The previous year Debussy had abandoned the opera Rodrigue et Chimène. He planned to write two string quartets only one of which materialized.
The work seems to be influenced by the style of César Franck. The result is a cyclic structure with the four movements connected by thematic material. Other influences include Borodin and Javanese gamelan music.
The quartet is considered a watershed in the history of chamber music.
Its sensuality and impressionistic tonal shifts make it a piece absolutely of its time and place while, with its cyclic structure, it constitutes a final divorce from the rules of classical harmony and points the way ahead.
"Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity," Debussy wrote. Pierre Boulez said that Debussy freed chamber music from "rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics."
- Animé et très décidé
- Assez vif et bien rythmé
- Andantino, doucement expressif
- Très modéré - En animant peu à peu - Très mouvementé et avec passion
- Liner notes by Robert Orledge to Recording of the Quartet by Belcea Quartet