There can be few musical prodigies to rival Felix Mendelssohn. Mozart comes to mind, but even he would be hard pressed to rival the technical mastery and emotional maturity demonstrated by the young Mendelssohn in such works as his Octet, Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture or this, his String Quartet in a, Op. 13, written when he was 18.
Unlike Octet and Overture, the String Quartet is a darker work, posing from its very beginning the question Frage: Ist es wahr? [Question: Is it true?], a quotation from an early love song, one of his Op. 9 group of lieder.
Clearly modelled on Beethoven’s Op. 132 in the same key – including using, like the Beethoven, a ‘recitative’ to open his finale, the quartet also breaks new ground by having an introduction in the major mode and repeating it, together with reminiscences of the other movements, at the end of the finale.
But first of all, teenage love:
Ist es wahr?
Dass du stets dort in dem Laubgang,
An der Weinwand meiner harrst?
Und den Mondschein und die Sternlein
Auch nach mir befragst?
Ist es wahr? Sprich!
Was ich fühle, das begreifft nur,
Die es mitfühlt, und die treu mir
Ewig, treu mir ewig bleibt
Is it true?
Is it true that over there in the leafy walkway,
you always wait for me by the vine-draped wall?
And that with the moonlight and the
little stars you consult about me also?
Is it true? Speak!
What I feel, only she grasps —
she who feels with me
and stays ever faithful to me,