Tuesday, May 19, 2009

S.Q. Daily #7: d'Indy No. 2

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #7: Vincent d'Indy
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 45

Oops. I brought the wrong score with me, so we're switching up the order a bit. Instead of Fauré, we'll tackle d'Indy's second.

* Full score and parts from IMSLP (free, Public Domain)

* Kodaly Quartet plays it on the Marco Polo label (Naxos).
(Amazon excerpts by Kodaly: tracks 1-4)

* Quatuor Mosaïques plays it on "gut string" period instruments
(Amazon excerpts by Mosaïque : disc 3, tracks 5-8)

* Other Amazon previews are here and here (no Youtube, sorry!)

Paul Marie Théodore Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) - now there's a name! His second of three quartets, composed in 1897, is miles apart from Saint-Saëns' 1899 quartet in terms of aesthetic. While both draw upon similar French late-Romantic harmony, the d'Indy sounds much more conservative - even Classical (with a big "C").

The fourth and final movement is a nice place to start when examining this quartet. It is a representation of the best aspects from the other three movements put together. Tempi and moods change somewhat frequently, keeping the listener on her/his toes.

The opening melodic motive ("MI-FA-LA-SOL," for you Ear Training students out there) absolutely pervades the entire work - so much so that it can become tiresome in the absence of interesting context.

The first movement uses voicings that are quite predictable and simple, without the air of brevity and inevitability commonly seen in Mozart. The music is rather dry, with the "louds" not too loud, the "fasts" not too fast, and the lushness not all that lush. If it weren't for the specific harmonies chosen, one could mistakely guess that this work belongs to the late Classical period, and not the late Romantic. Lyrical lines crop up now and again, but they seem naked without the orchestrational interest to back them up.

Movement II provides a little more textural variety and complexity. The final seven measures are extremely promising; unfortunately, they are the culmination of an idea, and not the gensis of one. The promise is over in a matter of seconds.

Motivic connections are still going strong throughout Movement III. D'Indy is still content, however, to repeat sub-phrases literally three or four times in solo voices, producing sudden contrasts without the payoff of surprise. We catch another glimpse of excitement in the triplet accompaniment at Rehearsal #14, but this too departs in a fleeting Augenblick.

Similar to a counterpoint exercise from school, Vincent d'Indy's String Quartet No. 2 looks correct and elegant on paper, but it holds little interest for the ear. Of course, multiple hearings would likely be favorable to the composition (or good for its listener, at least).

Tomorrow on S.Q. Daily, Fauré.

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