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2.110544 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - FRANCE: A Musical Tour of Provence (NTSC)
A Musical Tour of Provence, France
Once a significant trading port, Beaucaire has declined in importance. It lies on the west bank of the Rhône, and the town is shown here only from a distance, over the water, with attention given rather to the characteristic vegetation of the district.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – I. Animé et très décidé
The four movements of Debussy’s only string quartet, written in 1893 and dedicated to the Ysaÿe Quartet, are thematically related and typical of the musical language which he created. He planned a second quartet as one of six chamber works of patriotic intention, of which only half were completed in 1915. The first movement retains the general form of a classical first movement.
Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard
The great Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, was built by the Roman general Agrippa in about 19 B.C. to bring water to Nîmes. It spans the valley of the Gard, and remains an impressive monument of Roman rule.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – II. Assez vif et bien rythmé
The scherzo of Debussy’s quartet is dominated by the viola theme with which it opens.
The landscape of Provence offers a varied picture, with its abundance of flowers and trees that in their forms recall the work of French painters who worked in the region. The setting of the sun and the cloud patterns bring an element of drama to the scene.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – III. Andantino doucement et bien rythmé
The slow movement of the quartet suggests the medieval or pre-Raphaelite world that Debussy was to create in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande some ten years later.
Les Alpilles is a relatively low-lying range of mountains, standing out from the flatter terrain of the Rhône valley. Strange rock formations have resulted from erosion, and lower fields are planted with olive and almond trees and with vines. The general scene is familiar from the work of Van Gogh.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – IV. Très modéré
The last movement of Debussy’s quartet opens in contrapuntally angular fashion, proceeding to an allusive summary of what has passed.
Les Baux-de-Provence, set on a hill-top in Les Alpilles, boasts the remains of a feudal town, powerful in the 12th and 13th Centuries, but later losing dominance, to be laid waste in the 17th Century and today to become an attraction for tourists. Some of the old buildings have been restored, in one way or another, and there is a small 12th Century church.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – I. Allegro moderato. Très doux
Although his name is often linked with that of his older contemporary, Debussy, Maurice Ravel is a very different composer, his musical language derived in part from his maternal Basque heritage and the precision of thought imbibed from his engineer father. Ravel wrote his only string quartet in 1902, dedicating it to his teacher, Gabriel Fauré. The quartet opens with one of those characteristically nostalgic melodies, suggesting a yearning for an unattainable past, a mood of which Fauré was a master.
The landscape of Provence offers contrasts. Fields of olive-trees, newly planted vines and meadows full of flowers give way to the starker rock formations of Les Alpilles.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – II. Assez vif. Très rythmé
The scherzo of Ravel’s quartet, with its opening pizzicato echoing the plucked strings of Debussy’s scherzo, is a movement of rhythmic complexity, bringing reminiscences of the first movement. At its heart is a trio section that exploits the resources of the muted strings.
Les Baux-de-Provence: Cemetery and Church of St Vincent
The cemetery at Les Baux-de-Provence, overlooking the Val d’Enfer, is within the castle complex. Among notable people buried here are the Catalan artist Louis Jou, with the ashes of his friend, the violinist Alexander Schneider, and the writer André Suarès. The Church of St Vincent dates from the 12th Century. Its colourful stained glass windows by Max Ingrand were presented by Prince Rainier III of Monaco, a reminder that Les Baux was given to his family by Louis XIII, the title thereafter held by the direct male line.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – III. Très lent
The slow movement of Ravel’s quartet presents music of suggestive delicacy, evoking a mysterious past world.
Les Baux-de-Provence: Ruins
Over the centuries the once powerful court of the lords of Les Baux declined and in 1483 Louis XI had the fortifications torn down. It was in the 17th century, however, that the surviving castle was finally demolished, leaving the ruins to be seen today.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – IV. Vif et agité
The quartet ends with a movement of rhythmic asymmetry, still thematically related to what has gone before.
Recording (both works): Kodály Quartet [Naxos 8.550249]
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