String quartet & piano
• World premiere: 8/10/2000, abbaye d’Hautecombe (Savoie), Nuits romantiques du Lac du Bourget festival – Thierry Escaich (piano), Quatuor Ysaÿe.
• Publisher: Gérard Billaudot.
• Commissioned by the Nuits romantiques du Lac du Bourget.
• CD “Chorus” (Accord/Universal 476 1282)
La Ronde was written after reading Arthur Schnitzler’s play by the same name. But it is perhaps the film adaptation made by Max Ophuls that the musical work seems closest to, going so far as borrowing the title-song (which has become famous) that runs through it, providing unity. Treated much more like a melodic memory than a real theme, this tune, sounding like a nostalgic, old-fashioned waltz, symbolises this fatal merry-go-round of amorous feelings that turns, forming and breaking up the couples it carries along in a darkly humorous fate, according to life’s torments.
If one wished to simplify the rather complex structure of the quintet—complex owing to the constant entanglement of thematic cells and different musical atmospheres—, one would say it is a rondo. The refrains would be these periods where one seems to recognise the tune of the merry-go-round in the high ringing of the piano’s broken arpeggios or the murmured melody of string harmonics. On the contrary, the episodes—constructed primarily like variations on the material provided by this tune—would be those passages that try to guide the piece towards utterly different musical atmospheres: a slightly whimsical scherzo in string pizzicati, a slow, almost ecstatic waltz at the centre of the piece, a restless final ostinato in which reminiscences of swirling waltzes seem to want to impose themselves in gusts. But, as was suggested by Schnitzler, these various periods inexorably emerge into dramatic climaxes where, this time, the nostalgic theme takes on tragic accents.
Translated by John Tyler Tuttle