Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/70

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58

��QUARTET.

��QUARTET.

��the faint pencil sketch, of works for whose actual presentation the most perfect earthly orchestra would be too intolerably coarse. The post- humous quartets are hardly to be regarded as pieces written for violins, but we are rather forced to imagine that in despair of finding colours deli- cate and true enough the artist has preferred to leave his conceptions as charcoal sketches. This fancy is borne out when we note how large a com- pass the four parts are constantly made to cover, a space of nearly five octaves sometimes being dashed over, with little care for the poorness and scratchiness of tone thus produced.

The 1 6 quartets of Beethoven are all con- stantly before the musical public, the last four naturally less frequently than the others.

There is a wide contrast between these stu- pendous works of genius and the polished and thoroughly legitimate workmanship of Schubert's quartets. Here we find everything done which ought to be done and nothing which ought not. They are indeed irreproachable models. One little point deserves notice here as illustrating the comparative strength of two great men : Bee- thoven gives frequent rests to one or two of the players, allowing the mind to fill in the lacking harmony, and thus producing a clearness, bold- ness and contrast which no other composer has attained ; Schubert, on the other hand, makes all four parts work their hardest to hide that thinness of sound which is the drawback of the quartet.

Mention of Spohr's quartets might almost be omitted in spite of their large number and their great beauty. Technically they are no more ad- vanced than those of Haydn, the interest lying too often in the top part. They also lose much through the peculiar mannerism of the com- poser's harmony, which so constantly occupies three of the parts in the performance of pedal notes, and portions of the chromatic scale.

Still more than Schubert does Mendelssohn seem to chafe at the insufficiency of four stringed instruments to express his ideas. Not only this, but he fails, through no fault of his own, in one point needful for successful quartet-writing. Beethoven and Schubert have shown us that the theoretically perfect string-quartet should have an almost equal amount of interest in each of the four parts ; care should therefore be taken to make the merest accompaniment-figures in the middle parts of value and character. Tremolos and reiterated chords should be shunned, and indeed the very idea of accompaniment is barely admissible. The quartet, though differing from the symphony only in the absence of instru- mental colouring and limitation of polyphony, is best fitted for the expression of ideas of a cer- tain delicacy, refinement and complexity, any- thing like boldness being out of place, from the weakness of the body of tone produced. Now the chief characteristic of Mendelssohn's music is its broad and singing character, passage-writing is his weak point. Consequently, however good his quartets, one cannot but feel that they would sound better if scored for full orchestra. Take the opening of Op. 44, No. i, for instance

���In the first place, this is not quartet-writing at all ; there is a melody, a bass, and the rest is mere fill-up matter : in the second, we have here as thorough an orchestral theme as could be de- vised the ear yearns for trumpets and drums in the fourth bar. A similar case occurs in the F minor Quartet (op. 95), and the expression 'symphony in disguise ' has accordingly often been applied to these works. This is curious, because Mendelssohn has shown himself capable of ex- pressing his ideas with small means in other departments. The 4-part songs for male voices, for instance, are absolutely perfect models for what such things ought to be. Schumann (op. 41) is the only writer who can be said to have fol- lowed in the wake of Beethoven with regard to using the quartet as a species of shorthand. All his three quartets have an intensity, a depth of soul, which, as with Beethoven, shrinks from plainer methods of expression.

Of the earnest band of followers in this school Brahms (op. 51, 67), Bargiel, Rheinberger all that can be said is that they are followers. If the quartet is yet capable of new treatment, the second Beethoven who is to show us fresh marvels has not yet come.

II. Quartets for strings and wind instruments are uncommon, but Mozart has one for oboe, violin, viola, and cello. Next to the string quartet ranks the pianoforte quartet, ^ which, however, is built on quite a different principle : here the composition becomes either equivalent to an accompanied trio, or to a symphony in which the piano takes the place of the * string quartet,' and the other instruments usually violin, viola, and cello the place of wind in- struments. In any case the piano does quite half the work. Mozart has written two such quartets, Beethoven only one, besides three early compositions, Mendelssohn three, while Brahms (op. 23, 26, 60) and the modern composers have favoured this form of quartet still more.

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