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Chamber Music

Mendelssohn Quintet in A major, Op. 18 Music from Marlboro: Laredo, Kavafian, Ohyama, Kashkashian, Robinson

By June 1, 2018March 16th, 2023No Comments

I have a recording of Mendelssohn’s Quintet in A Major, opus 18.  The artists were : Jaime Laredo, violin; Ani Kavafian, violin; Heiichiro Ohyama, viola; Kim Kashkashian, viola; Sharon Robinson, cello.  The performers were part of the Music from Marlboro group.

The CD was made in 1990, but this group was playing this particular piece as early as 1976 in concerts in New York.  I also had the record album, so that I am guessing that the recording was made sometime between 1976 and 1978 and was reissued on CD in 1990.  For any of you who don’t know what Marlboro is, here is an excerpt from their website.

Since its founding in 1951, Marlboro Music has transformed the world of chamber music and played a vital role in developing generations of new musical leaders. Marlboro was created by eminent pianist Rudolf Serkin—its artistic director until his death in 1991—and co-founders Adolf and Herman Busch, and Marcel Blanche, and Louis Moyse.

Over the ensuing decades, Marlboro was a vital gathering place and musical oasis for many renowned artists of the late 20th century, including cellist and conductor Pablo Casals; pianists Mieczysław Horszowski and Eugene Istomin; violinists Pina Carmirelli, Isidore Cohen, Felix Galimir, and Sándor Végh; cellists Madeline Foley and David Soyer; clarinetist Harold Wright; and soprano Benita Valente. Marlboro has also attracted acclaimed composers including Leon Kirchner (who helped to establish a resident composer program here in the 1970s), Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, George Crumb, Luigi Dallapiccola, George Perle, and Gunther Schuller.

Since the Guarneri String Quartet formed at Marlboro in 1964, former participants have formed or joined many outstanding ensembles, including the Brentano, Cleveland, Emerson, Johannes, Juilliard, Mendelssohn, Orion, St. Lawrence, Takács, Tokyo, Vermeer, and Ying Quartets; the Beaux Arts, Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson and Mannes Trios; TASHI; the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; and other prominent festivals, series, and summer programs. Other Marlboro artists are now principal chair members of leading symphonic and opera orchestras world-wide; are among today’s most sought-after recording and solo artists; or are acclaimed teachers at prominent conservatories and universities.

Today, Marlboro continues to thrive under the leadership of Mitsuko Uchida, artistic director since 1999, remaining true to its core ideals while incorporating fresh ideas and inspiration.

The festival takes place – as it has since 1951 – on the campus of Marlboro College (a separate institution).”

This performance is unfortunately not found on youtube, so I am going to put the sound files in here.

01 A major op. 18_ 1st movt_ Allegro con moto.mp3

02 A major op. 18_ 2nd movt_ Intermezzo (Andante sostenuto)

03 A major op. 18_ 3rd movt_ Scherzo (Allegro di molto)

04 A major op. 18_ 4th movt_ Allegro vivace


So, why I am I posting this?  Because Mendelssohn was a musical genius, and he wrote this piece when he was about 17.  It is a fine work.  This is an outstanding performance of this Quintet.  All of the musicians have moved on to do other things by now, but they are well worth listening to as fairly young people.

Felix Mendelssohn Quintet No. 1 for strings in A major, opus 18

Although it has an earlier opus number, Felix Mendelssohn’s Quintet No. 1 for strings in A major, Op. 18, in fact postdates the famous Octet in E flat major, Op. 20. If the Octet, composed in 1825 when Mendelssohn was 16, marks the beginning of Felix’s real maturity as a composer, then this Quintet, composed the following year, should probably be lined up hand-in-hand with the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture (also 1826) as the first true and full-fledged manifestation of that maturity in all its still-youthful splendor. And yet the A major Quintet is seldom performed, especially as compared to the Octet and the ubiquitous Overture.

Proximity and quality are not the only things that the Quintet, Op. 18, has in common with the Octet, Op. 20. The Octet was composed, in part, as a birthday gift for Mendelssohn’s violinist friend Eduard Rietz. The Quintet, sadly, came after Rietz’s death in early 1832. Mendelssohn had composed the four-movement Quintet back in 1826, as noted above; but when Rietz died he scrapped the original second movement and replaced it with a new one in honor of his late friend. It was in this revised form that the work was first published in 1832, and it is exclusively in this revised form that one will hear it played today.

The four movements of Op. 18 are: 1. Allegro con moto; 2. Intermezzo (the original second movement was a minuet); 3. Scherzo – Allegro di molto; and 4. Allegro vivace. The first movement opens with a wonderfully relaxed theme from the first violin. When this has run its course, the cello offers a more spritely idea — staccato, bouncy — which the players all take up with great affection as the basis for a second theme area. As commonly happens in Mendelssohn’s string chamber music, the first violin part occasional bursts out into fire-breathing virtuoso finger work — stuff a good deal more flashy and flamboyant than some critics are willing to give Mendelssohn credit for being able to write.

