Piano Quintet in c sharp minor, Op.42
Hermann Zilcher (1881-1948), while not in the front rank of 20th Century composers, was, however, fairly well-known within Germany during his lifetime. Trained as a concert pianist who for a while toured internationally, Zilcher spent most of his life as a professor of piano and composition and Director of the Wurzburg Conservatory.
His Post-Brahmsian Piano Quintet in c# minor, Op.42 dates from 1918. Zilcher clearly rejected the atonalism of the 2nd Vienna School. Rather, it is Brahms who serves at the structural model and tonal point of departure. The first movement, Leidenschaftlich bewegt, opens with a dark theme in the violin which later is taken up by the lower voices whilst the piano hovers in the background. Its integration into the ensemble is particularly fine. The second movement, Langsam bewegt, ausdruscksvoll, is not only highly original. The opening slow, march-like theme begins softly and somberly—there is an unmistakable funereal quality to it, but with a slight hint of mystery as well. The middle section literally comes out of nowhere. It is a gossamer scherzo—a whirling dance in the strings against the ostinato funeral march in the piano. The tension is gradually brought to a very high pitch but there is no real resolution, just a gradual release as the music retreats back to the slow first theme. The finale, Frei in Zeitmaß, fließend, sehr bewegt, begins with a short and powerful shout from the string quartet alone. The themes are full of agitation. Given the year of composition, 1918, it is not surprising that Zilcher’s thoughts were on the First World War and he uses as one of his themes, the melody from his own then well-known volkslied, The Austrian Cavalryman’s Song. However, after all of the early unrest, the Quintet is brought to an end quietly with a meditative chorale.
Here is an evocative and effective modern piano quintet. The Chamber Music Journal hailed it as first rate, stating that it can stand comparison with any of the other “greats” and is deserving of being included in the concert repertoire.It has not been available for a long time, and we hope by reintroducing it that professionals and amateurs alike will take the time to make the acquaintance of this fine work.