Germaine Tailleferre: String Quartet


French composer Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) composed her String Quartet over a creative two-year period between 1917-1919. Tailleferre dedicated the work to the famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein. When the work was premiered in 1919, Tailleferre was invited to join Nouveaux Jeunes (later known as Les Six), which consisted of a group of composers pushing the boundaries of music beyond impressionism and Wagnerism. 


The Music

Set into three short movements, String Quartet is structured as a free-form sonatina. 


Movement I – Modere

The delicate opening movement is based around C# minor and The pulsating rhythms paired with the subtle dissonances scattered throughout creates a wildly colourful timbre across the ensemble. Two themes preside this movement, which are never developed and explored, more stated and linked in. Tailleferre’s use of all four instruments creates different lines of interest, from the lead melody line to the counter-cello line in the central section. 


Movement II – Intermede

Linked from the first movement, the scherzo-like second is spritely in character and opens with a delicate duo of upper strings. The cello counter-melody is really effective after Tailleferre’s dramatic dynamics are put into place. This movement harks to the styling of Ravel, but is thoroughly Tailleferre’s own creative hand. 


Movement III – Finale Vif

The finale movement, starting in an unusual 6/16 time, is in saltarello (a traditional Italian dance) rhythm. The most complex of the three movements, Tailleferre’s polytonal inventions are quite a marvel to behold. The rich textures and timbres that interweave between the woody timbres of the instruments is effective and a really interesting listen. Set into a number of different sections, the dramatic twists and turns keeps this movement running along until the more united conclusion.


Final Thoughts

Germaine Tailleferre’s only String Quartet is full of exciting themes, textures and colours that are utilised in a manner of different creative ways. Although a talented pianist, Tailleferre’s real talent was through her pen. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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