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Piano Quartet no. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 3

Theodore Servin

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This piece is my first multi-movement composition, and was written in 2016-2017. It was, at the time, my largest completed completed composition, with a full performance lasting about 25 minutes.

The piece was originally conceived as a piano concerto, and the now-first movement was initially going to be the slow movement, in a similar manner to the third movement of Brahms' Piano Concerto no. 2. However, I came across a composition competition called the Young Composers Challenge, or The Composium, and decided to turn it into a shorter chamber piece. The original concerto-version lasted over 15 minutes, and the maximum timing was 5 minutes. So, a lot was cut from the original concerto-version (which, I should mention, was not orchestrated or completed), but the results were just as satisfying, though the cropping of it was rather painful. The piece was first performed at a small chamber music festival for students, with myself at the piano, in 2016. I ended up actually winning a place in competition, and it was performed, again, with myself at the piano that same year. By that time, however, I was making more movements for the piece, and finally, the completed version was performed in Moscow, for the concert for the 2017 International Summer School of the Moscow Conservatory. So, that is the story of my Piano Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 3.

The quartet is in 4 movements:

Movement 1. - Moderato, quasi andante (B-flat major)

Movement 2. - Intermezzo: Allegretto moderato (F major)

Movement 3. - Moderato (B-flat major)

Movement 4. - Finale: Furioso (B-flat minor-major)

The musicians in the Moscow performance are: Mikhail Akinfin - violin, Alexandra Zhelvakova - viola, Alexandra Parfeneva - Violoncello, and me as the pianist. I unfortunately do not know who the other performers in the Composium concert were.

Here are the performances:






I hope you all enjoy. 🙂


Edited by Theodore Servin
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This is an excellent work, and especially impressive to have been written by someone so young.  You have a great deal of talent and passion!  Especially noteworthy to me is your sophisticated grasp of harmony.  I have seldom encountered someone of your age who has the imagination and technical expertise to work with late-Romantic harmony.  It is not simply a matter of knowing how to move from one chord to another, but also how to pace and develop a progression. You have this ability.

I have jotted down some thoughts about your quartet as I was listening.  Bear in mind that we all should write what appeals to us, and much of what I will share as criticism is simply a matter of my personal taste.  It should be taken in the context of what I have written above.

First movement:  There is a good sense of pacing and harmonic variety.  I think this is a very successful movement right through the development section.  I would suggest in future works that you explore ways of decreasing the intensity so as to make climax points more effective.  Thinning the texture, broader rhythms, and a softer dynamic profile are some ways this can be accomplished.  If I had one general criticism of the ENTIRE quartet, this would be it.  We cannot understand light if we do not encounter dark.  Passionate moments tend to be all the more meaningful if they are contrasted with relaxed passages.

Second movement:  A very effective theme, and you did well to recognize the limits of the material in keeping the movement brief.  Most young composers I have encountered do not have this intuition.  I certainly didn't when I was your age, haha!  I would consider piano only at 0:40, and at any other point where the strings are all playing only sustained notes in a predictable rhythmic pattern.  Beyond that, there is little criticism to offer.  It's a very nice movement.

Third movement:  This movement, in an overall sense, is my least favourite movement of the work, but it also has my favourite MOMENT in the entire work.

The opening is nice.  Good pacing.  At 2:45, I felt the strings were somewhat blocky.  If I find myself writing the same rhythm in all my lines in chamber music, I ask myself if the material is actually necessary, or if it is just adding unnecessary heaviness to the texture.  In many cases, I just eliminate those accompanimental chords altogether, and the result is better.  This is not an absolute requirement, as oftentimes you find you need the chords to support a building texture, but in these cases, I try to ensure there is some independence of movement among the lines.  It's more critical in chamber music than orchestral music.  The interplay between the strings you have around 2:00 is a good example of that.

That favourite moment I mentioned is 3:15-3:35.  For me, it brings to mind a passage in the slow movement of Brahms's G major string quintet, a passage which I adore for its harmony and texture.  You have captured a similar effect here, and it is these moments that make a listener feel that they MUST hear this work again.  I rewound and listened to that passage several times before moving on.  I'm sure I will do so again in coming days.

The first five minutes are dominated by a single primary theme, and this is perhaps too long to sustain, even in spite of your resourceful use of harmony.  I like it very much between the start and 3:35.  The thematic change at 5 minutes is also initially very effective to my ear, so we're really talking about a minute and a half that "feels" as though it has gone on too long to me.  I also find that the material at the 5 minute mark, though initially effective, lacks that sense of direction you achieve throughout most of the rest of the work.  This may have been an intentional choice on your part, and though I personally have some doubts about its effectiveness, I must stress again that this is just my opinion, and the only thing that actually matters is YOUR opinion.

I find it nearly impossible to be objective about works I have recently written, but very often a passage I will end up revising later in my life is one that just felt somewhat out of place, even when I was proud of the work as a whole and felt it was as good as it could be.  If you feel this sense yourself about any part of your quartet, you may be experiencing the same thing.

Fourth movement:  This has a great opening that immediately grabs my attention.  The passion and energy is very suitable for a concluding movement.  Like the first movement, I do find that the most passionate moments would be even more effective if contrasted with less energetic writing, and the piano writing could use more textural variety.  That running LH accompaniment is pretty ubiquitous in this movement.  You could kill two birds with one stone.  For example, lightening the piano writing (this may also involve using single line melody in the upper register rather than octave doubling or chords) and varying the accompaniment could be done in a way which reduces the energy prior to your final build-up.

The ultimate climax at 5:30 is very effective.  The quartet, as a whole, is very effective, and among the most impressive works by a young composer that I have ever encountered.  Bravo!  It is plain for anyone to see that you have a very bright future.


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Hi, @pianist_1981! Thank you for your comment!

I'm glad you like the piece overall! Regarding your criticisms, I appreciate your careful observations of the piece, and will consider them in future compositions.

Also, I wanted to express my gratitude for you taking the time to listen to my works. When I first listened to your Piano Trio, I was amazed by the fact that somebody could write romantic music at the level of... well, any great composer from the romantic era. So I'm very happy to be in contact with you, and I hope we can talk again soon!

All the best,

Theo 🙂

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You're very welcome, Theo.  This quartet would be something I would have expected to come from a very talented composer a decade or more older than you are.  I seldom feel compelled to provide critical thoughts on works here, but this is such a fine work that it demanded a response.  Best of luck with your next work!

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  • 5 weeks later...
1 hour ago, Youngc said:

Is the Heroica part an introduction to the chamber work? What is the first video?


@Youngc, the word "Heroica" was originally part of the name of the piano quartet. I called it that for the competition which I submitted the first movement of the work to. The first video, by the way, is the performance of it at the competition's concert. Later on, however, I decided to just call it "Piano Quartet", without the word "Heroica" attached to it.

Edited by Theodore Servin
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