Hyperion Records

String Quartet in D major
begun spring 1889; first performed at the Salle Pleyel on 19 April 1890

'Fauré & Franck: String Quartets' (CDA67664)
Fauré & Franck: String Quartets
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67664 
Movement 1: Poco lento – Allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo: Vivace
Movement 3: Larghetto
Movement 4: Allegro molto

String Quartet in D major
The outcome from Franck’s study of the scores of Beethoven, Schubert and (even) Brahms quartets betrays their influence only in the most general sense—a Beethovenian seriousness of purpose in all movements except the second, and a penchant for rich textures that might be dubbed Brahmsian. Franck’s desire to break new ground is evident, most notably in the structure of the first movement. Here he combines traditional sonata form with the ternary form of the lied, to give the overall shape A-B-A'-B'-A, in which A (Poco lento) is the cyclic theme (or as d’Indy charmingly calls it, ‘l’idée mère’), B (Allegro) is the sonata exposition and B' the development and recapitulation. As a further refinement, the central lied section (A') develops the cyclic theme as a fugue, beginning on the viola. The result of all this is that we hear the four instruments struggling, through the means of sonata form, to recapture the radiance of the opening lied, and failing. It is only with the reprise of the opening bars, varied and abbreviated, that the movement reaches a truly satisfying conclusion.

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

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA67664 track 4
Allegro molto
Recording date
3 December 2007
Recording venue
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Jeremy Hayes
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan
Hyperion usage
  1. Fauré & Franck: String Quartets (CDA67664)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: August 2008
   English   Français   Deutsch