Hilding Rosenberg [1892–1985] was a Swedish composer who wrote fifteen string quartets. He is one of my favourite string quartet composers. He has a unique style, sounding nothing like his Scandinavian contemporaries. His style transcends modernism and he goes about his own way, eschewing the modernist trappings of anger and vast dynamic ranges. He has a distinctive method of harmonising duet violin lines which leads to some very interesting sounds. The later quartets exhibit atonality and quite a high level of abstraction.
I previously reviewed Rosenberg’s first quartet, in May 2016. This is a joyful and playful piece. Now I am going to discuss String Quartet No. 4, a brilliant composition, which is much more introspective and quite moving. It is in four movements, with the second being the emotional centrepiece of the work.
The quartet opens with a short solo violin section before it moves into a tempo. As this happens, the violin establishes an attractive melody. There is a brief conversational passage with the cello and violin in dialogue. A succession of flurries follow until the previous melody returns. A lively section ensues as the violins take the lead. A wonderful harmonised violin line brings a conclusion.
The second movement opens with an incredibly plaintive melody which forms the basis of that which follows. A slight variation on the melody brings the other instruments into play. There is another section of solo violin until the other instruments start to fall into line. This has quite a strong tempo. Suddenly a hectic violin march tempo is introduced, then repeated. Now we are back to the introduction as the viola and violin work the same opening melody. This is a subtle passage as the violins drift in and out. The opening melody is continued with the full ensemble and this is a wonderful passage as the cello converses with the violin. The abstraction here is profound, and very beautiful. This is writing of the highest order. Previous themes begin to re-emerge and we even have the cello stating the opening theme. The violins skip lightly across the surface. The end comes with a solo cello playing the theme.
The next movement has a march-like sound. The violin plays a strangely static melody but it eventually develops into something more melodic. A cello motif changes the tempo and the music starts to race before returning to the opening mood. This time however, it is a lot more intense. The march tempo continues and there are still references to the opening melody. There is a slight flourish which leads to the conclusion.
The finale begins in a very strong manner and yet it is only two violins. Eventually the ensemble merges and strengthens the tempo before we have a return to the feeling of the two violins. This is very energised for a time; then the intensity drops. The violins meander over a cello motif until the end approaches and the energy returns with the violins being particularly prominent. This doesn’t last and the two violins lead a propulsive passage to completion.
This is wonderful music. The second movement in particular has some very fine moments. If you want a Rosenberg CD I suggest now is the time as stocks are running out!
The recording I have is on the Caprice label, which has issued five discs of the composer’s complete quartets. My review CD also includes Quartet No. 7, together with Six Moments Musicaux, which are miniature pieces. Both quartets and the Six Moments are played by different ensembles. This CD is available on Amazon US but not on UK although they do have other discs of his complete quartets. It is also on Spotify and all four movements are available on youtube.
Listenability: Scandinavian Heaven.
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