Assez Vif, Très Rythmé: Organization and Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, Mvt. II

In which financial transactions are made and the timbre of pizzicato strings lends an air of mischievous frivolity.


To my dear reader,

A few days ago, I was discussing my financial situation with a banker. As I showed him the calculations concerning my income, expenses, and savings I’d already done, I explained my plans for separating my music-related expenses from other expenses, and my plans for graduate school savings. Looking stunned, he grinned and congratulated me on being one of the few customers that took interest and initiative in organizing my finances.

Now, I’ve received my fair share of compliments across my life, including but not limited to…

  • Being told that my head looked like a beach ball someone had sat on
  • Being told that I was like a gay Santa Claus in the body of Napoleon
  • Being told that I had a real talent for lying face down on the floor and contemplating the nihilistic punchline that is our existence

…But of all these compliments, one of my favorites in being told that I am organized. Don’t get me wrong; being good and kind is… nice. Or whatever. But being told that I’m organized – you must be after my heart! Or you want something from me, and you’ll probably get it, because flattery will get you very, very far. This love of organization is one of the reasons that, although I won’t make a career of it alone, I so love classical music.

An example of this is the first piece of classical instrumental music I ever really adored: the second movement of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. Opening with its mischievous, polyrhythmic theme on pizzicato strings, the movement takes the listener on a meandering path of timbres, textures, and harmonies, but one that always leads back to the opening theme. Given his preference for innovation within traditional forms, Ravel makes use of organicism (a compositional practice common in classical music wherein most of the musical material is derived from a primary musical theme or motif) as a method of organization. Beyond merely organizing through pitch, Ravel also makes effective use of organization through timbre. Whereas the opening theme is given character through the dry sound of pizzicato strings, the secondary theme is differentiated through bowing, with rapidly arpeggiated chords fluttering behind the melody.

There are so many other levels of organization in this movement alone, and I find the idea that the composer plotted out the piece’s organization on multiple levels so pleasing. Although I often write outside the realm of art music, I’d like to think that some of my works approach Ravel’s level of detail and precision. The second movement of Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major is not a staggering piece of work, but in a way, it is more impressive for this – a pristine example of delicately orchestrated mastery. I can only pray that my finances could one day be that organized.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert


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