The Intermezzo (Andante sostenuto) is at times rather dance-like. It has a prominent light dotted rhythm that never really goes away completely — even though absent during the voluptuous secondary melody it still seems to be there, lurking, informing, influencing. That secondary music surfs along on waves of warm string sounds that effectively disguise the music’s focus on high-minded counterpoint.

The D minor Scherzo is begun by a solo viola, who decides at the start that the movement should take a fugal shape. The music is always running, yet seems somehow never to be short of breath — there is no musical gasping or wheezing as one so often hears in lightning-fast scherzos. The finale is vibrant, featuring great gushes up and down the players’ fingerboards.


Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy lived from February 3, 1809 to November 4, 1847 and was widely known as Felix Mendelssohn.

A grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a prominent Jewish family. He was brought up without religion until the age of seven, when he was baptised as a Reformed Christian.

Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, and revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, notably with his performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829.



Mendelssohn was the second of four children; his older sister Fanny also displayed exceptional and precocious musical talent.

The family moved to Berlin in 1811.  Abraham and Lea Mendelssohn sought to give their children – Fanny, Felix, Paul and Rebecka – the best education possible. Fanny became a pianist well known in Berlin musical circles as a composer; originally Abraham had thought that she, rather than Felix, would be the more musical. But it was not considered proper, by either Abraham or Felix, for a woman to pursue a career in music, so she remained an active but non-professional musician. Abraham was initially disinclined to allow Felix to follow a musical career until it became clear that he was seriously dedicated.


Mendelssohn began taking piano lessons from his mother when he was six, and at seven was tutored by Marie Bigot in Paris. Later in Berlin, all four Mendelssohn children studied piano with Ludwig Berger, who was himself a former student of Muzio Clementi. From at least May 1819 Mendelssohn (initially with his sister Fanny) studied counterpoint and composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter in Berlin.

Mendelssohn probably made his first public concert appearance at the age of nine, when he participated in a chamber music concert accompanying a horn duo. He was a prolific composer from an early age. As an adolescent, his works were often performed at home with a private orchestra for the associates of his wealthy parents amongst the intellectual elite of Berlin. Between the ages of 12 and 14, Mendelssohn wrote 12 string symphonies for such concerts, and a number of chamber works. His first work, a piano quartet, was published when he was 13.  In 1824 the 15-year-old wrote his first symphony for full orchestra (in C minor, Op. 11).

At age 16 Mendelssohn wrote his String Octet in E-flat major, a work which has been regarded as “mark[ing] the beginning of his maturity as a composer.”

In 1824 Mendelssohn studied under the composer and piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles, who confessed in his diaries that he had little to teach him. Moscheles and Mendelssohn became close colleagues and lifelong friends. It was around this time that the Quintet in A Major was written.  The year 1827 saw the premiere – and sole performance in his lifetime – of Mendelssohn’s opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho. The failure of this production left him disinclined to venture into the genre again.

I am going to stop the discussion of Mendelssohn’s life here at approximately age 17.  It is a very interesting life, and if you are interested, I urge you to listen to the Mendelssohn Octet.  I will close with two paragraphs on Mendelssohn’s death.


On his last visit to Britain in 1847, Mendelssohn was the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and conducted his own with the Philharmonic Orchestra before the Queen and Prince Albert.  Mendelssohn suffered from poor health in the final years of his life, probably aggravated by nervous problems and overwork. A final tour of England left him exhausted and ill, and the death of his sister, Fanny, on May 14, 1847, caused him further distress. Fewer than six months later, on November 4, aged 38, Mendelssohn died in Leipzig after a series of strokes. His grandfather Moses, Fanny, and both his parents had all died from similar apoplexies.

In the 20th century the Nazi regime and its Reichsmusikkammer cited Mendelssohn’s Jewish origin in banning performance and publication of his works, even asking Nazi-approved composers to rewrite incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Under the Nazis, “Mendelssohn was presented as a dangerous ‘accident’ of music history, who played a decisive role in rendering German music in the 19th century ‘degenerate’. The German Mendelssohn Scholarship for students at the Leipzig Conservatoire was discontinued in 1934 (and not revived until 1963). The monument dedicated to Mendelssohn erected in Leipzig in 1892 was removed by the Nazis in 1936. A replacement was erected in 2008. The bronze statue of Mendelssohn by Clemens Buscher (1855–1916) outside the Düsseldorf Opera House was also removed and destroyed by the Nazis in 1936. A replacement was erected in 2012. Mendelssohn’s grave remained unmolested during the National Socialist years.