top of page



Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44

Beethoven: String Quartet No 10, ‘Harp’ Quartet

Robert Constable: Terpsichorean Dances #2 for String Quartet

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44

Robert Schumann’s only piano quintet, piano quartet, and all 3 string quartets were written within a period of a few months in the summer of 1842. His personal life at the time held plenty of distractions. 1842 was a summer of drought, and Schumann might have been distracted by his one year old daughter Marie, though possibly he paid less attention to municipal events such as the construction of one of the first railway stations in Germany. More importantly, 1842 was the year Schumann and Clara were finally reconciled to her father, who had strongly opposed their marriage in late 1840. He finally gave in in order to see his grandchildren.

Schumann was born in 1810 and left the study of law when he was 20 to engage further with his piano teacher who assured him he could become the finest pianist in Europe. Sadly, or providentially, this course was cut short by the emergence of a disability in the fingers of his right hand. If he could not play, he would compose.

The piano quintet was not an established form when Schumann wrote this piece.Schubert had written the Trout Quintet in 1819 and there were a few other examples but the romantic power of the piano in a chamber music setting had not been fully realised till Schumann’s quintet. Schumann was after all predominantly a writer for piano. The piece was much admired after its first performance. Clara Schumann should have been at the piano but was ill, so the audience had to make do with Felix Mendelssohn instead.

Schumann’s writing includes discourses between the five instruments as well as powerful passages of struggle between piano and strings. The movements are:

I. Allegro brillante

II. In modo d'una marcia. Un poco largamente

III. Scherzo: Molto vivace

IV. Allegro ma non troppo

The second movement is a sort of funeral march, that is in a slow double time, and a minor key. Look out also for some very demanding passages of cello in the third movement.

The piano quintet was much acclaimed after its first performance in 1843, andplayed its part in the gradual move of chamber music from a salon style performed in private houses to a genre performed in public theaters.

Beethoven: String Quartet No 10, ‘Harp’ Quartet

I.Poco adagio – Allegro

II.Adagio ma non troppo

III.Presto – Piu presto quasi prestissimo

IV.Allegretto can variazioni

Beethoven composed this when he was 39. 1809 was a tricky year, as Vienna was bombarded in May and subsequently occupied by Napoleon’s forces (for this second time in 5 years), disrupting musical as well as daily life. This piece was hismost substantial output for the year. This is a work from his middle, ‘Eroica’, period and was composed after the premiers of the 5th and 6th Symphony and 4th piano concerto in 1807.

The nickname ‘The Harp’ comes from the pizzicato section in the first movement

Robert Constable:Terpsichorean Dances #2 for String Quartet

Terpsichorean Dances #2 for String Quartet

In Greek mythology, Terpsichore (pronounced Terp-si-coree) is one of the nineMuses and the goddess of dance and chorus. Accordingly, the word"Terpsichorean" is often used in music to refer to the strong presence of dance elements. As a Greek goddess, Terpsichore is usually depicted holding a lyre while accompanying dancing and singing.

In 2019 I wrote a large-scale percussion sextet, to which I gave the title,‘Terpsichorean Dances #1’. My string quartet, composed at the beginning of 2023,has much in common with this percussion work, hence its title. I see these works as part of a series of medium length pieces, each of which has strong elements of dance and joy. Like its percussion counterpart, my string quartet is exuberant, fast-paced and highly organised from a rhythmic perspective. It is music which is both hypnotic and highly directional, and it invites the audience to imagine their own choreography as it unfolds. This is also very economical music, with every musicalelement deriving from the ideas contained in the first 60 seconds of the music. The challenge of this music for performers lies in its requirement for a high level of rhythmic precision and organisation, which each player has to sustain relentlesslyfor ten and a half minutes.

This work for string quartet was commissioned by Arts in the Valley, KangarooValley, Australia and will be first played by the Acacia Quartet in a concert in Kangaroo Valley in May 2023.

Robert Constable AM (March 2023)


bottom of page