skip navigation | text only | accessibility | site map

String Quartet in F major

Related Artists/Companies

Maurice Ravel

Upcoming Performances

Image from Fortas Chamber Music Concerts: Emerson String Quartet Fortas Chamber Music Concerts: Emerson String Quartet - Thu., Mar. 26, 2015, 7:30 PM
The eight-time Grammy Award-winning ensemble returns with a program that features three works by Purcell, two Fantasias and his stately Chacony arranged by Britten; Beethoven's stirring "Harp" Quartet; and Ravel's beautiful String Quartet.

Past Performances

Image unvailable for Guarneri String Quartet Guarneri String Quartet - Wed., Dec. 8, 2004, 7:30 PM

Image unvailable for WPAS: The Amedeo Modigliani Quartet WPAS: The Amedeo Modigliani Quartet - Tue., Feb. 20, 2007, 7:30 PM

Image unvailable for Sejong Sejong - Tue., May 8, 2007, 7:30 PM

About the Work

Maurice Ravel
Quick Look Composer: Maurice Ravel
Program note originally written for the following performance:
Guarneri String Quartet Wed., Dec. 8, 2004, 7:30 PM
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Ravel was admitted as a student to the Paris Conservatoire in 1889, the year in which the World Exposition introduced the Javanese gamelan orchestra and Russian music to Paris (and left the Eiffel Tower as an imposing souvenir), but his academic career proved to be somewhat less than meteoric. While gaining a reputation for such pieces as the Pavane for a Dead Princess and Jeux d'Eau during the next sixteen years, he slipped in and out of the Conservatoire, auditing classes with Gabriel Fauré and other teachers, and competing, never successfully, for the Prix de Rome . Despite his tenuous official association with the Conservatoire, Ravel retained an almost awed respect for Fauré, whom he regarded as his principal teacher and an important influence and inspiration for his music. At the end of 1902, after his second attempt to win the Prix de Rome had proven unsuccessful, Ravel felt it necessary, as had Claude Debussy a decade before, to subject the modernity of his musical speech to the rigorous discipline of one of the most demanding of all Classical genres, the string quartet. He completed the first movement in time to submit it to a competition at the Conservatoire in January 1903, but the reactionary judges, having become well entrenched in the attitude that caused them to frustrate Ravel's every attempt to win the Prix de Rome , found this glowing specimen of musical color and light “laborious” and “lacking simplicity.” Ravel left the Conservatoire for the last time and never again set foot in one of its classrooms. More mad than discouraged, he continued work on the String Quartet, and completed the score in April 1903.

The Quartet opens with a sonata-form Allegro whose precise Classical structure is made to accommodate effortlessly the piquant modality of its themes. The principal subject is a lovely violin melody, accompanied by scalar harmonies in the lower instruments, that rises and falls through a long arc with elegance and ease. Passages of greater animation lead to the complementary theme, a melancholy song given in octaves by first violin and viola above the rustling background figurations of the second violin. The development section is as concerned with the rustling figurations as with the thematic materials. As in the Mozartian model, the recapitulation returns the earlier themes to balance and complete the movement. The second movement (marked “rather fast and very rhythmic”) is a modern scherzo, with snapping pizzicati and superimposed meters. The center of the movement is occupied by a wistful melody in slow tempo initiated by the cello. The third movement serves as a sort of structural foil to the carefully defined forms of the earlier movements. With its quickly changing sonorities, frequent juxtapositions of mood and tempo, and continually evolving themes, it is much in the character of an improvisation for quartet, a free rhapsody for four instruments joined by some magical centripetalism into an extraordinarily satisfying whole. The powerful, metrically irregular motive that launches the finale is brought back as the movement proceeds, much in the manner of the old rondo form, to separate the contrasting episodes that recall musical events from the earlier movements.

©2004 Dr. Richard E. Rodda