STRING QUARTET NO. 6 IN F
MINOR, OPUS 80
I. Allegro vivace assai
II. Allegro assai
IV. Finale: Allegro molto
In 1847, during rehearsal for one of the Mendelssohn family’s famous Sunday Musicals, Mendelssohn’s beloved sister Fanny, age 41, collapsed at the piano and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. When informed of her death, Felix crumpled to the ground with a ruptured blood vessel in his head and remained too distraught to attend his sister’s funeral. On doctor’s orders Felix headed to bucolic Interlaken (Switzerland) to recover from the catastrophic personal loss. Yet his condition worsened. He wrote to his younger sister Rebecca: "I force myself to be industrious in the hope that later on I may feel like working and enjoying it". It was during this trip and in this agitated state that he wrote this quartet.
After a few weeks he returned home to Leipzig and set out for Berlin for a performance of his oratorio “Elijah.” There he was taken to the room where his sister had collapsed. As a chronicler observed:
One of his Walpurgisnacht Choruses still remained at the piano open at the very page she had been playing. Nothing had been moved since her death, either in this room or the one where she died. They showed him both. He was excessively agitated, his grief burst out afresh, or more even than before. He told the King that it was impossible for him to superintend Elijah, and he returned to Leipzig.
Two months later he was dead, at the age of 38, the result of a paralytic stroke.
The F minor Quartet was published posthumously and you can immediately feel the anguish under which it was composed. The first movement jumps between anger and nostalgia; anyone who has lost someone dear to them too early will, I think, understand such sentiment. Instead of a trademark Mendelssohnian effervescent second-movement scherzo we receive a frenetic and bitter Allegro with a quietly stewing little middle section. The third movement is more introspective but gives way in the last movement to the despair of the first.
Program notes by David Yang