César Franck

String Quartet in D major, M. 9

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    In his later years, César Franck is said to have undertaken an intense study of the late works of Beethoven, absorbing the master's integration of intense thematic invention and structural innovation. These elements are apparent in the String Quartet in D major, which Franck composed in 1889 (the year before his death), and which exhibits a wealth of thematic complexity and melodic expression built upon a sophisticated formal framework. Franck agonized over the first movement, which underwent several substantial renovations, before settling into its final form. It begins with a slow introductory section, with a main theme that descends in leaps, then reaches upward to descend again by steps. This idea undergoes various recastings as it quietly approaches a cadence and transforms into a foreshadow of the subsequent contrasting section. Franck's clever thematic segue, based on a stepwise-falling dotted figure, tempers the abruptness of the ensuing Allegro section. The same type of transition occurs again when falling figures in the accompaniment presage the return of the opening Poco Lento material, given this time in fugal fashion and in minor; and again, the slow material then leads -- this time much less subtly -- into a more impassioned version of the Allegro material. This iteration conveys a more conflicted character, with sudden contrasts of texture and dynamics and a series of tense modulations that spiral in ever-quieter circles toward the Poco Lento epilogue. The Scherzo second movement was apparently less taxing on the composer's creativity (few eraser marks appear in the sketches), its agile character exploiting playful motivic exchanges and melodramatic chiaroscuro moments such as in the end, where the first violin's agitated repeated notes and sudden lunges recede into hushed chromatic chords that are finally shot through with silences, then reduced to faint pizzicato flecks. The Larghetto third movement is all tune, long-limbed, and unapologetically languorous; while the angst of the first movement arose from its split personality, here the tension is entirely bound up in the violin's unfolding line, the contours of which occasionally recall familiar themes. The Finale revisits outright the major themes of the previous movements in Beethovenian fashion. Particular attention is paid to reinterpreting the melodic material from the first movement, as if trying to meld its disjunct structure by integrating its materials into a sonata form. It is with the song-like line of the Larghetto, however, that the work comes to a close.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Poco lento - Allegro
    2. Scherzo. vivace
    3. Larghetto
    4. Allegro molto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 0995
    2011 Cypres CYP 4637
    2009 Naxos 8572009
    2008 Hyperion 67664
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93716
    2007 Ysaye Records 3
    2006 MDG 6441391
    2006 Decca 4768463
    2005 Calliope 9889
    2004 Praga 50024
    2002 Andante 2970
    2000 Praga 250141
    1997 Berlin Classics 0091 652BC
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63302
    1995 Christophorus 0037
    1995 LAB 106
    1993 Timpani 4017
    1993 Praga 250024
    Globe 5039
    Timpani 1017
    Accord 202142
    Fono Enterprise 99370
    Dynamic 50