Felix Draeseke: Quintet in F for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Celli, op. 77 (1901)

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Quintet in F for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Celli, op. 77 (1901)

  • First Movement: F major, 4/4. Slow and somber; Twice as fast, but restful in character.
  • Second Movement: Scherzo. F major, 2/4. Very quick and sparkling: Trio, D major, 4/4. Noticeably slower
  • Third Movement: F major, 4/4. Slow and measured.
  • Fourth Movement: Finale. F major, 4/4. Slow and somber; fast and fiery

Draeseke began his String Quintet in F major, Op. 77 for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Celli at the end of November 1900. The piece was already finished at the end of February 1901. Felix Draeseke 1907Draeseke's F major string Quintet, Op. 77 is at the same time his second String quintet and his first chamber music work of the new century. The work's premiere took place June 13, 1903 at the Basel Musician's Convention. Although the premiere was successful enough, at least enough to win the publisher Simrock for it, not all the reviews were unanimously positive Nevertheless contemporaries acquainted with the master's music recognized it immediately as a masterpiece of front rank, perhaps Draeseke’s most important chamber music work of all. One might dare to insist that it is a work which truly moves in the realm of Beethoven's late string quartets. On first acquaintance, the listener should be willing to give this string quintet of Draeseke the same audition and patience as may have keen expended when listening to Beethoven's 14th or 15th string quartets for the first time. Above all one has to have a performing group that understands the extraordinary contrapuntal course and inner relationship of instrumental voices in this music.

In the foreword to the reprint of Draeseke's F major Quintet, Op. 77 by Wollenweber Verlag of Munich (1992), Udo-R. Follert founding member of the International Draeseke Society in 1986 and its chief executive since then, writes the following about the work:

"We are concerned here with a work of Draeseke's advanced maturity, a work in late style in which he was able to combine high mastery of compositional means with a ripe mellowness in representing emotional condition. Against this background the Quintet Op. 77 is easier to understand. The apparent contrast between the darkly colored atmosphere maintained in the introduction and the thematic material of the movements becomes clearer to understand...

The introduction is the thematic-harmonic germinal cell of the work A prominent characteristic in Draeseke's output is die encompassing of whole entities with parentheses derived from a male basic idea This un be seen already in early works (Sonata in C# minor Op. 6 for Piano among others) as well as in works from a later period such as the Sinfonia Tragica .... The thirteen measures of the introduction (slow and somber) do not let us suspect that a basically cheerful work will ensue.... The first tones arise in tortured reluctance from the ....D-flat to an octave higher. In the second measure the motivic relationship to the movement's main theme becomes apparent; the fourth measure brings sound realm of the Neapolitan 6th, something which will he important to the slow movement and finally one recognizes that there is a premonition of the three-tone-motive of the main theme of tie finale. The whole work blossoms forth from these introductory measures as if from a bud. Besides this, the measures are quoted several times m the outer movements, something which clearly points up Draeseke's intentions.”

The entire first movement (F major, 4/4; slow and somber: twice as fast but restful in character) reveals an easily understood complexity. After the introduction a clear cut sonata-allegro ensues, but what is taken for granted are the subtle developmental gestures which lay at the basis of the music's flow: gentle rhythmic shifts in accompanying voices, chromatic extension of motives, peculiar phrasing in directional voice leading of the counterpoint – things which with but short acquaintance, engender complete amazement at this movement. In the development section, Draeseke's extremely personal sense of harmony emerges strongly, though this section of the movement is shorter than expected and almost seems transitory m approach to the recapitulation, which is brought to its glowing climax through expanded development before the main theme of the introduction is brought back for the denouement of the movement. The sound of the music becomes somber as the three-tone-motive manifests itself: with peculiar measure, the movement concludes quietly.

