Movement 1: Allegro molto moderato
Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegro vivo
Movement 3: Adagio
Movement 4: Allegro molto
It was during the later stages of this frustrating relationship that Fauré began work on his First Piano Quartet. However, despite the dark C minor tonality, there is little sense of personal tragedy in this music. As with the other outstanding masterpiece of this ‘first period’, the A major Violin Sonata (Op 13), intensity of feeling is balanced by a concern for elegance and formal lucidity. As Fauré himself remarked to the composer Florent Schmitt: “To express that which is within you with sincerity, in the clearest and most perfect manner, would seem to me the ultimate goal of art.”
The first movement (Allegro molto moderato) is in a fairly conventional sonata form: even so, one should not expect a powerful, closely argued drama à la Beethoven. Fauré is a lyricist, not a dramatist: melodic evolution is continuous from first to last bar, and textural transitions are always skilfully dovetailed. Even the final appearance of the dotted opening theme in the major is accomplished without any sense of theatre.
The Scherzo (Allegro vivo) is a gloriously lighthearted affair. Pizzicato string chords, pianissimo, prepare the way for a delicious air-borne piano theme which hovers teasingly between the tonic E flat and the first movement’s C minor. Frequent alternations between 6/8 and 2/4 add a touch of humour, but for the most part the music is light as thistledown. Muted strings attempt to introduce an element of sobriety in the central trio section, but their efforts are deflated by the piano’s rippling triplets and quasi-pizzicato bass line.
The Adagio, in C minor, is one of Fauré’s finest slow movements. Here one gains more than a hint of his feelings during that ultimately traumatic year of 1877. Nevertheless, the emotion is always nobly restrained, with not even the slightest hint of self-indulgence. The solemn opening theme would not be out of place in a liturgical work (parts of the Requiem were also written during 1877), but the conciliatory coda has a quality of intimacy which is appropriate only to chamber music.
Fauré was evidently dissatisfied with the original finale, for he rewrote it ‘from top to toe’ in 1883, three years after the Quartet’s first performance. For all its furious energy, melodic continuity is as important here as in any of the other movements. The second subject, first presented in E flat major, is a particularly memorable inspiration, and it comes as no surprise when Fauré uses this theme to crown his exultant C major coda.
from notes by Stephen Johnson © 1986