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The Turina Piano Quartet, Beethoven’s early Viola Quintet and the later of the two Fauré Piano Quintets present three alternative yet affirmative ways in which a composer’s chamber music can project the inner life and evoke cultural atmosphere that mark place and time.

Although written in Paris after exposure to the music of Debussy, Turina’s Piano Quartet is steeped in nostalgic folk elements from his native Seville. Its three untitled movements sound more like programmatic scenes of a culture rich in Moorish architecture, plaintive and improvised song with guitar accompaniment, flapping skirts swaying to undulating rhythms—all painted in the most vivid colors.

Although published after the six great string trios and six early string quartets, in this quintet Beethoven’s voice suggests more of an orchestral reduction than a work conceived for chamber forces. He may have been wondering how to use all those violas (!) even after Mozart’s six splendid examples. The giveaway is in the use of tremolos in the last movement.

I’ve come to believe that Fauré’s Piano Quintet in C minor, his last work for chamber ensemble, is a work of religious (Catholic) mysticism in the way that we might think of the music of Bruckner: in search of higher truth. Without clearly defined sections, or background and foreground and long climbs from valleys to peaks and back, I find that my appreciation of this work related to its hypnotic appeal.



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