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Chevalier de Saint-Georges: 6 String Quartets

Jean-Noel Molard String Quartet

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Quartet No. 6 in D Major Allegro assai (6:21) Rondeau (3:12) Quartet No. 4 in C Minor Allegro moderato (4:32) Rondeau (1:28) Quartet No. 3 in C Minor Allegro (3:32) Rondeau (1:22) Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major Allegro (4:30) Rondeau (1:50) Quartet No. 1 in C Major Allegro assai (4:22) Rondeau gracioso (2:40) Quartet No. 5 in G Minor Allegro (4:07) Rondeau (3:18) 6 STRING QUARTETS, OP. 1 THE JEAN-NOEL MOLARD STRING QUARTET Jean-Noel MOLARD, 1st Violin - Jacques WATELLE, Viola Jean-Pierre LACOUR, 2nd Violin - Robert DUVAL, Cello It would be impossible to make even a brief survey of the development of chamber music in France during the last thirty years of the 18th century without including the name of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1). Born about 1739 in Guadaloupe, the "brillant mulatre" earned many titles of recognition during his lifetime, and his many-sided talents that were as varied as they were exceptional enabled him to entertain and charm the society of his times. Director of the Concert des Amateurs and subsequently the Loge Olympique, violinist, conductor, composer, the lively man-at-arms and horseman of the King's guard was also an intrepid duellist, a persistent gambler, a gallant man of the world, a skilful political agent and after 1789, a convinced and active revolutionary, raising a legion in Northern France in order to help the young republic. Wrongly accused of having squandered the funds at the disposal of his troops, Saint-Georges was relieved of his post and subsequently imprisoned. He had scarcely regained his freedom before embarking for Saint Domingo in order to lend a hand to the uprising. On his return to Paris (1797), Saint-Georges was in charge of the Cercle d'Harmonie concerts. He died on June 9th 1799, almost penniless, having given so much away to those in desperate need. Thus we have all too quickly resumed the events of an extremely occupied existence in which music, in spite of everything, played the most important part. After Jean-Marie Leclair, Saint- Georges must be remembered as one of the greatest violinists alongside his contemporary Pierre Gavinies. The chevalier had aquired a formidable technique which he used not so much to demonstrate his ability as to render his playing more moving and sonorous. His playing was described by his contemporaries as being "sensible et expressif". As well as being extremely gifted, the composer was also perfectly aware of the self-discipline necessary in his profession, although a certain amount of legend which has flourished around his personality would lead us to believe the opposite. Saint-Georges developed the concerto form according to his own technical possibilities, but they always give way to the abundance and charm of his particularly sensitive, eloquent and pungent melodic gifts, often mingled with a touch of Creole melancholy. These qualities are also to be found to the same extent in his chamber music, sonatas and string quartets. The part played by Saint-Georges in the development of the quartet in France is no less eminent since it was with these Six string quartets now recorded for the first time, that Saint- Georges revealed himself to his contemporaries as a compo-ser. That was in 1773. Saint-Georges can undoubtedly be placed alongside Francois Joseph Gossec, his teacher of composition, and Pierre Vachon (1731-1803) as one of the first exponents of this form. A rapid sketch of the stylistic and historical context will help to situate these opus 1 quartets in the music of the period, without, we hope, spoiling the actual musical pleasure which they provide. Four-part writing goes back to the 15th century and constitutes the basis of Western harmony and counterpoint. In the 18th century, the string quartet, consisting of two violins, one viola and one cello (with the double-bass at the octave), was in the beginning the basis of the symphony orchestra such as could be heard in Mannheim, or in Paris at the home of the fermier general Alexandre Joseph Le Riche de la Poupliniere. The concerto and more espe-cially the concerto gross° helped to individualize different instruments and to detach the solo quartet from the main body. Louis Gabriel Guillemain (1705- 1771), with his two books of Six senates en quatuor or Conversations galantes et amusantes, dated 1745 and 1756, where the first violin part can be played by a flute, can be regarded as one of the French forerunners of the (string) quartet. This ins-trumental form was only to conserve its divertimento and symphonic origins for a short time, so much did it truly correspond to the expressive aspirations of the period. Between 1765 and 1800 in Paris, more than 150 sets of string quartets were published, ranging from three to six quartets in each set. They came not only from French composers, but also foreigners, whether emigres or not, among the most famous in 1765 being J. Haydn's Opus 3, and in 1766 the Six quatuors en simphonies by Jacques-Philippe Lamoninary, a set which from its title still testifies allegiance to symphonic forms, in the same way as many quatuors concertants that appeared by Giuseppe Cambini (1746? - 1811?), and by Saint- Georges himself (1777), bearing the qualification that the first violin part was particularly developed in the manner of the solo concerto. Boccherini had the symphony in mind he published his Opus 1 in Paris (1767) with the following title: Sei sinfonic ossia quartetti... However, the string quartet had suffi-ciently entered the musical language by this time that we can read from the following article in Rousseau's Diction-naire de musique: "In a good quartet the parts must almost always be alternating, because in every chord there are only two parts at the most which are melodies and which the ear can distinguish at the same time; the two others are simply only a filling, and there must be no filling in a quartet”. The four years