Gustav Mahler Piano Quartet, incomplete, Movement 1 (circa 1876)
Gustav Mahler is a composer principally renown for his large scale orchestral and vocal works. He is not generally associated at all with the chamber music genre. But, during his years as a student of the Vienna Conservatory, in addition to at least four "youth symphonies", he composed several chamber works. Much of this early material is missing or was destroyed by the composer himself.
The manuscript of the Piano Quartet Movement has the date 1876 marked on the cover page, along with the stamp of a publisher Theodor Rattig (who never published the work) and the words: "early compositions" written in Alma's handwriting (Mahler's wife). There are a few references to quartets in some of Mahler's letters but they are quite vague and it is difficult to confirm that he was indeed referring to that particular piece of music.
During his student days in Vienna, the young Mahler was undoubtedly exposed to the music of Brahms, Schubert and Wagner. He was particularly fond of the music of Anton Bruckner. These diverse influences are obvious in the structure and form of this work, but even at such early stage in his career, Mahler's distinctive voice is the dominant feature of this work. His use of key and the thematic material are original and show clearly, the influence of his Jewish upbringing. The rich texture and harmonic structure could easily be confused with some of the string chamber music of Schoenberg.
This striking work leaves the listener wishing the composer had left us with more music for small ensembles. Often paired with this piece is the 24 bar sketch of a scherzo. To the best of our knowledge, the scherzo dates from approximately the same period and may well be part of the same work. This outline has been elaborated on and reconstructed by the composer Alfred Schnittke with a twentieth century perspective in both his own piano quartet and in his fourth string quartet. This provides interesting listening for those whose keen to hear more of this beautiful music.