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6.9.12

Chamber Music You Didn't Know You Love (Marx)

available at Amazon
J.Marx, Complete String Quartets,
Thomas Christian Ensemble
CPO

Loving Marx is a wonderfully unpolitical thing to do, at least if it is the composer and influential teacher Joseph Marx (1882 – 1964) that is the object of our admiration. And if you like romantic music that runs the gamut from chromatically twisted to old-fashioned to unabashedly melodic (including some close encounters with the saccharine end of ‘sweet’), then Marx is likely a composer you’d want to hear. If his three string quartets (“in modo antico” (1937/38), “in modo classico” (1940/41), and “chromatico” (1948)) don’t wallow in the same solidly tonal, melody embracing, almost orgiastic spheres as his luscious orchestral works or delicious songs, they are not the worse off for it. The Quartetto in modo antico, a hymnus to the old masters of vocal polyphony (Palestrina and Lassus) is written in the ancient modes: The Myxolydian for the opening and closing movements, Allegro poco moderato and Vivace, respectively. The Dorian mode serves as the basis for the Presto; and the third movement, Adagio molto is written in the Phrygian mode. The result is a quartet that, for all its ancient modes, lack of chromatic steps and irregular dissonances sounds strangely modern, with unexpected and unexpectedly pretty harmonic turns.

available at Amazon Marx, Alt-Wiener Serenaden et al.,
S.Sloan / Bochum SO
ASV

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More Marxian and perhaps more easily appreciated upon first hearing might be the “Quartetto in modo classico”, a busy work the most classical characteristic of which is its sonata form. It has that in common with the other two quartets – but speaks in a romantic idiom that isn’t trying particularly hard to be anything else. The title notwithstanding, one can’t expect a Haydn quartet heaved into the mid-twentieth century. As any of these three quartets, the name Max Reger is more likely to come to mind.

Early Schoenberg, or Debussy, Medtner, Szymanowski, Respighi (the latter three were friends of Marx) are composers that may not sound like Marx, per se, but are likely those whose works you will appreciate if you like the Marx quartets – and vice versa. And if exploring the last nook and cranny of tonality and where chromatic twists can lead it are your thing (add Zemlinsky to the list, now that I think of it), then you will find the Quartetto chromatico particularly pleasing. True to its name in a way the others are not, this is at turns a melancholic, a wild, a restless, and reflecting work – elegiac and dissonant at once. In a few moments of the energetic Scherzo Marx takes this works so far that an appreciation of Bartók might be more helpful than a love for Tod und Verklärung. But even if the string quartets are the works with the ‘least calories’ that Marx’s wrote, they are never so far away from his more overtly pleasing and melodic side that those who may already know his delicious “Alt-Wiener Serenaden” should hesitate getting to know these works.