(b. Königsberg, 7 December 1840 — d. Hottingen, Zürich, 3 December 1876)
Piano Quartet Op. 6
Hermann Goetz Born was born on December 7, 1840 in Konigsberg, which was then part of Prussia. He was part of a large family, which was moderately wealthy. As a young person, Goetz was a quick learner, with many interests including music. Taught by his cousin, he learned to play the piano, and attended and finished school early. His original concentration was theology, and then mathematics, for which he had a particularly strong interest and talent. At 17, he had his first serious piano lesson with Louis Koehler, and by 20 he was studying at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin under Hans von Bülow, having decided to devote his studies entirely to music.
At the conservatory his quick mastery of counterpoint and harmony and his talent for composition were immediately recognized and promoted, and Goetz composed in his free time. In the same period of his life where Goetz began composing seriously, he began coughing blood, a symptom of the tuberculosis which would weaken him and then eventually take his life. Though his physical condition was never strong, in 1863 he took a position, replacing Theodor Kirchner, as Organist of Winterthur, which is now a suburb of Zurich. It was an important position, and included the organization of several subscription concerts. It was here that he met his future wife, Laura Wirth. It was also here that Goetz met Johannes Brahms, to whom, in spite of the lack of friendship between the two composers, Goetz eventually dedicated his Piano Quartet Op.6.
In the words of Eduard Kreuzhage, Goetz’ friend and biographer, about the introduction of the fourth movement: “such sounds of suffering could only be found by a person who has himself lived through such suffering. You can hear here something of the deep sadness of the summer 1867 after, as Goetz thought, he had let his Love go.”
To understand the depth of the suffering spoken of here, one must know that his secret engagement and the physical condition of his lungs could not have remained a secret in such a small place as Winterthur. It was not just the outside world that saw the relationship as impossible. Goetz himself wrote to her that he felt death coming, and that they must remain separated despite his undying love for her. It was after writing this letter that he finished his Piano Concerto and began work on his piano quartet, “which,” he wrote, “I think should become quite good.” A few months later, in a happy twist, the two lovers were reunited, eventually married in 1868, the same year Goetz began his opera based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
In 1869, Goetz travelled to Leipzig to try to sell some of his works, including his op.6, to Breitkopf & Härtel. He returned, successful at getting the pieces published, but without an honorarium, and they later appeared in print in 1870. Later, on the January 31, 1871, in Zurich, with Goetz at the keyboard, the Piano Quartet was performed, and praised by the Musikalischen Wochenblatt as “the best chamber music piece since Brahms’ Quintet.” Brahms himself wrote that he was very honored to have the work dedicated to him, and that the Quartet was an unexpected and delightful surprise.
Goetz’ Quartet is clearly influenced by Brahms’ and Schumann’s then recently appearing Piano Quartets, but in no way derivative. The first movement, in standard sonata forma, begins with instant melodic motion, and ends with a fugue followed by a coda. The second movement is a theme and variations movement, mostly in E-minor, with a single variation in E-major. The scherzo follows without a break in a surprising change of tonality. The trio interlude is an unexpectedly tender in a closely written three-part canon, effecting cohesion despite the time-shift. The last movement, with its deep and very slow introduction, is followed by an aptly named “fresh and lively.”
Goetz succumbed to turburculosis December 3, 1876, at his home outside Zurich. He left an unfinished opera, with the hope that Brahms would complete it, but Brahms, delegated the task to Ernst Frank. Gustav Mahler advocated for and performed many of Goetz’ works.
Irma Servatius, 2016
– Kasparek, Gottfried Franz. [Liner notes]. Joachim-Wollenweber-Edition. Berlin, 2015
– Kreuzhage, Eduard. Hermann Goetz: Sein Leben und seine Werke, Leipzig, 1916
– Lee, Eun Jin. Hermann Goetz : eine fomale Analyse seines Klavierquartetts E-Dur, op. 6. Graz, Univ. für Musik und darstellende Kunst, Bakkalaureatsarb., 2005
– Aschauer, Michael Johann. Einheit durch Vielfalt?: das Klavierkammermusikwerk ausgewählter „Konservativer“ um Johannes – Brahms; Klaviertrios, Klavierquartette und Klavierquintette von Robert Fuchs, Hermann Goetz, Karl Goldmark, Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, Richard Strauss und Robert Volkmann. Europäische Hochschulschriften. Frankfurt am Main, 2006
– Macdonald, Malcolm [Liner notes]. Hermann Goetz: Piano Quintets, Op. 16; Piano Quartet, Op. 6. ASV. London, England. 2004
Fritsch, E.W. ed. Musikalisches Wochenblatt. II. No. 10. Leipzig, March 3, 1871 (see below, if needed)
Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, Munich.