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Name of Work

Fauré, Gabriel (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 (1993, c. 1879)

Allegro molto moderato
Allegro molto


Mar 28, 1993

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
John Sharp, Cello
Nobuko Imai, Viola
Deborah Sobol, Piano

Mar 29, 1993

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
John Sharp, Cello
Nobuko Imai, Viola
Deborah Sobol, Piano

FAURE - Quartet No. l in C minor for Piano and Strings, Op. 15

Composed in 1879

"For me," wrote Gabriel Fauré, "the essence of art, and especially of music, is its power to elevate us as high as possible above the mundane." He sought always for this kind of transformation, and achieved it throughout his extraordinary body of compositions: works that are familiar, though, only to a curiously limited degree. Musicians sing Fauré, but - at least in the United States - they don't play him very often, although exceptions are made for two orchestral works, the Pavane and the Pelléas et Mélisande suite. His ethereal, otherworldly Requiem Mass is widely performed; his songs — introspective, gently lyrical, ingeniously harmonized - are in the repertory of virtually all singers and the recording collections of virtually all music-lovers. Yet this list leaves out quite a bit of Fauré's work: his innovative and challenging piano pieces, orchestral works with and without soloists, two operas, several suites of incidental music besides Pelléas, many choral works besides the Requiem, and his numerous works of chamber music.

He lived to be 79, through years (1845-1924) that witnessed tremendous musical evolutions and revolutions. Beethoven and Schubert had not been too long gone in 1845; Mendelssohn and Schumann were at the heights of their careers, Brahms was a schoolboy, Wagner had completed The Flying Dutchman, and Liszt was inventing the virtuoso piano recital. Debussy and Mahler, innovators of the future, were not yet born. In 1924, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the thunderclap announcement of a new musical century, had been around for 11 years, Schoenberg had begun to develop his 12-tone method, and "Les Six" (who admired Fauré, though his ways were not theirs) typified the new musical life of Paris. Debussy had been in his grave for six years, and a more traditional representative of French music, Saint-Saëns, had also passed on. To give the perspective a more contemporary point, Olivier Messiaen — who died only in 1992 — was already writing music when Fauré was in his last years. Music had indeed changed.

Through it all, Fauré remained poised between past and future, living his own present. Never consciously an innovator, he used his inheritance from the past — standard formal structures, tonic-dominant harmony - to create works that were individual, neither backward-looking nor iconoclastic. He had been trained as a church musician, and made his living as a young man through jobs as an organist and choirmaster. In 1905, after a decade during which his music had come to be heard by larger audiences in France and abroad, and his position as one of the nation's leading composers was assured, he became director of the Paris Conservatory, that hotbed of continual conflict between the "hidebound" old and the "radical" new. He had taught composition there for ten years; his promotion came about partly because of controversy over the way the Old Guard had treated Ravel, recognized as an outstanding creative talent in all French artistic circles except those of the Conservatory. There grew a general understanding that some changes of attitude at the top were necessary, and Fauré was probably regarded as a "middle-of-the-road" candidate. He showed quickly enough where he stood; soon after taking over the Conservatory he resigned from the Establishment-oriented Société Nationale de Musique to help form the Société Musicale Indépendante, whose membership included Ravel and several other former Fauré students, and which would sponsor many performances of new music.

Fauré's first major chamber works, the Violin Sonata in A and the Piano Quartet in C Minor, antedate these developments by about 30 years; they go back to a time when he was making some name as both an organist and a composer of songs, but was not yet famous. A broken engagement in the middle 1870s may have been a spur to his travels in Germany and England between 1877 and 1882: he met Liszt in Weimar, heard Wagner's music-dramas in Munich and London. He completed the Piano Quartet in 1879; its key, C Minor, had been used to convey dramatic and turbulent emotions at least since the time of Beethoven, and this intensity, especially in the "Adagio" movement, may also have stemmed from grief over his broken love affair.

The quartet is by no means dark or somber; the opening "Allegro molto moderato" and the closing "Allegro molto" are assertive and extroverted, full of melodic inventiveness and spirited exchanges among the instruments. The Scherzo, "Allegro vivo," has a lighter sound and a more evanescent mood, sharing the atmosphere of Fauré's songs; the eloquent "Adagio" is a sudden and telling contrast.

Another founding member of the Independent Musical Society was Emile Vuillermoz, who studied under Fauré and would become an influential music critic; about the C Minor Piano Quartet, he wrote: "The pianistic writing... is amazingly supple; the strings, swathed in the keyboard's arpeggios, chords, and runs, are free to weave their close, homogeneous texture, which the piano then embroiders with crystal drops... rare sumptuousness."

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed March 28 and 29, 1993

Performance Audio

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