The Leipzig String Quartet sets out on yet another musical journey, and a genuine discovery is in store inasmuch as Niel Wilhelm Gade’s Quartet “Willkommen und Abschied” is being heard here for the first time in complete form. Since the Dane Gade, like Edvard Grieg, whose Quartet op. 27 is also part of this tour, had important musical roots in Leipzig, the journey also covers home turf.
During the first half of the nineteenth century the string quartet was regarded as the embodiment of absolute music. It thus may seem to have been a rather bold move for a young composer by the name of Gade to have used a literary source, namely Goethe’s poem “Willkommen und Abschied,” for precisely this ensemble formation. And the relation to the text is close, as notes from his compositional journal demonstrate. Motifs and keys are assigned to poem verses, and the enthusiastic tone of the Sturm und Drang also makes its presence felt in the composition. Whether it was lack of respect or youthful courage, Gade dared to change the great German poet’s text by reversing the order of the final verses.
Then he must have lost his courage, for the concluding movement remained unfinished. Axel Steurich has taken up the fragment and completed the final scherzo. The result can now be heard for the first time – and all the better for it: in the interpretation by the Leipzig four what we hear is a dramatically compelling work filling an important gap in the repertoire precisely because of its use of an extramusical source text.
Edvard Grieg studied under Gade in Copenhagen, where he developed ideas for his Nordic music also in ample evidence in his Quartet op. 27. The powerful introduction of the first movement already contains the famous “Grieg motif,” from which many themes derive. Grieg himself fueled speculations about its autobiographical connections by working with his “Spielmannslied”; but knowledge of the composer’s love and jealousy and his pain and hope is not required: his quartet is a top-class chamber event in this gripping interpretation by the members of the Leipzig String Quartet.