Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81
Related Artists/CompaniesAntonín Dvorák
Fortas Chamber Music Concert: Marc-André Hamelin with the Pacifica Quartet - Tue., May 20, 2014, 7:30 PM
Fresh and daring, the Pacifica Quartet makes its Fortas debut with Leo Ornstein's rhythmically engaging Piano Quintet with acclaimed pianist Marc-André Hamelin on a program that also features the infectiously joyous Dvorák Piano Quintet.
About the Work
The piano quintet—for piano and strings—is by no means as common a phenomenon as many of us might assume. Beethoven composed no such work, nor did Mozart, though both did write quintets for piano and winds, and both Mozart and Haydn wrote keyboard concertos that could be performed with a string quartet instead of an orchestra. Schubert's one quintet for piano and strings, the well loved "Trout" Quintet, does not utilize a conventional string quartet, but specifies a double bass and one each of the other stringed instruments. Haydn's contemporary Luigi Boccherini did compose quintets for piano and strings, but it was not until Schumann composed his similarly beloved Quintet in E-flat, in 1842, that the genre came into its own. Even since then there have been fewer than a handful of really successful piano quintets: one thinks of the one in F minor by Brahms, the splendid one by Shostakovich, the first of the two by Ernest Bloch, and the present work by Dvorák, which in his case is the second (and by far the better-known) of two.
Each of the quintets cited above is especially representative of the respective composer's personal style. In Dvorák's case that means an admixture of a highly personal form of expressive lyricism and a no less personal utilization of elements from Czech folk music. Characteristically those elements include styles and forms of song and dance, but not actual folk tunes ; Dvorák created original melodies in the authentic folk style. The first movement of the Quintet in A begins with a creamy cello melody that sounds for all the world like an authentic peasant song. The slow movement is in the form of a dumka , an alternating slow-fast-slow ballad form that originated in the Ukraine but is well known to the Czechs. (Dvorák used this form in several other works, most notably the last of his piano trios, which he composed as a chain of dumky. ) The scherzo here is a furiant , a spedifically Czech dance that turns up frequently in Dvorák's symphonies and chamber music as well as in his Slavonic Dances. For the finale—what else but a polka! The use of these song and dance forms, though, need not imply that the Quintet is a casual work or a mere pastiche of folk-flavored trifles. (Not only had Dvorák's senior compatriot Bedrich Smetana used a polka as a sort of scherzo in his E minor Quartet, but Smetana's Austrian contemporary Anton Bruckner put one in the finale of his Third Symphony, which he dedicated to Wagner.) The content, both musically and emotionally, is consistently on a very high level here, and the love this work has engendered among musicians is based largely on their respect for its solid musical structure.