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Piano Quartet in Eb major, K493 – by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Quartet in Eb major, Op.87 – by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op.22 – by Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

The Piano Quartet was a rare genre during Mozart’s lifetime, and the piano chamber music in existence was more piano writing with string accompaniment, but Mozart managed to elevate the form to true chamber music with his two quartets K478 and K493. In 1785, His publisher, Hoffmeister commissioned three piano quartets but after the G minor Quartet, K.493 was written, Hoffmeister felt it was too difficult for the home market and released Mozart from his commission. The following year, Mozart wrote another piano quartet anyway, the Piano Quartet in Eb major, K.493 on June 3 of 1786, without concession to the home market and supposedly for his own concert use. It was published the following year in 1787 by another publisher, Artaria and became one of his first works to be published later in England. The music exhibits concerto-like writing for the piano perfectly paired with string writing in pleasing dialogue. The first movement (Allegro) presents its melodies within the balanced design of sonata form, most elegant and pure of sound. The second slow movement (Larghetto) is sent straight from the heart – warm and decorated with floating filigree and sliding chromaticism. The final movement (Allegretto) is a Rondo with the ever recurring Rondo theme full of spirit, mischief and playfulness, interspersed with dramatic sweeps of musical intensity.
By the time that Antonin Dvorak penned the Piano Quartet in Eb major, Op.87 he was an international celebrity having already written 7 symphonies and an opera. In 1885, his publisher had asked for a new piano quartet, but it wasn’t until the summer months of 1889 that Dvorak found the time to write this work. He found that inspiration flowed easily in the writing of this piece, and commented to a friend that, “the melodies just surged upon me...” The writing is original and inventive and he uses massive sonorities that carry and support his ideas. The first movement (Allegro con fuoco) presents a brave, strong and fiery main subject which goes through many guises throughout the movement. There is a rich unfolding of five distinct themes throughout the second movement (Lento), all widely divergent and differently scored. The light waltz-like third movement (Allegro moderato grazioso) provides an airy contrast and offers delightful gypsy inflections in the second theme. The last movement (Finale: Allegro ma non troppo) has a triumphant main subject with lavish and generous scoring that fairly sizzles with gypsy flavour.
In a strikingly similar manner to Mozart, Clara Schumann (nee Wieck) was systematically trained by her father to become a very successful virtuoso child prodigy. Her concertizing extended from childhood into adulthood, particularly later when she found herself a widow of Robert Schumann with seven children and she needed to find a way to support her family. That she found any time to compose and especially in a society that did not encourage such things from women is indeed amazing. She wrote the Three Romances for Violin and piano, Op.22 in 1853, a year of compositional creativity. She had met the young violinist, Joseph Joachim that same year and was most impressed with his playing, and he became her life long friend. She dedicated these pieces to him and gave them to him as a Christmas gift, and performed them several times with him in public. She uses the free form of the very popular ‘Romance’, a lyrical character piece of the nineteenth century. The first piece (Andante molto) presents a heartfelt melody of clear beauty with the violin soaring on top of a beautiful broken chord piano part. The second piece (Allegretto) perhaps bears the most resemblance to Robert Schumann’s chamber character pieces and is lighter in personality with bird-like trills and grace notes. The third and final piece of the set (Leidenschaftlich schnell) is passionate and sweeps us up in smooth flowing violin lines with a florid piano underscoring.