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Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor, Op 15

'Fauré: Piano Quartets' (CDA30007)
Fauré: Piano Quartets
Buy by post £8.50 CDA30007  Hyperion 30th Anniversary series  
'Fauré: Piano Quartets' (CDA66166)
Fauré: Piano Quartets
Buy by post £10.50 CDA66166 
Movement 1: Allegro molto moderato
Track 1 on CDA30007 [9'15] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
Track 1 on CDA66166 [9'15]
Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegro vivo
Track 2 on CDA30007 [5'08] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
Track 2 on CDA66166 [5'08]
Movement 3: Adagio
Track 3 on CDA30007 [7'09] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
Track 3 on CDA66166 [7'09]
Movement 4: Allegro molto
Track 4 on CDA30007 [7'50] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
Track 4 on CDA66166 [7'50]

Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor, Op 15
The 1870s were a particularly eventful period in the life of Gabriel Fauré. In 1871 he was invited by his teacher, Saint-Saëns, to join the newly formed Société Nationale de Musique Française where he became acquainted with Franck, d’Indy, Lalo, Bizet, Duparc and other prominent French musicians, and heard many of his compositions for the first time. Saint-Saëns also performed the valuable service of introducing Fauré to fashionable Paris society. The soirées of the famous contralto Pauline Viardot made a particularly strong impression on the young composer; there he met Flaubert, Turgenev, Georges Sand and the historian and critic Ernest Renan, and before long he had fallen in love with Mme Viardot’s daughter, Marianne. Despite Marianne’s shyness, Fauré persisted in his attentions for nearly five years, and in July 1877 the couple finally became engaged. It seems, however, that Fauré’s passion was unreciprocated, for Marianne broke off the engagement within four months and afterwards confessed that she had found her fiancé more intimidating than endearing.

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

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA30007 track 4
Allegro molto
Recording date
26 February 1985
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Fauré: Piano Quartets (CDA30007)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: October 2010
    Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
  2. Fauré: Piano Quartets (CDA66166)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: September 1986
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