Do you need a break? I do. From time to time, I need to disconnect from everyday routine, the steady stream of news and from people I have to meet although I do not enjoy their company. So I close my eyes and mentally I walk off to another world. I see a young woman. She’s wearing a pale green dress and a straw head. She smiles. She stretches out her hand and with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she whispers: “Come. I will show you something.” She rushes to the veranda and upon her return she says: “Look. I wrote this.”
I look at the papers in her hand. A piano quartet in A-flat Major. I look at her. “Fanny!” I truly love that piano quartet.
Here is what I associate with the first movement. This woman has a message. And she is determined to get that message through. She is charming, but nevertheless insisting. Joie de vivre in its pure form, like the jaunty dance of a girl, deeming itself unobserved, in a garden. The second movement has its melancholic moments as befits a young woman living in the 19th century. That woman is dreaming. Dreaming about her future – as a musician, as a composer, as a wife. The third movement, written in the tempo* of a minuet, alludes again to the composer’s determination. She has a clear idea of what she wants and how she will get it. Of a woman conscious of her talent. Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn’s gifted sister.
Fanny Mendelssohn wrote this quartet in 1822/23 in Berlin, the year she met her future husband, the painter Wilhelm Hensel. She was 17 years old and it is on of her earliest works, certainly her earliest work for chamber music. She ventured into an unusual genre – there are not that many piano quartets of any notoriety. Mozart wrote two… and in 1821 Fanny’s brother had composed one, in D minor. She probably saw it more as a study of the classical sonata form than a work she would present to an audience. When she started to publish her compositions, she never thought to include the piano quartet in a publication. And even though it is an early work, it is clear proof of Fanny Mendelssohn’s remarkable and precocious talent.
Since she was deeply involved both in the composition and the performance of her brother’s music, it comes as no surprise that her works are stylistically close to those of her brother. They venerated the same composers: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. This did not prevent her to follow her own way. “Fanny is harmonically more adventuresome than Felix, and fills her songs with unexpected harmonic turns to reflect or accent changes in the text”, says the biographer R. Larry Todd in an interview with the writer and producer Joseph Dalton. “And in her larger scale works, she is less concerned about following conventional forms than giving her imagination a freer reign.”
The key Fanny Mendelsohn chose for her piano quartet, A flat major, is as far removed in the tonal system from the key Felix used, Todd writes in his biography of Fanny Mendelssohn. “Where he [Felix], strove to integrate the piano, violin, viola and cello into an ensemble that shared motivic and thematic material, she chose to distinguish the piano from the string complement…” In 2012, the Munich based Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet (David Cann, Renate Eggebrecht, Mario Korunic and Friedemann Kupsa) and the pianist Stefan Mickisch recorded this quartet along with other pieces for chamber music written by Fanny Mendelssohn – a world premiere. A wonderful record to escape reality. Offer yourself a treat.
© Charles Thibo