Otto Dessoff is without doubt one of the great conductors of the 19th century, as the impressive record of his work in Vienna, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt am Main shows. [...] As a composer, Dessoff was completely forgotten during his lifetime. Since a symphony movement and a violin sonata from his time as a student in Leipzig have not survived, his narrow but musically valuable oeuvre, most of which appeared in print between about 1857 and 1880, probably also the fruit of rigorous self-criticism, consists of 33 songs, a booklet of choruses, two piano works, two string quartets and a string quintet, which, significantly, were written before his engagement in Vienna and Karlsruhe.
The String Quartet op. 11 combines all the merits that had distinguished its two equally weighted predecessors, Opus 7 and 10, with an unprecedented increase in harmonic, rhythmic and compositional sophistication and with an even greater conciseness of thematic and motivic material. As in Opus 7 and 10, the Scherzo is replaced as the third movement by a brief Intermezzo (Allegro moderato, 3/8 time), which in the Trio in F major exudes even more Viennese charm than the F major Quartet op. 7 in several places. The highlight of the work is without doubt the slow movement, the Andante, which is conceived as a sequence of variations, following the models of Schumann (op. 41, no. 2, 3rd movement; op. 41, no. 3, 2nd movement) and Brahms (op. 67, 4th movement). The 16-bar funeral-march-like theme in C-sharp minor is followed by four rather free and very differently profiled variations, which are not indicated as such: a third-blissful, partly dotted fabric of 16th-bar variations. A terce-blissful, partly dotted texture of 16th notes, a ghostly Allegro agitato in 6/8 time, a scherzo-like Presto appassionato in 3/8 time and a Siciliano-Andantino in D flat major with pseudo-canonic imitations between first violin and viola, which is reminiscent of the seventh variation (Grazioso) of Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn op. 56a/b, without seeming in the least epigonal. Dessoff has come up with something special for the 28 bars of the coda (Tempo del Tema): the three lower voices play the almost unchanged theme with the help of cleverly placed double stops (in the version before the repeats), the first violin intersperses it with trumpet fanfares (in 32nd notes) and excited dotted 32nd-note figures, which in the last, increasingly quiet twelve bars move over an organ point C sharp into the viola and then into the violoncello.
By the preface of Joachim Draheim