Movement 1: Animé
Movement 2: Très calme
Movement 3: Simple et sans hâte
Movement 4: Animé
The opening Animé in 2/2 develops into three themes: the first, given to the piano, establishes the key of A major; the second sings on the viola above keyboard sextuplets; and finally the third, plus lent, spreads its lilting rhythm over the right hand of the piano, preceded by a brief reminder of all that has gone before. The development then appears as a kind of perpetual modulation essentially based on the first theme, remaining harmonically in A major throughout, thus allowing numerous rhythmical and tonal combinations, notably C, F sharp, B and E flat. The other two themes are interwoven to add drama and heighten the contrasts and appear in the passages where psychological or musical tensions have crept in. Finally, at the end of the movement, the second subject undergoes several metamorphoses before modulating to A with the recapitulation of the first theme.
The following Très calme, also in ternary form, gives the viola, over long, gentle chords on the piano, a beautiful theme in D flat major. This is followed by a different theme in F, which sheds light on the debate. A radiant calm emanates from this gloriously poetic tune and makes this movement one of Chausson’s greatest achievements.
The Simple et sans hâte, which takes the place of a scherzo, prolongs this mood, the second motif seemingly emerging from the first, with a true elegance accentuated now and again by pizzicati or skilful modulations which give it light and shade.
At first disturbed, the final Animé becomes alert and lively. After a brief introduction, all the themes come into play: the piano provides strong rhythmic accompaniment and, after a brief reminder of the opening subject, a second theme appears, alternating between D flat and C minor. Throughout the development Chausson, true to the cyclical form so beloved of his teacher César Franck, reintroduces the work’s main themes, notably the first and third which dominate, while the tenderness of the fourth softens the impact for a few moments. The finale, however, is unambiguous, leaving the final word to the first subject which resolves in a dazzling A major. The Quartet has an infectious vitality and undeniable force which was fully appreciated when the work was premiered on 2 April 1898 at the National Society of Music by Pierret, Parent, Denoyer and Baretti.
from notes by Jean Gallois © 1997
English: Celia Ballantyne