This very effective work, published only once, has been unavailable for more than a century. We are pleased to reintroduce a quartet which should make friends of whomever plays or hears it. We have reprinted the original but have added rehearsal letters and corrected a few mistakes.