This concert by the Philharmonic String Quartet features works by Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny Hensel – and shows that the belief that Fanny was influenced by her brother is only half the truth. The siblings studied with the same teachers, communicated intensively about their work and consequently undoubtedly influenced each other. However, given the social conventions, Felix also advised his sister against a career as a composer. Her only string quartet shows a self-assured and original tonal language. Canon and fugue passages demonstrate the composer’s thorough technical training. The work does not begin, as usual, with a fast movement, but with an idiosyncratically designed and motivically dense slow movement.
After Felix learned of Fanny’s death in May 1847, he said: “I still cannot think of work, indeed of music at all, without feeling the greatest emptiness and desert in my mind and heart.” The String Quartet in F minor is the last work the composer was able to complete before his own death just six months later. While the fast movements are characterised by turbulence and drama, the slow movement is gentle and full of anguish.
The expression of grief, which can have a peculiarly consoling effect in music, also characterises the two short quartet movements by Giacomo Puccini and Samuel Barber performed in this concert. Puccini later used themes from his melancholy youthful work Crisantemi in Manon Lescaut, his first successful opera. Barber’s Adagio, originally written for string quartet, was performed in the version for string orchestra at memorial services for Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and has also become famous as the soundtrack to numerous films.