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ClassicsOnline Home » ELGAR: String Quartet in E Minor / Piano Quintet in A Minor
"The Adagio of Elgar's Quintet is alone worth the price of the CD...beautifully captured by the Maggini Quartet and Peter Donohoe"
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
String Quartet in E minor, Op.83
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84
"Everything good and nice and clean and fresh and sweet is far away - never to return" ...Elgar
’a Alice Stuart Wortley, 18th September, 1917.
The String Quartet and
Piano Quintet belong to the late autumn of Elgar’s compositional
life. Wearied and depressed by the war years, his retreat to the Sussex cottage
"Brinkwells" revived his spirits, and this renewed but temporary
sense of well-being produced the three great chamber works and the Cello Concerto. Nothing further of
significance was penned before his death in 1934 and efforts to write a third
symphony remained as sketches.
Elgar’s diary records him writing "E minor stuff" in April
1918 and it is significant that of the four works dating from this period,
three are in that key. Many
earlier attempts at a quartet never materialised. A D minor exposition appeared
in his 1878 sketch books and in 1907 there is reference in Lady Elgar’s diary
to a quartet, but it was put aside in favour of work for the First Symphony. In a similar way,
after the completion of the first movement of the
E minor Quartet, the Violin Sonata took precedence and the work was
therefore completed in tandem with the Piano
The first movement of the String
Quartet is in 12/8 and the first subject is presented as an
ascending, questioning motif, followed by a typical sequential descending
passage in fourths. The second subject finds a more settled mood, but the
general feeling is of unrest and uncertainty, ending enigmatically with the
first half of the first subject seemingly hanging in the air. The slow movement, marked Piacevole, has a simple song-like melody
as its first theme, A complete contrast to the first movement, Alice Elgar
described it as "captured sunshine". Completed on Christmas Eve 1918,
the last movement is passionate and forceful. Elgar fulfilled a promise from
the early years of the century by dedicating the quartet to the Brodsky
Quartet, although the première was given by the British String Quartet.
The "reminiscence of sinister trees" (Alice Elgar) refers to
the partly programmatic element that pervades the Piano Quintet. The "sinister trees" were once
struck by lightning on ground above "Brinkwells", around which had
arisen the story (most likely invented by Elgar’s friend Algernon Blackwell)
that they represented the dead forms of a settlement of Spanish monks, duly
punished for their "impious rites". The Moderato introduction of the first movement contrasts the
almost plainsong-like piano line with the ghostly interjections from the
strings. The following Allegro relentlessly
pursues a 6/8 motif until, after a pause, the "Spanish" second
subject is heard on the violins, accompanied by pizzicato chords in the manner
of a guitar. Both the plainsong first statement and the second subject have the
minor second of the Phrygian mode which further emphasizes a Moorish influence.
The radiant beauty of the Adagio begins
with a seamless melody for the viola -redolent with longing. It is significant
that this movement meant a great deal to Elgar. The cyclical nature of the work
continues through the last movement, beginning as it does with the direct
reference to the first movement introduction. A purposeful Allegro is heard on unison strings and the
A major conclusion banishes the occult inspired "ghostly-stuff" of
the first movement.
Both works received their first performance at the Wigmore Hall on 21st
1997 by Andrew Walton.
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