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FAURE / RAVEL: String Quartets

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Gabriel Faure(1845-1924) Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

String Quartets

Bringing together on one disc the two quartets of Ravel and Faure is notthe result of pure chance. These works are closely linked, as were theircreators, who vowed each other an 'unfailing affection'.

Born in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques departement on 7th March, 1875, Ravelwas introduced to music's joys by his father, an engineer: 'Lacking musicaltheory, that I have never learnt, I started studying the piano when about sixyears of age.' In 1897, he went to the Paris Conservatoire and met Faure in hiscomposition class. A relentlessly hard worker, but forever losing incompetitions, Ravel had to be content with second prize in the Prix de Rome(1901) whilst failing the various Conservatoire examinations. His failuresseemed plain to the director: 'no chance, on account of the awful inaccuraciesin writing!' Though expelled from the establishment in 1900, he was enrolled byFaure as an unregistered student until 1905, thanks to what Koechlin called his'fresh, bold harmonies'. His problems with the Conservatoire's leaders would goso far as to start a 'Ravel affair' when for the umpteenth time Ravel tried forthe Prix de Rome in 1905, despite being disqualified by age... The jury had nohesitation in denouncing the young composer, already notorious in the capital,as being 'without any great musicality, a poor, beggarly writer'. The infamousthought ran through the societies: 'Monsieur Ravel may well consider usconservative; he won't get away with taking us for idiots.' However, he hadalready published his Pavane pour une infante defunte (1899), his Jeuxd'eau (1901) and his String Quartet (1903). As for the art ofrevenge on the 'old fogeys'...the critic Jean Marnold summed it up: 'When youhave heard Maurice Ravel's Quartet in F, you are not very surprised that thegang of pedants at the Institute would not give the Prix de Rome to this youngartist'.

Ravel's String Quartet in F major is dedicated to his teacher, GabrielFaure. That is the first link between the two works on this disc. Though thestart of Ravel' s career in chamber music has often been compared to that ofDebussy, it must be said that the latter can stand alone. If such a comparisonexists, let us also make one with Faure, to whom he dedicated this quartet asfollows: 'To my dear master Faure'. About his own score, Ravel said, 'My Quartetin F results from an idea of musical construction, probablyimperfectly realised, but which seems clearer than in my earliercompositions.' Written between December 1902 and April 1903, the Quartet inF was first performed in Paris on 5th March, 1904 by the Heyman Quartetat a societe Nationale concert Published that same year by Astruc, the scorewas retouched by Ravel before its second publication in 1910. He had probablygiven too much importance to the remarks of his master who found the lastmovement 'truncated, ill-balanced and, in a nutshell, a failure', and thatdespite the appeals of Debussy, quite won to the young man's cause: 'In thename of all music's gods and for my sake, don't fiddle with anything you'vewritten!'

In his work, Ravel was clearly inspired by the full essence of Faureanfeeling, yet he quickly freed himself by adopting his own idiom. In the openingAllegro moderato, in sonata form, one is absorbed in the intimate,delicate, sweet Ravelian atmosphere. All is delicateness and stylisticaffectation, particularly in the two simple bars of the Tr?¿s doux thememade up of a series of ascending quavers and crotchets which explode in thefifth bar: a theme with variations, which then returns to sink into aprofoundly low register. Several repetitions of the latter introduce rhythmicexcitement before we very quickly hear the second theme. The linking of thetwo, with a subtle alliance of keys (A and D minor) follows a classicalpattern, here very well-treated. The treatment of the second movement, Assezvif, frankly recalls Debussy, with its lightness of line and the vibrantforce of its writing. The airy use of pizzicato from the very first bars givesway to vigour, though never vulga, quite light and short-?¡skirted! Bienchante, the second theme, is tinged with melancholy, introduced by thecello, filled out by the viola, then completed by the first violin. Themovement ends with a furious scherzo with firm pizzicati. Next the Tr?¿s lententrusts to the viola (in F sharp major) the task of revealing its dreamyside. A hovering spirit takes over the bowing, without any great trace ofambiguity. We recognise here and there material used in the first movement. Thefinal Vif et agite, in 5/8 then 5/4, synthesises the chief ideas of thefirst movement in the form of a last flourish. The bows scuttle on twosuccessive levels, then pursue each other in soaring flights which Ravel treatsfrenetically in technically perfect semi-quavers and trills. An opportunity forvirtuosity, but also for mischief, for calm sometime, far too obvious to be reallybelievable...

In the Courrier Musical of 15th March, 1904, Sauerweinsummed up Ravel and his quartet perfectly: 'He gradually breaks away fromtraditional methods and today brings us a rather new form of quartet.

But it seems that some sort of antagonism sets him against himself,preventing him from making a clear choice between the very contrapuntal writingof the Franckists and Debussy's style of freer, bolder, but infinitely lesspolyphonic harmonic writing - hence more different from that usuallyassociated with the quartet. However, those are rather theoreticalreservations, applicable to the future of a form rather than to the presentwork. The freshness of inspiration, the themes, the confidence and the evercharming surprises of the details of development, are such in thisquartet that on hearing it, one cannot but be carried away by it andthat I defy you not to fall in love with it on first hearing'.

Gabriel Faure's String Quartet in E minor, Op 121 is a swan song, anapotheosis for this old man of eighty years, born on 12th May, 1845at Pamiers in the Ariege. The son of a primary school inspector, Faure was sentvery early to Paris to study with Louis Niedermeyer, then Saint-Sa?½ns. Organistat Rennes in 1866, he successively held five organ posts in Paris from 1870 to1896 before becoming a teacher at the Conservatoire, then its director in 1905.

This courageous, pleasant-?¡looking man was to train such famous names asEnesco, Ducasse, Koechlin, Schmitt, Aubert and Nadia Boulanger, to name buta few. Losing his hearing, he had to resign as director in 1920, but continuedto lead an active life as a writer of articles, but mainly as a composer. Hewas made a commander of the Legion d'honneur in 1910 and died on 4th

November, 1924.

'I've started a quartet for strings, without piano. This is a genre madeparticularly famous by Beethoven, so that anyone who is not Beethoven is scaredstiff of it!' wrote Faure to his wife on 9th September, 1923. Whatbetter way to judge the modesty of an established composer faced with a noblegenre...? Already coming to the end of his life, Faure assessed this unacknowledgedmusical testament: 'As I moved on towards the conclusion, I increased my hoursof work and I'm paying for it with a little tiredness. I can scarcely manage towrite a few lines'. One would need many pages to give an account of theexciting genesis of this work, so much did Faure put into it the best ofhimself... The Allegro moderato in 2/2 is in sona
Item number 8554722
Barcode 636943472224
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Faure, Gabriel
Ravel, Maurice
Faure, Gabriel
Ravel, Maurice
Orchestras Ad Libitum Quartet
Ad Libitum Quartet
Disc: 1
String Quartet, E minor, Op. 121
1 Allegro moderato
2 Assez vif
3 Tres lent
4 Vif et agite
5 Allegro moderato
6 Andante
7 Allegro
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