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In Defense of Fauré Piano Quartet, Op. 15, Finale

I am aware of the rumblings about the purported weakness of this finale. As I am in firm disagreement with that position it is difficult to build the argument for its inadequacy. Perhaps it is a certain lack of gravitas, asymmetrical textural treatment of the strings in conjunction with the piano that rubs the critics the wrong way. Or the stupendous structure of the other movements, paying homage to Fauré’s mastery of the organ and the seamless phrases, a technique he unapologetically discards in the finale. The best way to understand what is happening is to examine its (possibly) unintended counterpart from Hamburg – the finale of the B major trio opus 8, by Brahms.

Brahms was a scrupulous editor and the opus 8 took over three decades to arrive in its final form. The finale is an uneasy, taut work, riding on pulsing triplets in its blood. It opens with a feel of an Intermezzo, which implies a more traditional finale is coming later. But Brahms dispenses that more predictable idea in favor of a mood which paints a picture of troubled journeying completing many phrases with a fermata. This invokes a similar technique used by Brahms’ friend Dvořák in his Dumky movements found in the piano trios and the piano quintet. So what does this have to do with Fauré ’s choice of form and texture in the Op. 15? Like Brahms, he chooses a departure from the heavy, almost Wagnerian feel of the opening movement and embraces the French sense of occasion; seize the moment if you will. The Finale of the Op. 15 is charming, in its interplay. The solos are fleeting rather than declamatory and the texture is akin to crystallized water particles, both etched and weightless.

I reject the idea that it is an unsatisfactory movement, just because it happened to have been rewritten. The charm is in its very fluidity, the unpredictable nature of harmonic changes, and an energy that is infectiously positive. I always think the great ones left a personal signature, which eschews the perfect symmetry in favor of the personal signature (note the f-holes of Stradivari and the great Cremonese masters of the 18th century). We must remember that while Fauré ’s many works owe a debt of gratitude to the Germans, they are unctuously French, bubbling with joie de vivre.

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