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String Quartet in G Minor Op.10

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

String Quartet in G Minor Op.10

1. Animé et très décidé
2. Assez vif et bien rythmé
3. Andantino, doucement expressif
4. Très modéré

Debussy began work on his only String Quartet and his great opera Pelléas et Mélisande at about the same time, 1892. The opera took ten years to complete; the quartet was finished within a year and was premiered in 1893 by the Ysaye Quartet, to whom it was dedicated.

Its feverish first movement opens with the theme on which much of the quartet is built, easily identified throughout - even within complex textures - by its snappish triplet turn. In the first movement it rises to a decisive climax and moments later a second important idea, a smoother, more lyrical one, is heard in the first violin. Much of the central portion of the movement circles around the second subject; both themes are brought into play again before the movement ends.

The Scherzo concentrates on the snappish main themes, first heard here on the viola amid a shower of pizzicato and eventually transformed into a more singing line high in the first violin. The third movement, in which the "motto" theme is only faintly suggested, is an outwardly simple ABA form, but one containing a wealth of beautiful details. The solemn opening, of great emotional depth, leads to the striking middle section in which the viola sets forth on a chant-like solo and eventually expands into a melody of exceptional beauty. Considerable tension builds, before the opening of the movement is recalled. The finale contains many echoes of what has gone before, and the motto theme, often heard elusively, just beneath the surface, occasionally emerges into clear view.

© Shirley Fleming

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