If you’re not familiar with Emilie Luise Friderica Mayer, this release provides an excellent introduction. Mayer studied composition with Carl Loewe in the 1840s. Mayer was prolific, and her works were often performed in her lifetime. After her death, Mayer’s music fell into obscurity. A renewed interest in women composers of the past has brought them back to life.
Mayer had a unique compositional voice. It blended common practices of the day with a forward-looking treatment of harmony. The 1847 Symphony No. 4 in B minor seems to draw on Beethoven for inspiration. But it’s no pale imitation. Mayer’s orchestration is somewhat transparent in the fashion of Mendelssohn. Her lengthy themes are quite expressive, at times sounding like transcribed songs.
The Piano Concerto in B-flat major was written three years later. It’s for a small orchestra and has a certain Mozartian elegance to it. The solo piano part is active, but not showy. Mayer seems more concerned about the melodic expressiveness of the instrument rather than its pyrotechnic possibilities.
The String Quartet in G minor, Op. 14 is the first of seven she composed. This work reminded me of the quartets of Mendelssohn and Schumann. There’s clarity in the ensemble writing (like Mendelssohn) and complexity in the harmonies (like Schumann).
To me, the Piano sonata in D minor sounds like a cross between early Beethoven and early Liszt. And that’s not a bad thing. The themes are easy to follow, awash in rich harmonies. There’s a flow to the sonata that’s similar to those of Liszt’s, although the emotional outpouring is somewhat contained.
Emilie Mayer, like many of the early Romantic composers, was still influenced by the Viennese School. And like her more successful colleagues, she soon figured out what elements to embrace and which to discard.
The four works on this release form a good representation of Mayer’s output. There’s a lot to like here. And the music is of a quality that one has to wonder why it’s taken this long to reemerge.
Emilie Mayer: Symphony No. 4, Piano Concerto, String Quartet, Piano Sonata
Ewa Kupiec, Yang Tai, pianos; Klenke Quartett; Neubrandenburger Philharmonie; Stefan Malzwew, conductor
2 CD Set