ARTUR SCHNABEL – String Quartet No. 5

People may be surprised to find that Austrian piano legend Artur Schnabel [1882-1951] was also a serious composer. Schnabel was the first pianist to record the complete cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. As a composer, he wrote three symphonies and five string quartets.

I am going to discuss his fifth string quartet which was composed in 1940. This is a four movement work.

The quartet opens in a Modern mood, slightly agitated. It is also quite dense. The mood gives way to a solo cello part which is very moving. The cello continues to dominate as the ensemble returns. There is a recapitulation of the opening section; busy but not quite chaotic. The passage then moves into solo cello again, with a very restrained mood. The movement fades to a whisper and concludes.

The second movement is again very busy, this time with a pulse. The mood is quite abstract as the violins bubble along, creating a brooding soundscape. Towards the end of this very short movement, a bit more music appears, then it just stops!

The next movement is marked adagio and is in a very introspective mood. This is pure magic! All four members combine as one to paint a picture of great loneliness. After a brief time in a tempo, the passage returns to the contemplative mood. As it progresses, it becomes more sparse and inward-looking. Nearing the end there is a brief flourish before it settles into a period of longing. The end comes with a violin soaring over some dark chords before it fades to a conclusion.

The final movement is marked presto and there is some joy to be found here. The mood is lighter, but still retains its intensity. A brief pizzicato section leads back to the slightly chaotic feeling of the earlier movements, and the movement ends.

I would also like to mention SQ No. 1 as it is a fine work. Running for a little under 50 minutes, it is almost symphonic in nature. I may discuss it in the future. I shall just need to put a few hours aside due to its length and scope.

String Quartet No. 5 is available on Amazon by the Pellegrini Quartet on the CPO label. String Quartet No. 1 is also available on Amazon US and UK.

Some of Schnabel’s quartets can be heard on Spotify, earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Slightly strange but appealing works.


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