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Joseph MARX The Three String Quartets     Lyric Quartet ASV DCA 1073 79'22"

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No revolutionary, this Marx (1882-1964), but a renowned pedagogue and militant arch-conservative, who established an 'alternative' Salzburg Festival in 1923 to challenge the ISCM, when it was dominated by Schoenberg and his disciples. With Zemlinsky, Gal and others, Korngold and Marx organised a festival to represent the best non-serial music of the time. Displaying technical mastery, these quartets are seemingly didactic, demonstrating Joseph Marx's skill in three different idioms. The quartetto chromatico was begun in 1936 and revised 1948. It shows that he can rival the early Schoenberg's intense chromaticism, with continual key shifts and melodies moving in semitones.

Next, he produced his Quartetto in modo antico, looking back to Palestrina and Lasso, with modal harmony aiming to 'recreate the sound forms of times past'. The movements are respectively in Mixolydian, Dorian, Phrygian modes, the first returning in the impressive double fugue of the finale, which ends with calm restored. This has audible connections with the modal music of many English composers, such as the Vaughan Williams of the Tallis Fantasia and early Tippett also comes to mind.

The third of Marx's quartets is Quartetto in modo classico, in the spirit of Haydn but no mere pastiche, its idiom decidedly late-romantic, as is most of Marx's extensive oeuvre. It is good to be reminded that the anti-modernist New Viennese school had its precursor some eighty years ago, attempting to curb a tendency which had to run it course, and has now been overtaken in its turn. My only reservation is the effect of the titles; I should have been happier with Opus Nos, which would not pre-determine listening attitudes. The music is far more than the didactic exercises suggested, and I thought that the antico quartet, unexpectedly my own favourite, could easily become a welcome item in quartet recitals; 'modern' music a mere 60 years old, which would not frighten anyone. The three would make a fine recital programme, but I fear no-one would come!

Full marks to the Lyric Quartet for exploring and exploiting such a worthwhile niche. Marx's quartets make for good listening and merit serious attention by other quartets too. They are well played and recorded here, with fascinating notes to put in their proper place the later anti-Schoenbergians, Zemlinsky, Korngold, Goldschmidt, and many others worth dusting off library shelves and playing to new listeners in a new Millennium. No unquestionable masterpieces, though, so I settle for .


Peter Grahame Woolf

see also earlier review by Rob Barnett


Peter Grahame Woolf

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