More than one composer has avoided the piano quartet as far too troublesome a medium; others have tried writing for this easily unbalanced piano-trio-plus-one ensemble and given up. Simply put, the piano quartet has always been a composer's best friend. One successful work in the genre is as much as a composer might reasonably hope to compose, and the fact that both Mozart and Brahms completed two fine piano quartets can be explained by the fact that these two very great composers were clearly up to the challenge. Interestingly, in Felix Mendelssohn's catalog we find not one, nor two, but four piano quartets -- all composed between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, when Mendelssohn was still too young to know fear! The earliest Mendelssohn piano quartet remained buried in the family home until well after the composer's death in 1847, but the other three were the first Mendelssohn pieces to be published, and with that distinction earned the opus numbers 1, 2, and 3. The Quartet for piano and strings in C minor, Op. 1, was composed in 1822, just shortly after the unpublished Piano Quartet in D minor, and it is dedicated to Prince Anton Radziwill.
The Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 1, has four movements, as one would rightly expect from a thirteen-year-old composer formed by the Classical tradition. Mendelssohn was quite familiar with string instruments, but there is still far more attention paid to the piano than to the violin, viola, or cello throughout the Allegro vivace first movement. The strings usually play shorter, more self-contained ideas -- a measure or two of thematic material at a time, sometimes given out in imitation -- while the piano "noodles" around the keyboard. There is drama to spare in this energetic movement, and also, from time to time, a bit of interesting chromatic action (as during the opening bars of the piece, when the piano makes a long chromatic descent in half notes).
The second movement is an Adagio in A flat major that again features the pianist's fingers more than anything else. The violinist does, though, gather up the courage to join the pianist in some florid embellishment. Scherzo (Presto) comes third, offered in the traditional three-part da capo form, and then an Allegro moderato finale, so dominated by the piano that it seems almost a condensed piano concerto movement, completes the quartet.