Piano Quintets Opp. 35 & 63 (Full Score)
Quintett für Pianoforte, 2 Violinen, Bratsche und Violoncell, Op. 35 (1877)
(b. Worms, 17 Juli 1839 — d. Berlin, 11 September 1916)
I Allegro moderato
II Andante molto cantabile
III Vivace ed energico
IV Allegro con brio
Zweites Quintett (H moll)
für Pianoforte, 2 Violinen, Viola und Violoncell , Op. 63
I Molto moderato
III Allegretto molto grazioso e sempre scherzando
IV Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo presto
When one sees the name Friedrich Gernsheim — and this still happens all too rarely — then usually in connection with that of Johannes Brahms: Gernsheim belonged to the Brahms Circle; Gernsheim was influenced by Brahms. This is partly true, but overlooks a lot. Granted, Gernsheim was a conservative composer, little drawn to program music and by all accounts less drawn to opera than Brahms; he was also a friend of Brahms’s from their first encounter in 1862 until the death of the great master. But the charge that he was merely a Brahms epigone rests upon unfamiliarity with his works, and often upon latent (or not at all latent) anti-Semitism as well. When one takes a closer look at his works, one recognizes in Gernsheim a composer who in his music — whether thanks to his origins in the Rhineland, or whether because of his activity as conductor — melds together echoes of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Spohr, Schubert and (of course) Brahms into a convincing style of his own. Above all one recognizes in Gernsheim a composer who developed an almost unflinching sense of formal perfection and who was averse to any kind of empty gesture.
Friedrich Gernsheim came from an enlightened, largely assimilated, and yet deeply religious Jewish family in Worms. Karl Holl, the author of a 1928 study that remains the standard work on the composer (Friedrich Gernsheim, Leben, Erscheinung und Werk) relates a story that is representative of the family’s spiritual-intellectual attitude: There had long been in Worms a building at one of the city gates that bore the sign “Jewish Prison”; Jews who had sought to evade the Jew tax were incarcerated there. After the French army conquered the city and introduced the legal principle of “liber-ty, equality, fraternity”, the composer’s grandfather mounted a ladder and smashed down the sign with a club. Years later at that very location his son Abraham, the composer’s father, would erect the house in which Friedrich was born on 17 July 1839. Abraham Gernsheim was a physician by trade, and in his few spare hours an enthusiastic flute player; his wife, an uncommonly talented pianist, gave the young Fritz — the couple’s only child — his first music instruction. He quickly demonstrated extraordinary talent both as a pianist and as a composer of songs, and at the tender age of seven he began to receive instruction in piano and theory from Louis Liebe, who had once been a student of Louis Spohr’s. The two would remain lifelong friends. In 1848 the family decided that mother and son should move to Mainz, which was little touched by the revolutionary disturbances of the time. This was intended as only a temporary measure, but despite his love for his family and his home town, from then on the child would return to Worms only as a guest. He had been in Mainz hardly a year when Aloys Schmitt, a Frankfurt piano teacher, brought mother and child to Frankfurt. There he impressed his teachers so quickly and deeply that they put together a concert to showcase his talents: On 5 May 1850 he appeared on stage at the Frankfurt Stadttheater as a pianist (in the A-minor Concerto by Hummel), as a violinist (in the G-major variations by Rode), and finally as a composer (with an orchestral overture written during his years in Worms). The young Fritz was celebrated as a child prodigy, and further concerts and a concert tour up the Rhine as far as Karlsruhe soon followed.
