Gabriel Fauré: Piano Quartet No.2
Gabriel Fauré composed his Second Piano Quartet between 1885-86, and it premiered in January 1887 at the Société Nationale de Musique. The quartet was published soon after the premiere performance and was dedicated to Hans von Bülow. The quartet is one of only two Fauré wrote with this chamber set up. The first was composed seven years prior to the premiere of the second.
The first quartet was received very well and was one of his few chamber works that received the Prix Chartier Award. It’s interesting that Fauré wrote a second as it wasn’t commissioned and seemingly was composed because Fauré wanted to explore the piano quartet genre more. It has been said that Fauré perhaps made this choice to try and break away from his contemporaries. Thus by picking a genre that was largely untouched, Fauré was able to become a front runner in the French classical music scene.
Set into a classical four-movement quartet, the work follows the German Romantic traditions that were paved the way by Schumann and Brahms.
Movement I – Allegro molto moderato
Set in sonata form the bubbling piano starts the quartet with the strings playing a unison melody. The piano soon takes up the theme, which is then passed around the upper strings. There is a real sense of pulse running through the veins of this movement, with the relentless piano figure often playing that role. Into a tranquil section led by the cello and viola provides a seamless link into the central section of the movement.
Modulating to G major (from G minor), the dynamic is also raised to a big forte. The development section returns in fragments throughout, with the sections doubling in speed to emphasise the idea of development. The movement ends with the coda which is mainly based on the opening material, but the tranquil section melody is also revisited, this time double the speed. The music ends quietly, still firmly in the major.
Movement II – Allegro molto
The second movement, set as a scherzo, is the shortest of the four movements. Fauré writes a quick and animated tempo in 6/8. The piano is syncopated against the pizzicato strings. The bouncing theme in the piano is accentuated by aggressive plucks and syncopated arco fragments. The rondo-like section takes inspiration from the opening theme of the first movement. Fauré uses cross-rhythms to create a segue into the trio section. This smooth theme is accompanied by the perpetuum mobile idea underneath. Although the shortest, this movement is perhaps the most intense of the four.
Movement III – Adagio non troppo
Now in Eb major, the adagio third movement is gentle and serene in character. Almost reverie like in the opening piano fragments, Fauré commented that this movement was inspired by a memory of the evening bells of the village of Cadirac, near his childhood home. A selection of solos from the violin and viola makes this movement highly lyrical and cantabile. The pastoral quiet that runs through the heart of this movement disappears as the quartet grows in dynamic together. However, it is soon restored to the quiet bell theme. There is a sense of space in this movement, with a small range of notes actually used. One critic described this movement as “truly the music of silence.”
Movement IV – Finale – Allegro molto
The fiery passion from the opening two movements unite for this relentless finale movement. The drive from the piano in particular keeps the music pacing along at quite an aggressive speed. The stirring string melody rises and falls with the piano, creating waves of incredible harmony. The second theme is taken again from the first movement, although now it is set as a sort of waltz.
During the coda Fauré writes fragments of melody from every movement as a sort of retelling of the quartet. This builds tension and the quartet ends in the colourful key of G major.
Some have commented that some of the writing in Gabriel Fauré’s Second Piano Quartet was unlike any other music he wrote. From the aggressive driving forces of the opening and closing movements, to the tranquil and lyrical middle movement, this quartet is full of passion and musicality.
Ⓒ Alex Burns