Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Vivace
Movement 3: Lento
Movement 4: Allegro con brio
Harty’s Quintet is a bold, big-boned, passionate work of symphonic proportions and stands happily beside those large-scale Romantic utterances of Schumann, Brahms, Dvorák, César Franck, Fauré, Stanford and (later) Elgar in the same genre. This is music on a grand scale, full of melodic invention, where the idiom of piano and string quartet, susceptible to hybrid treatment, is dexterously manipulated polyphonically and antiphonally. With his established reputation as a pianist, Harty gave full prominence to the piano so that at times it competes with the strings like a concerto soloist.
Harty’s concept of the first movement is indeed largely orchestral. A rhythmically dynamic idea, presented in unison by the strings, gives way to a spacious composite theme shared among the instruments and surrounded by elaborate filigree. In a manner akin to Schubert, this extended paragraph closes in F and yields to an equally generous second subject, a pentatonic, folk-inspired melody in the subdominant, by now a common choice in the tonal organization of Harty’s sonata schemes. This extended section also closes unequivocally in B flat, but not before Harty has subjected the self-developing theme to a colourful, not to say dramatic series of modulations which passes through the Neapolitan B major, and its dominant F sharp. The recovery from D flat major, established at the development’s climax, is impressively executed, and the restatement of the second subject, appropriately in D flat, is imaginatively handled as Harty uses the return to F, in turbulent mood, as a fresh means of thematic reworking. The restoration of the tonic is marked by triumphal piano fanfares, displaced from their normal position in the recapitulation, a strident manner later subdued by the tranquil interjections of the string quartet which set the tone for the reflective coda (in which the viola plays a conspicuous role on its lowest, most sonorous string).
For the principal theme of his scherzo (assigned yet again to the viola), Harty resorted once more to a synthetic pentatonicism to create an ‘Irish’ theme, though this time the character of his material has a striking affinity with the arrangements of popular folk melodies by Percy Grainger. This is felt not only in the panache of the instrumentation—which is remarkably rich and vibrant, not least in the use of pizzicato—but also in the use of vigorous diatonic harmony, quirky modulations and countermelodies for which Grainger was renowned (in works such as Shepherd’s Hey, Handel in the Strand and the Irish reel Molly on the Shore). Harty’s structure, a beautifully crafted sonata, is also highly adroit, much skill being invested in the entertaining dialogue between piano and quartet in the development and in the playful and unexpected tonal divergencies.
If an Irish flavour is evident in the scherzo, then it is palpable in the expressive heart of the work, the slow movement in A minor. Though no genuine Irish tune is quoted, Harty’s material throughout the movement is infused with a persistent flattened seventh (of the relative major, C)—a feature of Irish folk music—which pervades both the melody and the harmony. Harty had already demonstrated a fondness for elaborate melodic decoration in his ‘Irish’ Symphony, a work which won the Feis symphony prize in 1904, but here it is even more abundantly apparent in the use of mordents, rapid scales and modal inflection. Morever, in this context, Harty makes fertile use of the ‘double tonic’ phenomenon as the lengthy thematic material switches tantalizingly back and forth between A minor and C major. Concluding in C major, the first subject utilizes the flattened seventh enharmonically (the B flat being written as A sharp) enabling, through an augmented sixth, a deft modulation to E major for the second subject. This second subject, even more so than the first, is extensively self-developing, in the manner of Tchaikovsky’s sweeping thematic paragraphs. Introduced by the viola, it is initially presented against a background of countermelody at which Harty excelled, but at its grand, extrovert reprise—the use of a heroic 6–4 chord, the scoring for strings in multiple octaves, and the intensity of the triplet accompaniment—it is even more reminiscent of the Russian.
In the last movement of the Quintet, Harty’s predilection for Russian music is confirmed in the lively second subject (which he must have unconsciously gleaned from Tchaikovsky’s first Piano Concerto) and in the highly unconventional episode in B flat minor that forms the centrepiece of the development; both ideas give the finale a burlesque character that is even more accentuated in the impetuous coda. This propensity for the exotic, as well as for vibrant instrumental colour, would feature time and again in Harty’s later work, and would also affirm his fascination for other late nineteenth-century Russians, such as Musorgsky, Lyapunov, Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov, who featured in his programmes as a conductor.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2012