At the age of thirteen he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, where he was taught by some of the most renowned teachers of the day: Ignaz Moscheles and Louis Plaidy (piano), Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Friedrich Richter (counterpoint), Julius Rietz (composition), and Franz Brendel (music history). From 1855 to 1861 he lived in Paris, where he studied piano under Antoine François Marmontel and made the acquaintance of several composers: Rossini, Liszt, Rubinstein, Lalo, Heller, and Saint-Saëns. There he also cemented a lifelong friendship with the conductor Hermann Levi, whom he followed as director of the Gesang- und Instrumentalverein (Singing and Instrumental Society) of Saarbrücken in 1861. In 1865 he was appointed teacher of piano and composition at the Cologne Conservatory as well as director of the city’s Musical Society and Singing Society. Among his pupils was Engelbert Humperdinck; among his close friends and musical allies were Max Bruch and Ferdinand Hiller, at whose soirées Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Joachim Raff were frequent guests. He was happy during his years in Cologne, but his desire for greater artistic independence brought him to Rotterdam in 1874, where he was director of the Maatschappij tot bevordering van toonkunst (Society for the Promotion of Music). In this position he was practically the “general music director” of the entire city: The big series of choral and orchestral concerts belonged to him, as did the direction of a music school; on top of all that he also appeared regularly as guest conductor of the city’s German Opera. He liked Rotterdam, and his activities — as composer, conductor, and teacher — were highly appreciated, and yet he occasionally longed for Germany. When the position of director of the Stern Singing Society in Berlin came open in 1880, he debated with himself for quite some time as to whether he should apply. Eventually he decided against doing so, probably because Berlin lacked a decent orchestra at the time, as Holl argues on the basis of a letter from Hiller to Gernsheim. Four years later the directorship of the Cologne Conservatory came open, and Gernsheim hoped very much to return permanently to the city he had loved so much. However, in Holl’s words: “The question of artistic capability degraded in the minds of some people to a question of religious confession.”
In 1890 Gernsheim finally succeeded in returning to Germany. The position in Berlin became available again, and this time, enjoying the powerful support of colleagues such as Brahms, Bruch, Joachim, and Bülow, he was elected to the position by a great majority of votes. He remained in the position until 1904 and, despite persistent sympathy for Julius Stockhausen, who had also applied for the position, he was able to win for himself the good will of the Singing Society and spur it to further artistic perfection. Despite his conservative attitudes he developed a fatherly friendship with Gustav Mahler, whose Second (“Resurrection”) Symphony received its first Berlin performance in 1895; Gernsheim’s Singing Socity took part in the performance. His activity as teacher at the Stern Conservatory lasted only until 1897, at which time he was appointed to the Royal Academy of Arts. In his last years Gernsheim taught only intermittently, the better to devote his aging powers to composition. He continued to make appearances as conductor and pianist as well, most notably in the winter of 1907-08 (as guest conductor of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, substituting for his sick friend Wilhelm Berger), and in 1914 when the city of Dortmund celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday with a two-day festival.
Friedrich Gernsheim’s Quintet for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola and Violoncello, op. 35 (in D minor) was published in 1877 by Simrock in Berlin, and is dedicated to his uncle by marriage, Friedrich Veit Kaula. This is actually the first of Gernsheim’s two works for this ensemble; his second one followed precisely twenty years later. Holl assigns this work to the “peak years of Gernsheim’s Brahmsian allegiance”, although one could make a case that those peak years spanned the entirety of Gernsheim’s mature works. We know nothing of the work’s origins or first performance, and thorough investigat-ion of the daily press in Rotterdam (where he was already the center of the city’s musical life) and in Germany as well (where he had many devoted colleagues) would be necessary to uncover information to this effect. His Second Quintet (in B minor) for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola and Violoncello, op. 63, on the other hand, is a product of his years in Berlin. It is dedicated to the Bohemian String Quartet – Karel Hoffmann (1872-1936) und Josef Suk (1874-1935), violins; Oskar Nedbal (1874-1930), viola; und Hanuš Wihan (1855-1920), violoncello – which together with the composer at the keyboard gave the work its first performance. (Holl reports that the premiere took place in the Bösendorfersaal in Vienna, but unfortunately does not provide a date for it.) It was published by Simrock in 1896.
Holl’s judgment of the two quintets is mostly positive. In the case of the Quintet for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola and Violoncello, op. 35 he praises the technical mastery and three of its four movements, especially the first, which he finds “significant and idiosyncratic”, and the “effective fugato” at the beginning of the Finale. On the other hand he faults the Andante molto cantabile as “somewhat weaker in effect”. He finds the Second Quintet (in B minor) for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola and Violoncello, op. 63 suited to the “epic character, polymelodicism and sensuous brilliance” of the performance style of the dedicatee ensemble, and considers only the Finale, which “unfortunately dissipates somewhat”, to be less than entirely successful. He comes to the conclusion that “the impetus to engage with these works
Gernsheim’s chamber works have been gradually rediscovered in the past few years – a string quartet and two of the piano quartets are available on CD – and a recording of the two piano quintets has just (February 2010!) been released: the performers are the Lithuanian Art Vio String Quartet and pianist Edouard Oganessian (Toccata Classics 99).
Stephen Luttmann, 2010
For performance material please contact the publisher Musikproduktion Höflich (www.musikmph.de), München. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, München.
Vorwort Deutsch > HERE