from 1769-1773 are important for the history of music in general and for Saint-Georges in parti-cular. In fact in 1769 the quartets by such fertile composers as Jan Kietitel Wanhall ou Vanhall (1739- 1813), Florian Leopold Gassmann (1729-1774), and Boccherini's Opus 6 were published in Paris. Gossec founded the Concert des Amateurs. According to Lionel de La Laurencie, it was in the following year that Saint-Georges decided to take up music seriously. Gossec, his teacher, published his quartets Opus 14 and Stamitz his Opus 1 (Stamitz was to try the formula of 1 violin, 2 violas and cello). Mozart, aged 14, wrote his first string quartet using those by Samartini (1700-1775), the Italian forerunner of the form, as a model. In 1772, Gossec sent his Opus 15 to be published, and it was there that Saint-Georges found inspiration for his Opus 1, but he poured a more supple and varied mixture into the mould of the binary Allegro-Rondeau form than his teacher; this was perhaps also due to the influence of J.C. Bach's Opus 8 Quartets which had just appeared. At the end of 1772, Mozart set out on his second journey to Italy. The profits of the journey are to be found in the six "Milanese" quartets K 155-160 completed at the beginning of 1773. German thought at this time was being shaken by the impact of Sturm and Drang, and during the period when Goethe wrote his drama Goetz von Berlichingen and was thinking of Werther (1774), Haydn composed his visionary "Sun" quartets, Opus 20, written in a pre-romantic vein, while in France the ideas of J.-J. Rousseau, prepared to give way to the Reveries d'un promeneur solitaire, and Diderot's "aesthetical theories", echoed all around in the name of the "natural", and were to be found in everything, in music first of all. Saint-Georges replied in a similar fashion by composing the Opus 1 Quartets, and by playing the first two violin concertos himself during the winter of 1772-1773 at the Concert des Amateurs with great success. He made himself ready for taking over the control of this concert society after Gossec had been called away to direct the Concert Spirituel together with Gamier and Le Duc. The appearance of the Quatuors a cordes Opus 1 by Saint-Georges, in between the Opus 10 and 11 of Boccherini and Haydn's Opus 20, can only have enhanced his growing reputation. THE STRING QUARTETS The Chevalier de Saint-Georges wrote three sets of six quartets each: the Opus 1 was published by Sieber in Paris and dedicated to the Prince of Robecq (Montmorency), an amateur musician; the Quatuors concertantes without an opus number (1777), and the Opus 14 set of 1785. Copies of the last two sets are extremely rare. The Bibliotheque nationale and the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal both possess an engraving of the original edition of the Opus 1. There is also an anonymous manuscript of these quartets in the Bibliotheque nationale which has been compared to the original edition used for this recording; there is no notable difference between the two sources. Saint- Georges indications in the engraved edition are very precise: dynamic markings P and F, accents, ornaments, and carefully marked phrasing. It has already been stated that these six quartets were all conceived in the binary Allegro-rondeau form. The rondeau a la francaise can be a tempo di minuetto as is the case with the first quartet. All the rondeaux of Saint-Georges' quartets contain a section in the minor mode. The allegros, divided into two sections with repeats, here respected, are constructed in the classical manner, with two themes in different keys, and a cadence in the dominant at the double bar; there is a Development section and a Recapitulation. The music is clearly and airily written. Just as in this concertos, Saint-Georges likes to gives fine, low, singing phrases to the violin. It can be noticed in these quartets that the melodic phrase is not only the privilege of the first violin. It passes freely to the second violin, just as Rousseau desired, while the viola and cello weave a lively, colourful and delicate accompaniment, sometimes relieved by pizzicati (Ex. the rondeau of quartet No. 5). Quartet No. 6. D Major. Allegro assai. Development in A minor then major. The 6/8 Rondeau is a chasse, a sport much in fashion in those times as regards instrumental compositions. This movement is very attractive thematically, and well stylized with its successive entries and two varied couplets, the first in D minor. Quartet No. 4. C minor. Highly representative of Saint-Georges' sensibility, being both energetic and sad. The tone is clearly pre-romantic here. Allegro moderato, with a second theme in E flat, underlined with discreet chromatism. Rondeau in 2/4 time with strong rhythm and a repetitive structure. Quartet No. 3. G minor. Allegro. C. The first descending theme posesses a slightly rough energy thus associating it with some of the ideas from Haydn's Opus 20. The dotted rhythm of the second theme in B flat accentuates the strange sound of this movement. The Rondeau, full of warmth and good nature whirls around in the manner of Haydn. La Laurencie notes the "almost faubourglike" flavour of the theme. One of the two episodes is in G major. Quartet No. 2. E flat major. The tender mood of the Allegro overflows with a smiling gravity, as in Mozart, and these intentions are accentuated in the Development section. The thematic material of the Rondeau in triple time bears a relationship to the preceding movement. Quartet No. 1. C Major. Allegro assai. Saint- Georges begins his set of quartets with a movement full of bright-ness and poetic liveliness. The Rondeau, tempo di minuetto grazioso, is a delicious piece. La Laurencie, who gives an example, describes it as "charming and tender... delicately wrapped in caressing and soothing sounds from the accompanying instruments" (2). (1) The chevalier, it must be remembered, signed his name Saint George and simply George during the Revolution. (2) Lionel de La Laurencie, L'Ecole francaise de violon de Lully à Viotti, tome II, p. 498.
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