The Scherzo (F major. 2/4; very quick and sparkling) owes its course to the exchange of elements bowed and plucked Its sound is similar to other scherzi of the composer. but within this quintet it obeys the rules of structural integration, for the main theme, after a chain of sixteenth notes, emphasizes the chromatic C# prominent in thematic construction of the first movement. A pizzicato-motive, which follows immediately, is itself chromatically restless, but therein lies part of the humor of this scherzo. In the trio section (D major, 4/4, noticeably slower) triplets dominate, which is also something typical of Draeseke in the trio sections of his scherzi, although here the music is indicated "noticeably slower" and neither contrast between the two parts nor the haste of the Scherzo are able to dominate the proceedings. The repetition of the scherzo concludes with a brief coda, pizzicato (p).

With the third movement (F minor, 40/4; slow and measured) we ar rive at the heart of the work. It would be difficult to think of a slow movement from the chamber music of the period which offers such beauty of sound and profundity of thought, for this movement is truly exceptional. For the impatient and inattentive a first audition of the movement may offer difficulties, but with brief acquaintance one comprehends the intensely personal method of expression of its creator as well as his peculiar and highly original powers of invention.

After a single introductory measure, the first violin brings in the main melody. Transitional material is treated canonically and leads to a repeat of the main idea. Retreating from it the music strides toward D-flat major and 12/8 meter, where the secondary theme is brought in and led forth until the entrance of trills announces a staggering of the materials until a magnificent climax is reached, where the main theme, divided between heights of the violin and depths of the first cello against decorative counterpoint, blossoms forth in soloistic octaves. The restrained descent does not last long before Draeseke builds his second theme to its climax, one characterized by bravura presentation of the theme in the two violins with unison statement in the two celli against a rhythmically charged background, whereafter the denouement of the movement begins. Three times die main theme is brought back, each time at a higher level. The music glides over G-flat major toward D-flat (a false cadence!) until a single chord solidifies the home key of the movement and the music dies away on octave Fs throughout the ensemble; most peculiar are the viola tremolandi in these final measures.

Right at the beginning of the fourth movement, a rondo, (F major, 4/4, slow and somber; fast and fiery) there is a return of the material from the introduction m the first movement. With increasing urgency the music reaches presentation of the main theme of the rondo, itself an idea in 12/8 (fast and fieryl), which easily awakens memories of the rondo theme (Finale) of Draeseke's Sinfonia Tragica. A subsidiary theme in D major soon appear. The materials are treated sequentially and enriched with bold counterpoint. The main theme reappears and tempestuous development ensues, leading to the statement of a third idea, one characterized by quasi-ostinato octave triplets in the bass. In a flood of lyricism the music surges onward until the main theme of the first movement is suddenly brought hack in dramatic manner and, a few measures later is developed in combination with other materials. A section propelled by triplet motion ensues, "grazioso and espressivo”, with arresting coloration from trills in the inner voices, which continues until the main theme is climactically presented in full blossom of ensemble sonority, where after the introduction to the first movement reappears. The second theme of the rondo tears the music from the somber mood of this material from the introduction and with the return of the movement’s main theme one believes that a forceful conclusion is in store: but the music begins to slow and expression sinks from the heights downward until just before the exhaustion of this ebbing force, the main theme of the first movement becomes audible once again. Relaxed and measured is the F major resolution of this masterpiece.

© Alan H. Krueck (2001) After notes accompanying the CD recording of Draeseke's Qunintet in F

Related pages:
Essay from the Ebert collection

Foreword to the F major Quintet, Op. 77 by Udo-R. Follert Wollenweber Verlag of Munich (1992)

Draeseke's Quintet in F, op 77 on CD

Click to go to AK Coburg CD sAK Coburg DR 0004 [CD]

Quintet in F for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Celli, op. 77 (1901) and Quintet in A for Two Violins, Viola, Violotta, and Cello, WoO 25 (1897) 'Stelzner-Quintett'

Acantus String Quartet-Magdeburg: Wolfgang Hasleder and Megumi Makino [violins], Fridtjof Keil [viola], Nikolaus Gädeke [cello]; Johannes Hartmann [cello II] 

Draeseke had already written his three string quartets when he composed his String Quintet in A. The fifth instrument, the "violotta", was developed by the Wiesbaden cellist and composer Dr. Alfred Stelzner. The violotta has been described as a tenor viola; it is a rarely used instrument that attracted Draeseke's attention. The Quintet in F from 1901 is considered by some as the composer's most important chamber work.

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