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Théodore Gouvy

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String Quartet No.3 in D Major, Op.56 No.1

Gouvy's String Quartet No.3 in D Major is the first of a set of two dating from 1872. It is written in excellent classical style. The first movement, Allegro moderato, begins with an intimate, lyrical melody, which however does not appear as often as the ländler-like second subject. His fondness for heavily accented rhythms is clearly on display in the superb second movement, a Mendelssohnian Scherzo allegro, calling to mind a kind of stomping elves dance. The third movement, Larghetto con moto, is a set of wonderful variations based on simple theme, sounding like a Swedish folksong. In the exciting finale, Vivace, we hear echoes of the first movement and later of the third.---the famous chamber music expert Wilhelm Altmann, writing in Handbook for String Quartet Players.

 

Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898) was born into a French speaking family in the Alsatian village of Goffontaine which at the time belonged to Prussia. As a child, he showed no significant talent for music and after a normal preparatory education was sent to Paris in 1836 to study law. While there, he also continued piano lessons and became friendly with Adolphe Adam. This led to further music studies in Paris and Berlin. Gouvy, drawn toward pure instrumental music as opposed to opera, set himself the unenviable task of becoming a French symphonist. It was unenviable because the French, and especially the Parisians, throughout most of the 19th century were opera-mad and not particularly interested in pure instrumental music. It was this distain for instrumental music in general which led to Gouvy living the last third of his life almost entirely in Germany where he was much appreciated.  During his lifetime, his compositions, and especially his chamber music, were held in high regard and often performed in those countries (Germany, Austria, England, Scandinavia  & Russia) where chamber music mattered. But in France, he never achieved real acclaim. Gouvy was universally acknowledged for being a master of form and for his deft sense of instrumental timbre. Mendelssohn and Schumann were his models and his music developed along the lines one might have expected of those men had they lived longer. Virtually all of his works show that he was a gifted melodist whose music is a joy to hear. Musicians of the first rank such as Brahms, Reinecke and Joachim, who were familiar with Gouvy's music, held it in high regard.

 

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