String Quartet in G minor, 3rd movement
In this masterclass, Professor Clive Greensmith works with the ensemble Quatuor Magenta to find the right colors and atmosphere in the third movement of Debussy’s String Quartet. Greensmith discusses the qualities of both the G minor key and the music in general and helps the quartet bring those qualities out. He helps the group balance and pace their dynamics, especially in regard to setting up dynamic changes. He also works with the group to create a more homogenous sound and sense of timing, encouraging the group to feel their pulse together and leave room for musical silence. He also advises the players to formulate a group image or mood they wish to portray and communicate it clearly to each other and the audience.
Capturing the spirit and colors of the music and the key of G minor.
Incorporating silences into the music.
Pacing and balancing dynamics.
Feeling the timing as a group.
Creating homogeneity of sound and vibrato.
Communicating the group’s intended image or emotion clearly.
Claude Debussy composed his only string quartet in 1893, during a highly prolific and innovative time in his compositional career. Despite being one of his only works that follows a traditional format, it received conflicting reviews due to its unexpected and progressive nature. While some were initially confused or upset, the piece is now considered to be a masterpiece and one of the most important works in modern chamber music. It was dedicated to and premiered by the Ysaÿe Quartet. The music is cyclical, which means that certain thematic material recurs throughout each of the distinct movements. The first movement, Animé et très décidé, creates unique textures and vacillates between a more intensely rhythmic opening theme and a more floating second melody. The second movement, Assez vif et bien rythmé, utilizes pizzicato accompaniment, repeated rhythms, and accentuation to create a jaunty, spirited scherzo. The third movement, Andantino, doucement expressif, explores melancholy yet beautiful melodies, evoking nostalgia. The piece concludes with Très modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion. The movement begins slowly and softly, slowly building in speed, dynamic, and passion to an exciting finish.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this chamber music masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Clive Greensmith’s feedback and comments.
Professor of cello and Chamber Music at the Colburn school in Los Angeles.
From 1999 until its final season in 2013, Clive Greensmith was a member of the world-renowned Tokyo String Quartet, giving over one hundred performances each year in the most prestigious international venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, London’s South Bank, Paris Chatelet, Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna Musikverein, and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. He has collaborated with international artists such as Andras Schiff, Pinchas Zukerman, Leon Fleisher, Lynn Harrell, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Alicia de Larrocha, and Emanuel Ax.
Mr. Greensmith has given guest performances at prominent festivals worldwide. In North America he has performed at the Aspen Music Festival, Marlboro Music Festival, [email protected], La Jolla SummerFest, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Cleveland Chamber Fest, and the Ravinia Festival. He is a regular guest of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and will undertake a national tour with Paul Huang, Wu Han, and Matthew Lipman in 2020. Internationally he has appeared at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Pacific Music Festival in Japan and the Hong Kong Arts Festival. As a soloist, Clive Greensmith has performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic, and the RAI Orchestra of Rome among others.
Deeply committed to the mentoring and development of young musicians, Clive has enjoyed a long and distinguished teaching career. In addition to his fifteen-year residency with the Tokyo String Quartet at Yale University, Mr. Greensmith has served as a faculty member at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Royal Northern College of Music in England, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. In 2013, following the final concerts of the Tokyo String Quartet, Mr. Greensmith joined the faculty at the Colburn School, where he teaches cello and coaches chamber music for the Conservatory of Music and the Music Academy. Students of Mr. Greensmith have gone on to secure major positions in orchestras throughout the world and have won a number of prestigious awards.
Claude Debussy was born in 1862, and is considered the originator and foremost representative of musical impressionism. He was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 10 and never stopped pursuing music, first as a pianist and then as a composer. The parallel fifths, the cancellation of sensitive notes, tonal ambiguity, modal scales, and extended chords, among other things, are elements masterfully used by Debussy and serve to make his music true masterpieces recognized throughout the world. Debussy is one of the most important composers in history, and his influence exceeds even the limits of "classical music.”
In 1880, he began to compose music for the piano and give piano lessons. Later, he enrolled in Ernest Guiraud’s composition class, where he also began working as an accompanist in Victorine Moreau-Sainti’s singing classes. During this period in his life, Debussy struggled financially, but he began to cultivate his life. He explored other types of music and art forms, such as attending a Javanese gamelan performance at the Universal Exposition of 1889, discovering Mussorgsky, and befriending fellow musician and composer Ernest Chausson. Debussy’s career as a composer is closely linked to his relationship with Symbolist and Parnassian poets: Stéphane Mallarmé being an essential figure. These influences, together with the renewal of Impressionist painting, were aspects that pushed him towards the search for an original and personal artistic path. “I've had enough of music, of the same everlasting landscape; I want to see a Manet and hear some Offenbach,” he wrote while in Rome.
In a sad turn of events, Debussy was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and was operated on in 1915. He was never able to recover the fullness of his strength. He finished his Violin Sonata in March 1917, and three other sonatas remained unrealized. His last concert appearance was at Saint-Jean-de-Luz in September 1917, where he played the Violin Sonata with Gaston Poulet. He died in Paris six months later.
At the Conservatoire, he acquired classical knowledge: the likes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schuman, Handel, and Liszt. Later on, he would recognize the artistic mastery of the Group of Five, which was made up of contemporary Russian composers (he acquired his taste for ancient and oriental modes from the Russians); the Japanese gamelan, and Chopin's music. Inspired by international art and culture, Claude Debussy’s music are masterpieces celebrated all around the world.
Photo credit: BNF Gallica