The French composer Émile Goué was born in 1904 and, as was the case with
Alexander Borodin, managed to juggle a musical career alongside a scientific
and academic one. His musical background could claim a notable pedigree as
he was nurtured at the feet of Albert Roussel and Charles Koechlin. His
compositional journey began in earnest in 1936 and continued throughout the
war, despite a five year confinement in Oflag XB Nienburg-on-Wesser as a
prisoner-of-war. Although this dark period in his life in no way shackled
his remarkable artistic output, he died a broken man not long after his
release in 1946. His three String Quartets all date from this fruitful
period of creativity (see also reviews of
Chamber Music - Vol. 3 and
He worked for a year on the String Quartet No. 1 (1936-37). The booklet notes aptly describe it as ‘the song of a wounded soul’, and this pretty much sums it up. What better instrument than the solo cello to set the dark, sombre mood in the opening bars of the first movement, with its doleful lament. Then things start to hot up and the music becomes more energized. The solo cello again puts in an appearance halfway through. Tension and angst colour the music which never seems to find solace. A spiky, angular fugue, fairly conventional in style, follows; it’s a scherzo in all but name, and provides a modicum of light relief. The finale begins with a forlorn slow introduction leading into a joyous dance-like section, albeit in a minor key. The Quartet was premiered in Paris by the distinguished Loewenguth Quartet and broadcast on Radio 37. The critics loved it but this didn’t deter the composer from revising it in 1943.
Goué dedicated his Second Quartet to his wife Yvonne, and the work is a product of a fruitful outpouring of masterpieces that sprang from his period of incarceration. Having listened to it several times I couldn’t recall whose music it reminded me of. Then, after a while, the penny dropped – Gideon Klein’s chamber music – another composer imprisoned, this time in Theresienstadt, where he met his sad demise. The opening movement consists of whirling patterns of sound, unyielding in their defiance. The slow movement is the emotional core of the work, and in its dreamy and profound utterances there’s a sense of resignation and acceptance. A more upbeat Scherzo follows, assertive and extrovert and then a finale, busy and scurrying but ending serenely.
By the time of the Third Quartet, his compositional skills had advanced
considerably. I found the work a much harder nut to crack than the previous two. It doesn’t reveal its secrets as easily, yet Goué himself was acutely aware of its monumental status: ‘... This is my twentieth century work composed in captivity’. By 8 March 1945 the first two movements were in the bag, and four of his fellow inmates gave it a run-through. The final movement was in his head and it was just a matter of putting pen to paper. He was released from the camp in the April, and completed his Op. 46 that June. It was premiered the following November in Paris, again by the Loewenguth Quartet.
It’s an austere work. Its monothematic narrative is set out in a theme in the opening movement. This forms a unifying element throughout the Quartet. The central slow movement is lyrically contoured with a ‘barcarolle’ lilt to it. The last movement opens fugally, and has an obsessive quality. The work as a whole is a personal utterance, its pervasive melancholy seems to depict a human being coming to terms with his struggles.
Well-recorded in warm sound, the Quatuor César Franck are persuasive advocates of these richly rewarding scores. I’m sure their convincing and authoritative performances will win over many. As is the norm with this label, the booklet notes are detailed and informative, in French and English.