Robert Schumann

String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 41/2

    Description by Blair Johnston

    1842 was the year of chamber music for Robert Schumann (as 1840 and 1841 were the years of song and of orchestral music, respectively), and he commenced his remarkable instrumental explorations with the three string quartets eventually published together as Opus 41. For many years it was customary to dismiss these three works as unidiomatic and overly-pianistic, claiming that their composer's relative unfamiliarity with string instruments precluded him from creating works of much merit. While it is true that the pianistic figurations and general lack of independence between the voices do prevent these works from comparing favorably with works of the two great chamber masters on either historical side of Schumann (Beethoven on the one, Brahms on the other), their total lack of dependence on the dry clichés of the mid-nineteenth century and their intensely expressive musical poetry compensate for such flaws as would be insurmountable in the music of a lesser composer. The three Opus 41 string quartets, then, are entirely successful on their own terms, much as, though he was far more familiar with the medium, Schumann found himself compelled to discover fresh solutions to the compositional issues presented by the keyboard.

    The Quartet in F major Op.41, No.2 was Schumann's first effort in the form. Its opening movement commences without introduction of any kind, the listener being drawn in by its congenial three-four meter violin melody. Like Op.41, No.1, Schumann finds no room for a second theme (indeed, he seems unwilling to part from this lovely F major for any length of time at all), and the development contains little more overt tension than does the exposition.

    Theme and variations (andante quasi variazioni) is the game of the following movement, whose A flat major, twelve-eight melody flows graciously forward on steady waves of quarter-eighth, quarter-eight rhythm. Schumann writes four variations, a reprise of the theme in nearly its original form, and a lovely coda. The scherzo, cast (somewhat unusually) in the key of C minor, is a lightning-fast exploration of arpeggiation in six-eight meter. A sparkling trio sets a humorous cello theme against eighth-note offbeats and quicksilver, spiccato scales.

    The finale owes a great deal to the trio of the previous movement, for it, too, is built of a texture emphasizing witty offbeats and spiccato textures. We have, quite naturally, returned to F major for this rondo movement, throughout which Schumann seems content to let the well-mannered, light-hearted atmosphere of the preceding three movements play out until the very end.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro vivace
    2. Andante quasi Variazioni
    3. Scherzo. Presto - Trio. L'istesso tempo
    4. Allegro molto vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95041BR
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95020BR
    2014 Sono Luminus DSL 92184
    2014 La Dolce Volta LDV 17
    2013 Naxos 8572878
    2012 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4097
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 Newton / Newton Classics 8802051
    2011 Onyx 4081
    2011 Ysaye Records YR 502
    2011 Chandos CHAN 10692
    2010 Audiomax / MDG 9461623
    2010 NCA 60178
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099960901
    2010 MDG / Mdg Gold 3071610
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon / DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894778816
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009 CRD Records CRD 2414
    2006 Brilliant 92102
    2006 Arcana 326
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946350819
    2006 EMI Classics
    2006 Naxos 8570151
    2005 Claves 502404
    2004 Aeon 418
    2003 EMI Classics
    1993 Orfeo 318931
    1993 Hungaroton 12918
    Doremi Records 5707
    Brilliant 92102/1
    Harmonia Mundi 907270
    CRD Records 5291652