String Quartet in a minor (No.3 ) Op. Post.
Charles Gounod (1818-1893) cannot be called an unknown composer, not at least to fans of the opera. But not many chamber music aficionados are aware that he composed four string quartets. None were published during his lifetime and and the String Quartet in a minor was the only one to receive a performance while he was alive. Shortly after his death, it was published as his No.3. The other two were presumed lost. Nearly 100 years later, in 1993, not two but three were discovered in manuscript form. One was numbered No.3, which has now created considerable confusion.
Charles Gounod, born in Paris on June 18, 1818 was the son of a talented but unsuccessful painter who died when Gounod was four. Gounod's mother, also an artist, kept up his father's classes while also giving music lessons. Gounod displayed a talent in both art and music. He began composing at the age of twelve, and left art in favor of music by the age of thirteen. Entering the conservatory in 1836, Gounod was highly successful. He won the coveted Prix de Rome three years later and developed a keen interest in that city.
He discovered and began a serious study of 16th century sacred music. The beauty of the sacred music prompted Gounod to lifelong religious interests, and he had difficultly deciding between entering the church and continuing with secular music. In 1843, he returned to Paris. Gounod acknowledged that opera was the only field that led to success for a French composer and made his Operatic debut in 1850. Today he is remembered for Faust which appeared in 1856 and had an incredible influence upon French musical thought.
In the last years of his life, Gounod returned to music of a more intimate nature and his string quartets, including the String Quartet in a minor, date from this period. The first movement, Allegro, begins with a very powerful series of outbursts, a la Beethoven. This is followed up by a fugue which then leads to a more lyrical second theme. The highly atmospheric Allegretto quasi moderato, creates an indelible impression. The muted strings and pizzicato give the music a perfumed and exotic quality. This is followed by a bright and airy Scherzo. According to Gounod, the main theme of the finale, Allegretto, was suggested to him by his two year old grandson. The music is playful, buoyant and has a child-like innocence to it.
This quartet makes no pretenses at profundity or at plumbing the depths of emotion, yet it is very appealing, full of Gallic wit and charm, and fun to play.