Ernest Chausson: Piano Quartet in A
A student of Jules Massenet, French Romantic composer Ernest Chausson wrote a number of highly-regarded works before his untimely death at age 44. Amongst these works is his Op.30, a Piano Quartet in A major, which encapsulates the Romantic stylings of the time, as well as showcasing the true artist that Chausson was.
Set into four unique movements, Chausson’s Piano Quartet challenges the ensemble in a number of different ways.
Movement I – Animé
The opening movement is set with an exciting tempo initiated by the piano. The strings interrupt with chords before the melodic lines are then passed around the ensemble. The music is youthful and perky, with the main theme bumbling between the instruments. Big eaves of sound permeate the texture as Chausson writes ensemble swells that play against the much quieter sections. The drama heard in the central section is quintessential Romantic era music, with the dynamic drive adding to this effect. After the elongated development section, the opening movement concludes quietly.
Movement II – Très calme
The lyrical second movement is a real gem, with Chausson’s rich harmony and textures coming to the forefront of the music. Based around a small kernel of melody, Chausson layers the instruments in, starting with the violin, then moving to a duet, then with added piano and so on. The piano gets a very exposed part throughout this movement, with the changes in the harmony often being initiated here. As the intensity builds and the ensemble grows as a unit, the music becomes darker in character. The heart-wrenching string lines are a highlight of this movement, with Chausson’s melodic writing really shining through. Similarly to the previous movement, this movement also ends quietly.
Movement III – Simple et sans hâte
The short third movement is light in character and simple in its presentation. A lyrical melody is accompanied by a sporadic accompaniment, which is passed around the ensemble. The climactic central section sees the ensemble working together to create waves of sound that are controlled but effective. This sweet movement ends with a final tutti chord that is embellished by the piano.
Movement IV – Animé
The frantic finale movement opens with a chaotic piano theme that is soon shadowed by the strings. The intensity is high and the driving tempo adds to the sheer excitement of the music. Throughout this long movement the ensemble dig up old melodies, with the lyrical second movement theme taking up a large section of the movement. The quick changes between the fast and slow sections leaves the listener wondering where Chausson will go next. As the music presses on the end comes into sight. After a quick lyrical string duet, the music becomes awash with four moving parts that soon align for a final flourish before the conclusion of this fantastic Piano Quartet.
Ⓒ Alex Burns