No 1: Scherzo: Allegro
No 2: Intermezzo: Vivace
No 3: Intermezzo: Sostenuto, con espressione
No 4: Capriccio: Presto, agitato
The first of the Four Pieces is a Scherzo, a fast and humorous movement in a triple-metre genre that dates back to the late eighteenth century. A traditional scherzo takes the form of a minuet, in which an initial section is followed by a trio before returning to round off the movement. In Dohnányi’s Scherzo, the first section is marked by anapaestic rhythms that are continually interrupted by playful pauses and mischievous shifts of key. The middle section features a slow-moving chorale that shifts the tonality from C sharp minor to its enharmonic parallel, D flat major. An insistently beating A flat/G sharp (marked ‘quasi Timp[ani]’ in the score) brings back the opening material. Not content merely to demonstrate a mastery of the time-honoured form, Dohnányi expands it by ending the movement with the themes from both sections in a triumphant C sharp major.
The next two movements are intermezzos, a nineteenth-century title for inner movements from larger works that are typically lighter in character than their outer counterparts. The first Intermezzo, in A minor, again shows Dohnányi’s clever custom of darting impishly from key to key. As with the preceding Scherzo, this Intermezzo follows an extended minuet form in which the trio—a tranquil and deeply emotive section in A major—returns at the end to conclude the movement in the tonic major.
The second Intermezzo, in F minor, is the slowest of the Four Pieces. It is introduced by three lines of poetry by Robert Reinick that are clearly inspired by the oft-quoted promise of fidelity from the biblical book of Ruth: ‘Wo du auch wandelst, bin ich dein, / Wo du auch weilst, du bist ja mein, / Ich hab’ ja dich und meine Liebe!’ (‘Wherever you go, I am yours, / Wherever you live, you are truly mine, / I truly have you, and my love!’). This piece, perhaps more than any other in the set, suggests the passion its composer no doubt felt for its dedicatee—at least at that time, as Kunwald was to be the first of Dohnányi’s three wives.
The final work in Dohnányi’s Four Pieces is a difficult Capriccio in B minor. Fanciful works with this title have been around since the sixteenth century, but in the nineteenth century the genre became associated with rapid staccato figurations. In keeping with contemporary conventions, Dohnányi’s Capriccio adopts not only the style but the form of a scherzo. Once again, however, he could not resist expanding the structure. An agitated opening section gives way to a calm trio in G major, and then returns before introducing a second trio, a chordal episode in B major. As with each of its predecessors, the Capriccio ends in a major key.
from notes by James A Grymes © 2013