Dvořák, String Quintet in G major, Op. 77

Antonín Dvořák, 1841-1904

String Quintet in G major, Op. 77, c. 1875

Antonín DvořákDvořák wrote a vast amount of chamber music: 14 string quartets, 2 piano quintets, 3 string quintets, 4 piano trios, 2 piano quartets, a string sextet, a string trio and numerous incidental pieces. The majority is well featured in the modern performance repertoire for good reason: Dvořák’s remarkable consistency of quality and style, the hallmarks of which are endless melody, clear form, master craftsmanship, rhythmic vitality and a poignant expressiveness. Always Dvořák, Dvořák is always fresh. Like other composers for whom chamber music came naturally, Dvořák played the viola putting him right in the very middle of the chamber ensemble texture.

The String Quintet in G major, op. 77 was written much earlier in his career than its opus number would suggest. It is written in 1875, when Dvořák was 32 years old, originally numbered op 18. It lay, unknown, for over a decade, until Dvořák returned to some of his earlier unpublished work to polish and print in order to keep up with the demands of his well established fame. Though it is an early chamber work, it is unmistakably Dvorak.

Double BassThe string instrument that turns a quartet into a quintet varies with each composer or work; Mozart added a viola, Schubert, a cello. Most string quintets feature one or the other. In this case, Dvořák chose the double bass, selecting an infrequent guest in the chamber ensemble but thereby matching the full palette of the symphony orchestra. The breadth and range of sound is notable in this lush quintet in at least three ways: the surprisingly deep baselines, the liberation of the cello, and the sheer fullness of sound. With Dvořák’s skill, what borders on the edge of a chamber orchestra maintains a rich chamber texture throughout.

The first movement is an energetic (con fuoco or with fire) sonata with crystal clear themes and a powerful development. The second movement comes closest to Dvořák’s later style characterized by lively folk dance and his ability to expand the scherzo form with cogent variety. The third movement slows into a lyrical song, tinged with a blend of melancholy and nobility that earned Dvořák comparisons with Schubert. The finale restores the drive and drama of the earlier movements with yet more winning melodies, the fullest textures and the most prominent parts for the mighty groundswell of the bass.

Comments are closed.