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Quartet in F minor Op.80 ‘Requiem for Fanny’

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)

Zemlinsky Quartet (photo credit: Tomáš Bican)

Zemlinsky Quartet (photo credit: Tomáš Bican)

Composer
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Composition Year
1847
Work Movements
1. Allegro vivace assai
2. Allegro assai
3. Adagio
4. Finale - Allegro molto
Artists
Zemlinsky Quartet (František Souček, Petr Střížek [violins], Petr Holman [viola], Vladimír Fortin [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Thus far I have possessed his full confidence. I have watched his talent develop step by step and have even, to a certain degree, contributed to his musical education. He has no other musical advisor but me. Furthermore he never puts an idea down on paper until I have considered it. Thus for instance, I knew his operas from memory before even a single note was written down. So wrote the seventeen-year-old Fanny Mendelssohn of her thirteen-year-old brother. Mendelssohn remained exceptionally close to his sister even after they were both happily married and her sudden death from a stroke in May 1847 proved to be a blow from which he never fully recovered.

That summer of 1847 he took his summer holiday by the lake at Interlaken, where he found the energy to write this quartet, known to all as Requiem for Fanny. Those who met him that last summer found him paradoxically full of plans for the future on the one hand while on the other hand continually asserting that he would soon die. Those whom the gods love die young, barely two months later he too died of a stroke in the midst of rehearsing his great oratorio Elijah. He was not even 39 years old, like Mozart and Schubert struck down before his time

This work turns upside down the conventional image of Mendelssohn’s music as urbane and civilised, putting perfection of classical form above displays of stormy romantic passion. The F minor Quartet reveals another Mendelssohn, tormented and passionate, composing music that brutally exposes the depths of his unhappiness.

The first movement forgoes any hint of cantabile melody, rhythmic energy holds sway while harmonically inspired motifs provide scope for contrapuntal development. The thematic material consists largely of figuration like the opening tremolo. The mood is violent, contrasting sections are abruptly juxtaposed, often without any transition. This novel approach is even more evident in the second movement with its striking melodic motifs driving the music forward by way of vigorously animated and bare unison passages. The central trio is marked by ostinato lower parts and again no sign of cantabile to release the tension. The heart-rending Adagio gives birth to a violin melody glowing with sadness and when its line blends with the other instruments its impact becomes almost unbearable. The precarious balance is interrupted several times as if to accentuate the effect of the lonely melody whose echoes, played on the bass strings, sound far below. The finale gives the impression of a violent shock whose tremors are tearing the fabric of the music apart.

My very last is the sight of him turning down the road to wend back to Interlaken alone. I thought even then, as I followed his figure, looking none the younger for the loose dark coat and the wide-brimmed straw hat bound with black crepe which he wore, that he was too much depressed and worn, and walked too heavily. But who could have dreamed that his days on earth were so rapidly drawing to a close? 

Henry Chorley, English journalist and friend of Mendelssohn.

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Quartet in F minor Op.80 ‘Requiem for Fanny’

Composer: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Performance date: Saturday 28th June 2014
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Work Title Quartet in F minor Op.80 ‘Requiem for Fanny’
Composition Year 1847
Work Movements 1. Allegro vivace assai
2. Allegro assai
3. Adagio
4. Finale - Allegro molto
Artist(s) Zemlinsky Quartet (František Souček, Petr Střížek [violins], Petr Holman [viola], Vladimír Fortin [cello])
Performance Date Saturday 28th June 2014
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:27:45
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Thus far I have possessed his full confidence. I have watched his talent develop step by step and have even, to a certain degree, contributed to his musical education. He has no other musical advisor but me. Furthermore he never puts an idea down on paper until I have considered it. Thus for instance, I knew his operas from memory before even a single note was written down. So wrote the seventeen-year-old Fanny Mendelssohn of her thirteen-year-old brother. Mendelssohn remained exceptionally close to his sister even after they were both happily married and her sudden death from a stroke in May 1847 proved to be a blow from which he never fully recovered.

That summer of 1847 he took his summer holiday by the lake at Interlaken, where he found the energy to write this quartet, known to all as Requiem for Fanny. Those who met him that last summer found him paradoxically full of plans for the future on the one hand while on the other hand continually asserting that he would soon die. Those whom the gods love die young, barely two months later he too died of a stroke in the midst of rehearsing his great oratorio Elijah. He was not even 39 years old, like Mozart and Schubert struck down before his time

This work turns upside down the conventional image of Mendelssohn’s music as urbane and civilised, putting perfection of classical form above displays of stormy romantic passion. The F minor Quartet reveals another Mendelssohn, tormented and passionate, composing music that brutally exposes the depths of his unhappiness.

The first movement forgoes any hint of cantabile melody, rhythmic energy holds sway while harmonically inspired motifs provide scope for contrapuntal development. The thematic material consists largely of figuration like the opening tremolo. The mood is violent, contrasting sections are abruptly juxtaposed, often without any transition. This novel approach is even more evident in the second movement with its striking melodic motifs driving the music forward by way of vigorously animated and bare unison passages. The central trio is marked by ostinato lower parts and again no sign of cantabile to release the tension. The heart-rending Adagio gives birth to a violin melody glowing with sadness and when its line blends with the other instruments its impact becomes almost unbearable. The precarious balance is interrupted several times as if to accentuate the effect of the lonely melody whose echoes, played on the bass strings, sound far below. The finale gives the impression of a violent shock whose tremors are tearing the fabric of the music apart.

My very last is the sight of him turning down the road to wend back to Interlaken alone. I thought even then, as I followed his figure, looking none the younger for the loose dark coat and the wide-brimmed straw hat bound with black crepe which he wore, that he was too much depressed and worn, and walked too heavily. But who could have dreamed that his days on earth were so rapidly drawing to a close? 

Henry Chorley, English journalist and friend of Mendelssohn.