composition

String Quartet after Mendelssohn (Streichquartett nach Mendelssohn)

for Two Violins, Viola, and Cello

  • Genre
    Chamber
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Michael Parrish in memoriam
  • Year completed
    1988
  • Year revised
  • Timing
    26:00
  • Catalog number
    134
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    known performances
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My String Quartet in A Minor after Mendelssohn had a rather convoluted genesis. From early in my youth, I have been fascinated by the string quartet medium, and can recall from about the age of about 10, sitting in his father’s lap and listening to quartets of Beethoven and Bartók while following the scores. The latter he didn’t understand at the time, but was nonetheless fascinated by them, and by the time I was about 16, I undertook the writing of a quartet myself. I was to write four more by the time he was 21. Four out of the five of these juvenile efforts were modeled on the style of earlier composers such as Beethoven and Haydn, the fourth of them being my sole attempt to write something in a more contemporary style. I now consider none of these good enough to include in my list of official works. Fast forward to the 1980s, when I often got together with friends for an evening of string quartet reading. In 1983, I got the idea of writing a short piece for his quartet to read, never intending to do anything with it. Giving evidence that the two movement were intended strictly for fun (the first and third of the present work) was indicated not only by the 19th-century romantic style of the piece, but by my jocular appending of the subtitle, “Watergate Lament,” to the quartet. The opening phrase of the exposition of the first movement even has the words (uttered by Richard Nixon in the composer’s imagination) “I wish I hadn’t lied” below the cello notes in the autograph. After my quartet read the work, it was thrown into a drawer and forgotten until the Spring of 1988 when violinist Glenn Basham (then concertmaster of the Ft. Wayne Philharmonic, and who had commissioned me for my second violin sonata) was visiting me, and asked me if I had written any string quartets. I didn’t want to let out any of his five juvenile efforts in the medium, but made a copy of these two movements for Basham to try out with his quartet. Shortly later, I received a call from the violinist asking that I complete the work, at which point I wrote movements two and four, and expanded the first movement to a more appropriate length. The first three movements of the quartet (all that they had time to prepare) were premiered by Basham’s Freimann Quartet on June 30, 1989, but I, being embarrassed by having my name attached to such an overtly romantic work, had the work performed under the name of my great great grandfather, David Kimberley (who was not even a musician), and assigned the fictitious date of 1902 to the quartet. However, shortly after this performance, I became aware of the Easley Blackwood’s Cello Sonata, written more or less in the style of Schubert, and thought that if Blackwood could get by with such a thing, that I might after all want to claim ownership of this A Minor Quartet, which I did like. Consequently, I then added it to my official list of works. The “after Mendelssohn” part of the title was added only years later, when I had begun writing works in the style of older composers who had never written for certain instruments. This “after” series began with his Concerto after Glière for Alto Saxophone & Orchestra of 2007. The present quartet is an anomaly in this series in that Mendelssohn himself wrote numerous quartets; additionally, when I wrote the piece, I was not attempting to imitate Mendelssohn’s style, and indeed, most of the work sounds nothing like him. The only reason that I picked Mendelssohn was because of my use of quotes from the German master’s violin concerto in the first movement and the transition from his own A Minor Quartet between the introduction and exposition of the last movement. There are, to be sure, a few places where Mendelssohn’s style is evoked, along with that of Schubert, Ravel, Richard Strauss, and other composers.

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