The music of Antonín Dvořák is often filled with a quiet, wistful nostalgia, an embrace of nature, and subtle references to Czech folksongs. We hear all of this in the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, a work of profound depth and monumental scale which Dvořák composed in 1887, between the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. This fully mature music grew out of the composer’s unsuccessful attempt to revise an earlier piano quintet.
In the opening of the first movement, we find ourselves in that world of dreamy nostalgia. The cello’s serene statement wafts over a gently-rocking piano line. This is music which seems to begin with a sunset. Suddenly, the other voices spring to life with a mood-shattering exuberance, and we’re off. As one far-flung adventure leads to the next, listen to the way fragments of the opening melody are tossed and turned. This sense of continuous development reaches a euphoric climax in the coda.
The second movement is a Dumka, a Slavic form in which a melancholy lament alternates with a lively dance. Moments of quiet introspection are interrupted by sudden outbursts of frivolity and fun. You may notice echoes of the In Modo d’una Marcia second movement of Schumann’s Piano Quintet.
The effervescent Scherzo forms a Furiant, a lively Bohemian dance. Listen to the way this lighter-than-air passage seems to sparkle. The trio section, marked Poco tranquillo, melts into a surreal dreamscape.
The Finale is a joyful, fast-paced polka, filled with spirited, heroic proclamations, dizzying rhythmic displacement and a brief fugue. Just before the swirling final cadence, the forward momentum dissipates into a reverent chorale. For a moment we pause to say goodbye, returning to that quiet, intimate nostalgia.
Here is a 1998 recording featuring the Takács Quartet and pianist Andreas Haefliger:
- Dvořák: Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81, Takács Quartet, Andreas Haefliger Amazon