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piano quartet no. 2 

opus number
87 
Burghauser catalogue number
162 
composed
10 July - 19 August 1889 
premiere - date and place
17 October 1890, Frankfurt am Main (?)
premiere - performer(s)
Hugo Heermann, Ernst Welcker, Hugo Becker, Martin Wallenstein 
main key
E flat major 
parts / movements
1 Allegro con fuoco
2 Lento
3. Allegro moderato, grazioso
4. Finale. Allegro ma non troppo 
duration
approx. 35 min. 


composition history, premiere and publication

The Piano Quartet in E flat major is Dvorak’s second, and also his last, work for this instrumental ensemble. Fourteen years separate this work from his previous Piano Quartet in D major. Dvorak was finally goaded into writing the piece after his publisher Simrock had spent a long time trying to persuade him to do so, reminding him in letters on several occasions: “I should like to receive a piano quartet from you at last – you promised me this a long time ago! Well? How is it faring?” The quartet was written in the summer months of 1889 at Dvorak’s country residence in Vysoka. The first documented performance took place in Frankfurt on 17 October of the following year, followed by performances in Munich on 3 November, in Prague on 23 November in Dvorak’s presence, and in Manchester on 24 November. Simrock published the work that same year.


general characteristics

The Piano Quartet in E flat major is a prime example of the composer’s absolute maturity and one of the most conclusive testimonies of Dvorak’s exceptional ability to introduce innovation and originality into the Classical form. The character of the first movement in sonata form is chiefly determined by the brisk main subject which is exposed right at the start in strong unison from all the instruments. It also stands as the closing theme and forms the basis of the development section. The second subject, which alters the mood of the movement, only figures in the exposition and recapitulation, otherwise it plays no part in the thematic development. Typical for Dvorak is the “false” coda: after the broad escalation towards the close of the recapitulation, the listener expects the movement to end, yet it suddenly breaks off, and the music is apparently left to wind down gradually; it then rears up once more from pianissimo, gaining momentum for several glittering bars, and ends with a flourish. The second part of the quartet, one of Dvorak’s loveliest slow movements, comprises two almost identical tracts of music, which expose the same thematic material. During its repetition, however, it undergoes various instrumental and partly also modulatory transformations. Each of the tracts progressively introduces five connected themes, of which the fourth adds a dramatic accent to the otherwise tranquil atmosphere. The form of the movement may be illustrated by the scheme A-B-C-D-E-A'-B'-C'-D'-E'. The third movement is often compared to a piece of similar disposition, the scherzo movement from Dvorak’s Symphony in G major. It shares its three-part formal arrangement and, above all, the character of the thematic material is analogous: a main section rendered as a quasi-melancholic waltz, and a more lively middle section. The subordinate theme in the main part is unusual for its oriental tone, which is achieved through the use of an augmented second, E flat-F sharp, in the melodic line above a sustained G minor chord. The final movement of the quartet is one of Dvorak’s most vivacious, dazzling for its highly rhythmical main theme which dominates the movement. The movement features a remarkable harmonic progression: it begins in the “incorrect” key of E flat minor, and only in the recapitulation does it work its way towards the fundamental key of E flat major.


excerpts from Dvorak’s correspondence

Dvořák to his friend Alois Göbl, 10 August 1889:
 

Do you want to know what I'm doing? My head is full of it. If only one could write it immediately! But it's no use, I have to go slowly, only what the hand can manage and the Lord God will grant the rest of it. Now I have again already three movements of a new quartet with piano completely ready and the finale will be finished in several days. It's going unexpectedly easily and melodies are coming to me in droves. Thanks be to God!

translation: David R. Beveridge