RAVEL Maurice, String Quartet in F

Allegro moderato. très doux
Assez vif. très rythmé
Très lent Vif et agité

The first two movements of Ravel’s Quartet were finished in December 1902 and the next month he submitted the first movement for a prize at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was still a student. The jury was unimpressed and the Director Théodore Dubois was typically acidic, claiming that it “lacked simplicity”. The failure to win a prize meant that Ravel’s studies with Fauré were over but Ravel persisted with the Quartet, and by April 1903 he had finished all four movements. He put it aside for yet another doomed attempt at the Prix de Rome, but it’s likely that he made further revisions later in the year. The pianist and composer Alfredo Casella recalled running into Ravel in the street in January 1904: “I found [Ravel] seated on a bench, attentively reading a manuscript. I asked him what it was. He said: It is a quartet I have just finished. I am rather pleased with it.” The first performance was given at the Schola Cantorum by the Heymann Quartet, on 5 March 1904. It is dedicated “à mon cher maître Gabriel Fauré”.

In a parallel with Debussy’s Quartet, Ravel makes use of cyclic themes – material heard in the first movement returns in various guises throughout. The second movement is notable for Ravel’s brilliant use of cross-rhythms as all four string players become a kind of gigantic guitar. The rhapsodic slow movement includes a dream-like recollection of the cyclic theme. In the finale, Ravel’s use of irregular time signatures generates a momentum that is not only impossible to predict but impossible to resist. Recollections of the cyclic theme are woven into the texture with great subtlety and the kaleidoscopic string writing produces a conclusion that glitters and surges.

Nigel Simeone © 2012


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