Movement 1: Poco lento – Allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo: Vivace
Movement 3: Larghetto
Movement 4: Allegro molto
Not surprisingly, this movement gave Franck considerable trouble, going through at least three different versions. The end of the final version is dated 29 October 1889 (duration given as seventeen minutes), but by 9 November the following Scherzo was done, the autograph showing hardly any crossings-out. This movement shows a Franck that had not really appeared so far in his chamber music, though we can hear traces in the lovely symphonic poem Les Eolides: not the pater seraphicus so much as the pater jocularis, telling jokes and pulling rabbits out of hats. The atmosphere is Mendelssohnian in its lightness and wit, even if Franck engages in harmonic twists that lay outside Mendelssohn’s vocabulary. The discourse is also shot through with sudden silences, as though questioning the propriety of the whole enterprise—silences whose force was surely not lost on the young Debussy, who a few years later was to claim silence as one of his most fruitful discoveries.
The spirit of Mendelssohn also hovers over the Larghetto, in Franck’s favourite B major, setting up a mediant relationship with the overall D major that he may possibly have copied from Brahms. Again, the opening theme of this movement gave him considerable trouble and d’Indy recounts how, arriving at Franck’s flat one day, he was greeted by cries of ‘I’ve found it!’ even before they had shaken hands. But Franck’s inspiration needs more space than Mendelssohn’s—in this case thirty-three bars, of which every one, while sometimes taking surprising steps in the argument, in retrospect seems inevitable. The form is a rondo with the opening theme repeated almost unchanged, except for transposition up an octave before the brief coda marked ‘recitando’, which makes much of the theme’s triplet figures.
The finale offers obeisance to Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in quoting from previous movements (here in the order 3, 2, 1) before launching on its own course—though its first theme borrows the descending triad from the ‘idée mère’, likewise beginning on an upbeat. The movement adheres to traditional sonata form, but it is no surprise, after the opening reminiscences, to find them again in the final pages, though now worked into a coherent structure. Here at last we can enjoy the blaze of D major denied us at the end of the first movement.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2008