GABRIEL FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor (1886)
Gabriel Fauré’s Second Piano Quartet is Romantic music writ bold, though we don’t usually associate such dramatic music with him. And so it may strike the listener that the present Quartet, composed in the same year as his ethereal Requiem, has the muscular scope and feel more like the piano quartets of Johannes Brahms, who was eight years Fauré’s senior. It is also darker in mood and more complex than his First Piano Quartet. Fauré, an accomplished pianist, played at the 1887 premiere in Paris. Not surprisingly he had composed a juicy part for himself, with the piano being one of two voices in the work that counterbalance the three strings together, rather than being one of four equal partners. The opening movement hurtles into the music with amazing passion—a passion that carries into the Scherzo, with strong string pizzicati accompanying the challenging piano part. About the poetic third movement, Adagio non troppo, the composer wrote: “I recalled the peal of bells we used to hear of an evening… whenever the wind blew from the west… It often happens…that some external thing plunges us into thoughts that are so imprecise, they’re not really thoughts at all…Perhaps it’s a desire for something beyond what actually exists; and there, music is very much at home.” The finale echoes the tempestuous drive of the first movement, and a dazzling coda brings the Quartet home in a blaze of G Major glory. It is ironic, if not puzzling, that this Quartet with its Germanic heft was premiered at the Société Nationale de Musique, which had been founded by Camille Saint-Saëns and other French composers to be a place where French music could be promoted and performed to counteract the power and influence of German (read Wagnerian) music; and further, that Fauré dedicated it the Hans von Bülow (Wagner champion, whose wife Cosima carried on an affair with Wagner).