only string quartet was written in 1902-3 and premiered in 1904. It
became a cause
it failed to win the prestigious composition prize at the Paris
Conservatoire and Ravel’s popularity was such that the Director was
forced to resign. The work is dedicated to his teacher Fauré, who
had stood by Ravel during his long run-in with the Conservatoire.
Although the work has many innovations it is still firmly rooted in
century with its allegiance to sonata form, the traditional four
movement format and the tonal harmonic system.
music of Ravel, Debussy and Fauré has a curiously elusive quality,
which the opening theme of this work demonstrates quite vividly. It
is a sinuous and exotic melody and its companion, the second subject,
has a similar flavour, though it has a more reflective character. The
development allows a more dynamic view of the main theme before
sinking back to its former languorous mood. The coda gives us one
last exquisitely lingering embrace.
pizzicato second movement is a pure delight, a mechanistic precision
that reminds more of Yeats’ Byzantine golden bird – More
miracle than bird or handiwork –
than Ligeti’s meccanismo
di precisione. The
vision of a miraculous bird taking flight is an irresistible image
for this extravagant music. And the trio with its feeling of
shimmering dusk and
evening full of linnet’s wings only
adds to the atmosphere of spellbound transformation. The return
flight of the golden bird is prepared with care and delicacy.
muted calm of the Très
the wonderful alto voice of the viola. Its melody is first
interrupted by an ethereal version of the first movement’s main
theme. Later an unmuted central section bursts in passionately but
soon dies back. The second half is a long refulgent fading into the
night with another magical re-scoring from the first movement. After
this sumptuous nocturnal elegy the first bars of the last movement
are uncomfortably jolting but its ingenious brilliance quickly fits
into the prevailing mood. The first movement theme makes another
cyclic appearance and the work ends with a bravado flourish.