Movement 1: Allegro assai
Movement 2: Poco allegro e grazioso – Presto – Tempo I – Presto – Tempo I
Movement 3: Largo con molto espressione
Movement 4: Allegro molto
The Scherzo owes its variegational rondo form to Brahms’s Second Symphony. Each of the rondo repeats gives a different ‘version’ of the opening idea, while two ‘trios’ (marked Presto) are interrelated by material although they differ in their metrical treatment. A broad, generous diatonic melody, so abundant in Stanford’s mature instrumental works, occupies a central place in the slow movement. On its return Stanford adds an equally sonorous countermelody in the viola, the added texture of which provides a platform for the second subject’s impassioned climax. A gigue-like spirit infuses the fugal opening of the finale and the contrapuntal demeanour of this movement is disrupted only momentarily by the longer note-values of the second subject (though even here the gigue rhythms continue to pervade the background). It is a movement for virtuosos and was no doubt written with the accomplishment of Gompertz’s CUMS Quartet (which included Haydn Inwards, Emil Kreuz and Charles Ould) in mind.
The first performance of the Op 44 Quartet, by the CUMS Quartet, took place in Newcastle on 22 January 1892. The composer was not there to hear it since, in the weeks immediately prior to the performance, the influenza epidemic, so feared by Dvorák, spread to Ireland and was responsible for the death of Stanford’s four closest relatives including his mother. But after a holiday convalescing in Limerick to recover what he described to J A Fuller Maitland as his ‘scattered and stunned senses’, he heard Gompertz and the quartet play the work in Cambridge on 17 February. It was given its London premiere at a Monday Popular Concert at St James’s Hall on 27 November 1893, with Lady Hallé, Alfred Gibson, Kreuz and Piatti, where it gained the approbation of Bernard Shaw.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2005