Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fauré - Piano Quartet No. 1 In C Minor, Opus 15

Gabriel Fauré was the only member of his family that showed a talent for music. His father was a schoolmaster that became the head of teacher training college. His father was advised of his son's musical talent and made the decision to send him to Paris to the School Of Classical And Religious Music (which was founded and run by Louis Niedemeyer) when Fauré was 9 years old to study music. When Niedemeyer died in 1861, Camille Saint-Saëns came to the school and became in charge of piano studies and introduced the contemporary modern composers such as Liszt and Wagner to the students.  Fauré and Saint-Saëns became great friends and their friendship lasted until the death of Saint-Saëns 60 years later.

After 11 years of study, Fauré made his living as a church organist and piano teacher. He had little time for composing, but later in life he gained notoriety as a composer as well as the head of the Paris Conservatoire.

Fauré's 1st piano quartet is an early piece that was begun in 1876 and completed in 1879. Fauré played the piano part in the premiere of the piano quartet in 1880, after which he revised the work and wrote an entirely new last movement in 1883.  It has 4 movements:

I. Allegro molto moderato -  Fauré composed about 20 works for chamber ensemble, and save for one string quartet written late in life, all of them include the piano. The piano always takes an active and key role in his chamber works, and this is shown in the first movement of this work. The first C minor theme is in dotted rhythm in the strings that is accented by the off-the-beat comments of the piano:
This initial theme plays itself out and leads to the second theme that is in the major and more lyrical in nature. The second theme is economical in its parts, but Fauré develops the theme until a third theme is heard, which leads to a short reference to the first theme. There is a seamless transition to the development section as the first theme is explored. The dotted rhythm is heard in different guises and keys. Themes and rhythms meld into a seamless development section until the recapitulation begins with the first theme repeat. Fauré handles modulations with a deft smoothness that results in very pleasant music to the ear. There is contrast, but it is not a startling, dramatic contrast. The key of C minor is one of storm and passion to other composers, but Fauré uses it in his own lyrical style. The movement ends delicately in C major.

II. Scherzo: Allegro vivo -  The music begins in E-flat major, but C minor keeps appearing as the strings play a delicate pizzicato to the piano's quirkiness:
Unlike many other scherzos, this one is in two in a bar in a time signature that shifts from 6/8 to 2/4. The middle trio is in B-flat major and has muted strings accompanying the piano.

III. Adagio - The piano trio was written at a time in Fauré's life when he was with a woman he had been wooing for 5 years before they became engaged in 1877. They were engaged for about four months until the woman broke off the engagement. Fauré was heartbroken, and the slow movement of the quartet is the only hint of what he may have been feeling. The movement begins with a slow song in C minor:
The middle section of the movement strives for more of a dreamy lyricism, but the sadness of the opening returns. The movement is a model of classical restraint, and ends intimately in C minor.

IV. Allegro molto -  The finale begins with a dotted theme in C minor that hearkens back to the beginning of the quartet:
 The second theme begins in E-flat major, but doesn't seem to stay in that key very long. This movement perhaps carries more drama than the others, but it is still within Fauré's artistic sensibilities. There is a restless energy that climaxes in the middle of the movement, after which the piano continues to scamper as the violin and viola trade off motives. The cello enters as a reinforcement of the violin and viola as the piano can hold its own. The music gradually changes to the brightness of C major and it ends in that key after a coda that makes a few references to the dotted rhythms of previous movements.

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