Program notes on Debussy’s String Quartet in g minor

by Mimi Morris Kim

Claude Debussy was a young composer in 1893. Just 31 years old, he was a relative unknown and had yet to make his mark. (That would happen the following year with his orchestral masterpiece, “Afternoon of a Faun.”) Like most composers of his generation, he, had for a time, been infatuated with Wagner and Wagnerian opera. He even made a pilgrimage to Bayreuth to see it performed live, but ultimately he rejected the hyper-Romantic Wagnerian path and went his own way. The String Quartet in g minor, Op. 10 is one of his first forays into his new style.

Debussy determined that he would no longer be constrained by the conservatory decreed rules of harmony and composition. He wanted to live and write “entirely for pleasure,” and write music whose sole purpose was to be beautiful. In this, he was strongly influenced by both the Symbolist poets and the Impressionistic painters of his day. The Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889 had also made an enormous impression on him. He spent days absorbed by listening to the music of non-Western performers, composers and improvisers and was particularly taken with the music of the Indonesian gamelan. The second movement of the string quartet, with its unusual use of pizzicato, may well be his take on this aural experience.

Despite his determination that beauty was to be the sole criterion, this string quartet is a tightly constructed work. The opening theme in the first movement is the germ for almost all the motivic material of the piece and reappears in various guises in all four movements. It is also interesting that this is the only work he composed for which he included a key (g minor) in the title. It’s sort of in g minor, but not entirely.

When talking about Impressionism in music, the composer’s use of texture and sonority has often been compared with the Impressionistic painter’s fascination with light. Points of clarity and points of mist and the interplay of both are created through new textures and new harmonic colors. In this way, this quartet can be seen almost as a musical painting, in much the same way that Jennifer Higdon’s Sky Quartet is. Both are a musical expression of light.

Join us this Friday, April 26th at 8:00 PM at the Presbyterian Church in Chestnut Hill Chapel or on Saturday, April 27th at 7:30 PM at All Saints Church in Princeton, NJ to hear this beautiful work as well as works by Jennifer Higdon and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Admission is free. A suggested donation of $25 for adults and $5 for students is requested to keep our music accessible to all.

Public Performances

September 20, 2020 – 4:00 PM

In Search of America

The Fairmount String Quartet performs:

Haydn – String Quartet, Op. 77, #2
Dvorak – String Quartet, Op. 96, “The American”
Marquez – Danzon #2

The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martins Lane, Phila., PA 19118
Click here for more information and tickets:

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.