Once again, I am indebted to Seattle’s classical music station, KING FM, for my choice of music for this blog, this time for reaquainting me with the String Quartet in F major by Maurice Ravel. It had been many years since I had heard this piece, and I had forgotten what a vibrant, exciting work it is until I heard it earlier this month on KING FM in a brilliant performance by the Berg Quartett.
Incidentally, KING FM recently concluded their Fall Fund Drive, during which I was glad to renew my membership. You can too, if you are so inclined. Just go to king.org, where you can listen to KING FM 24 hours a day no matter where in the world you are, and click on “Donate”.
Ravel composed his lone string quartet in 1902-03, and it was first performed in Paris in March 1904. Ravel dedicated it to his friend and teacher Gabriel Fauré, who, in a strange lapse of judgment – and despite being the dedicatee – described the last movement as “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure.” Debussy’s assessment was more perceptive. He wrote to Ravel, “In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.”
The ensemble featured here, the Hagen Quartett, was founded in Salzburg, Austria in 1981 by four siblings: violinists Lukas and Angelika, violist Veronika, and cellist Clemens. Angelika left the quartet in 1987, and was succeeded as second violinist by Annette Bik and later by Rainer Schmidt. This performance took place in 2000 at the Mozarteum Concert Hall in Salzburg. While no recording can fully capture the excitement and presence of a live performance, this video comes as close to that ideal as any I’ve seen.
If you enjoy this quartet, and are not already familiar with Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor, I encourage you to click here to watch a thrilling performance of that piece too. I promise you will enjoy it. Both are masterpieces of the very first rank.
The four movements of the quartet are marked as follows: 1. Allegro moderato, Très doux, 2. Assez vif. Très rythmé, 3. Très lent, and 4. Vif et agité.