GAETANO DONIZETTI – String Quartet No. 10

Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti [1797-1848] wrote 19 string quartets. His No. 10 would have to be one of the earliest quartets I’ve discussed in a while, but a promise is a promise – String Quartets from 1800 on! The work is in four movements and, importantly, is in the key of G minor, which gives it a serious sound. It also contains two slow movements, which is probably why I was drawn to it.

The quartet commences with a string of evenly spaced minor chords before a melody starts to unfold; it is very slow. The melody follows the harmonies of the opening chords. Now a rhythmic pattern is set up in the accompaniment and a new melody is developed. A solo violin phrase terminates the rhythmic patterns and another melody is developed over a sumptuous layer of chords. The opening melody returns and is embellished, as a background of gentle accompaniment ensues. A solo violin phrase moves into a repeated note which brings the movement slowly to an end. Being from the early 1800s, this music is definitely of the Classical era, and is extremely fine writing.

The next movement opens with a minor chord flourish and soon moves into a tempo with the first violin leading the way. It works its way through various melodies, always with a complementary accompaniment. This as a charming passage, with differing rhythmic patterns along the way. Now two violins work in tandem to develop the work. Lilting melodies give way to a little more intensity which leads to a brief melodic passage, concluding on a flourish.

The third movement, marked larghetto, sounds slightly Haydnesque, and is very stately in a minor key. The melodies are sorrowful and heartfelt. After a time a tempo emerges with the first violin contributing long, sweeping phrases as the ensemble drift along in the background. The first violin continues to dominate as the accompaniment slowly increases in volume. Now it drops away and the first violin ends on a long, sustained note.

The brief final movement is firmly in the Classical style. This music could be from the 18th century. Its dance-like form has all instruments contributing to the melodic diversity and development. A steady accompaniment takes us to the conclusion.

Most of Donizetti’s string quartets, excepting the six early works, are available on CD. This one, Donizetti: String Quartets 10-12, performed by the Revolutionary Drawing Room, is freely obtainable on Amazon US and UK. It is also on Spotify and YouTube.

Listenability: A Late Classical/Early Romantic work of great craftsmanship and feeling.

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