String Quartet No. 8 in E major, Op. 80, B57
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
20 January – 4 February 1876 (revision: 1888)
Premiere - date and place
(?) 19 November 1888, Hamburg
(?) Marwege, Oberdörffer, Schmehl, Klietz
Simrock, 1888, Berlin
Parts / movements
2. Andante con moto
3. Allegro scherzando
4. Finale. Allegro con brio
approx. 27 min.
Dvořák wrote his String Quartet in E major during a period in which his works were characterised by unusual melancholy and reflection. The work appeared in close proximity to his nostalgic Piano Trio in G minor, and shortly before he embarked upon the first version of his Stabat Mater. Dvořák produced the quartet in a single sweep over the space of a mere fourteen days at the end of January and beginning of February 1876. He gave the work the opus number 27 yet, since he inexplicably only offered it to his publisher Simrock twelve years later, the work eventually came out in print in 1888 under a different number, Op. 80.
Dvořák’s Quartet in E major heralds the beginning of a series of mature string quartets. While this work is written in a major key, its prevailing mood is gloomy and nostalgic. The music largely moves around in a minor key yet, even when it establishes itself in a major key, its tenor is not entirely consistent nor indeed joyful. In its overall expression, Dvořák looks to his great example, Franz Schubert. This is one of the first works in which Dvořák achieves convincing unity of content and formal excellence, and in which the thematic treatment is honed down to the last detail. The first and fourth movements are written in traditional sonata form with the deviation that the fourth movement does not begin in the fundamental key of E major, but in the unrelated key of G sharp minor. This is an approach Dvořák had already used in several of his earlier works. The character of the second movement anticipates his later dumkas, the only difference being that the piece for the time being lacks a contrasting lively section. The second subject of the first movement also has a distinctly Slavonic flavour. The third movement is a three-part scherzo in the style of a melancholic waltz which, in the middle section, gives rise to a theme with sharp, rhythmical accents.