Composed at the age of 18: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13 - Felix Mendelssohn

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Felix Mendelssohn
Borromeo String Quartet
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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The String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1827. Written when he was 18 years old, it was, despite its official number, Mendelssohn's first mature string quartet. One of Mendelssohn's most passionate works, the A minor Quartet is one of the earliest and most significant examples of cyclic form in music.


This work has four movements:

1. Adagio – Allegro vivace
2. Adagio non lento
3. Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto
4. Presto – Adagio non lento

A typical performance lasts about 30 minutes.


Though Mendelssohn was still a teenager when he wrote this quartet, he was already an experienced composer of chamber music. He had already written the string quintet opus 18, the octet for strings opus 20, and three piano quartets, besides several youthful string quartets which remained unpublished. He had a few months before produced his opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho, which was not a success. (His quartet Opus 12, though it bears an earlier opus number, was actually written two years later.)

Mendelssohn wrote the quartet a few months after the death of Ludwig van Beethoven, and the influence of Beethoven's late string quartets (written only shortly before and some of which had not even been published when Mendelssohn started his composition) is evident in this work. Beethoven's late works received a lukewarm reception at best, and many — including Mendelssohn's own father — agreed with composer Louis Spohr that they were an "indecipherable, uncorrected horror". Mendelssohn, however, was fascinated by them: he studied all the scores he could obtain and included several allusions to Beethoven's quartets in opus 13. But more than being simply a homage to his great predecessor, Mendelssohn's quartet takes the implications of Beethoven's late quartets - above all their suggestions of cyclic formal organization - and develops them in radically new directions. As Benedict Taylor writes in a very detailed analysis, this quartet "is the most thorough-going essay in cyclic form, both by Mendelssohn and by any composer to that time, until the late works of Franck at the very least".

As a unifying motif, Mendelssohn included a quotation from his song "Ist es wahr?" ('Is it true?', op. 9 no. 1) - "Is it true that you wait for me in the arbour by the vineyard wall?" - composed a few months earlier. Mendelssohn includes the title of the song in the score of the quartet, recalling the title Beethoven wrote on the last movement of his Op. 135 string quartet "Muss es sein?" (Must it be?). But, unlike the introspective, existential quality of Beethoven's quartet, Mendelssohn's work is passionate and richly romantic. "...This quartet, relying heavily on compositional techniques of late Beethoven, links Classical form to Romantic expression," writes Lucy Miller.

The text above is offered by courtesy of Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Classical music piece performed by: Borromeo String Quartet
Licensed by: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Music license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Portrait by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Classical music piece ID: HDCM0742

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