Wednesday, May 20, 2009

S.Q. Daily #8: Fauré String Quartet

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

Day #8: Fauré
String Quartet, Op. 121

It is Wednesday, and now Fauré gets his due. Certainly a more well-known composer than d'Indy, let's see if there's merit to that reputation. (Links to the audio and score are below.)

Gabriel Fauré's String Quartet is the banana soufflé at the Banquet of String Quartets. Light, airy, and delicate, a fine creation, and yet somehow not a main course.

The work is generally well constructed, with good use and variation of the motives. With the slight exception of the final movement, the piece does not seem to present any great challenges to the ensemble on its surface. Offbeat accompaniment patterns and the infamous "dotted eighth-sixteenth" pattern are about as tough as it gets. That a quartet could perform this work while smiling may well add to its dainty character. (That's certainly not true of the Bartók!)

I'm coming around to the opinion that many melodies are as good as any other, and that real musical interest comes from accompaniments, texture, motivic development, and form. In the second movement (m.16, reh. #11), my attention immediately fell to the sly background pattern in the violins. Alternating eighth-notes in 3rds and 2nds provide a watery backdrop for one of many fine lyrical melodies before giving way to offbeat pizzicato chords. I do wish each of these had been prolonged, though.

Despite the late date of this composition (1924), Fauré remains true to many genre traditions: sonata forms, attention to counterpoint, and a subdominant-keyed second movement. The piece is a warm invitation to the listener to seek out the rest of his works.

You'll find another helpful account of his quartet here.
(Click "Read more about this recording" and scroll down.)

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Fauré, like Debussy and Ravel after him (who we'll explore tomorrow and Friday!), wrote only this one string quartet. Sadly, no Public Domain score is available (it is PD if you're in Canada or the EU!), as he waited until 1924 - his 79th and final year of life - to complete the work.

Buy the full score ($16).

Listen to the first movement (YouTube).

On CD, pair him with Ravel ($3.67 new!), or with Debussy and Stravinsky ($10/$8 used).

(By the way, always check Amazon's private sellers. That's where you find ridiculous deals like the Fauré/Ravel I mentioned.)

Tomorrow on S.Q. Daily: Debussy.


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  2. Check out Faure's 2nd piano quintet as well.
    There is a nice recording by the Domus quartet.