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Quartet in G minor Op 10.

Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)

Vanbrugh Quartet (photo credit: Con Kelleher)

Vanbrugh Quartet (photo credit: Con Kelleher)

Composer
Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)
Composition Year
1893
Work Movements
1. Animé et très décidé.
2. Assez vif et bien rythmé
3. Andantino, doucement expressif
4. Très modéré.
Artists
Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins] Simon Aspell [viola] Christopher Marwood [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

The bell has now tolled to mark my thirty-first year, and I'm still not confident that my musical attitudes are right; and there are things I can't yet do (write masterpieces, for example, or, among other things, be completely serious - I'm too prone to dream my life away and to see realities only at the very moment they become insuperable). This letter to his friend and fellow-composer, Ernest Chausson, dates from the late summer of 1893, just after the completion of his only string quartet, which posterity would indeed rate as a masterpiece, but his contemporaries were far from convinced. Debussy's big breakthrough did not come for another ten years when the popular success of Pelléas et Mélisande catapulted him to fame.

The string quartet has a long tradition in France dating from the second half of the eighteenth century, but the Golden Age of the quartet in France only began with Franck's quartet of 1890. This inspired similar attempts from the younger generation of French composers beginning with Vincent d'Indy and Debussy. They were both pupils of the mystical old angel, Franck, but Debussy managed to elude much of his post-Romantic influence, eschewing his predilection for chromaticism. Nonetheless Debussy is clearly inspired by the complex thematic interplay and the rich cyclical form of the Franckist school.

The first movement’s gutsy opening theme returns in many different guises throughout this movement and indeed throughout the whole work, since it appears in every movement bar the Andantino. This movement is all action, rhythm and motion – Animé et très décidé. The second movement uses pizzicato to an extent never before imagined. The motto from the first movement, now transformed into 6/8 time, continues almost throughout. The effect is electrifying, something like an updated version of Mendelssohn’s Walpurgisnacht in the Scherzo of the Octet.  The trio shimmers and glitters before the pizzicatos come dancing back.

The transcendental Andantino is the spiritual centre of the work, an oasis of calm amid the virtuosity of the other movements.  Muted for the most part, its veiled beauty lingers in the mind long after more obviously insistent music.  The last movement seems reluctant to break the spell, but, eventually a headlong accelerando leads back to the first movement's motto theme and the return of reality. Reality is tempered by a moment of peacefulness recalling the Andantino, but the music gathers momentum again for a forceful conclusion. 

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Quartet in G minor Op 10.

Composer: Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)
Performance date: Friday 27th June 2014
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)
Work Title Quartet in G minor Op 10.
Composition Year 1893
Work Movements 1. Animé et très décidé.
2. Assez vif et bien rythmé
3. Andantino, doucement expressif
4. Très modéré.
Artist(s) Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins] Simon Aspell [viola] Christopher Marwood [cello])
Performance Date Friday 27th June 2014
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Opening Concert
Duration 00:25:47
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

The bell has now tolled to mark my thirty-first year, and I'm still not confident that my musical attitudes are right; and there are things I can't yet do (write masterpieces, for example, or, among other things, be completely serious - I'm too prone to dream my life away and to see realities only at the very moment they become insuperable). This letter to his friend and fellow-composer, Ernest Chausson, dates from the late summer of 1893, just after the completion of his only string quartet, which posterity would indeed rate as a masterpiece, but his contemporaries were far from convinced. Debussy's big breakthrough did not come for another ten years when the popular success of Pelléas et Mélisande catapulted him to fame.

The string quartet has a long tradition in France dating from the second half of the eighteenth century, but the Golden Age of the quartet in France only began with Franck's quartet of 1890. This inspired similar attempts from the younger generation of French composers beginning with Vincent d'Indy and Debussy. They were both pupils of the mystical old angel, Franck, but Debussy managed to elude much of his post-Romantic influence, eschewing his predilection for chromaticism. Nonetheless Debussy is clearly inspired by the complex thematic interplay and the rich cyclical form of the Franckist school.

The first movement’s gutsy opening theme returns in many different guises throughout this movement and indeed throughout the whole work, since it appears in every movement bar the Andantino. This movement is all action, rhythm and motion – Animé et très décidé. The second movement uses pizzicato to an extent never before imagined. The motto from the first movement, now transformed into 6/8 time, continues almost throughout. The effect is electrifying, something like an updated version of Mendelssohn’s Walpurgisnacht in the Scherzo of the Octet.  The trio shimmers and glitters before the pizzicatos come dancing back.

The transcendental Andantino is the spiritual centre of the work, an oasis of calm amid the virtuosity of the other movements.  Muted for the most part, its veiled beauty lingers in the mind long after more obviously insistent music.  The last movement seems reluctant to break the spell, but, eventually a headlong accelerando leads back to the first movement's motto theme and the return of reality. Reality is tempered by a moment of peacefulness recalling the Andantino, but the music gathers momentum again for a forceful conclusion.