Maurice Ravel completed his String quartet in F major in early April 1903 at the age of 28. Dedicated to his friend and teacher Gabriel Fauré, the work was introduced in Paris by the Heymann Quartet on March 5, 1904. The quartet follows a strict four movement classical structure: Moderato très doux begins as a sonata form allegro, the following Assez vif-Très rythmé functions as the quartet's scherzo, while Très lent acts as a contrasting foil. The last movement, Vif et agité, reintroduces themes from the earlier passages and ends with a striking finale.
The Quartet in F major was Ravel's final submission to the Prix de Rome and the Conservatoire de Paris. The composition was rejected by both institutions soon after its premiere on March 5, 1904. The quartet received mixed reviews from the Parisian press and local academia. Gabriel Fauré, to whom the work is dedicated, described the last movement as “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure.” Ravel himself commented on the work, “My Quartet in F major responds to a desire for musical construction, which undoubtedly is inadequately realized but which emerges much more clearly than in my preceding compositions.” As a result of major criticism and rejection, a frustrated Ravel left the Conservatoire in 1905 following what was later called the Ravel Affair.
Ravel's loss during the 1904 Prix de Rome and rejection from the Conservatoire de Paris catapulted his career not backwards but forward: a sympathetic public rallied behind his compositions and musical style. In 1905, Claude Debussy wrote to Ravel: “In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.” Ravel's string Quartet in F major stands as one of the most widely performed chamber music works in the classical repertoire, representing Ravel's early achievements and rise from obscurity. On CD, it is often coupled with Debussy's own string quartet.
Maurice Martenot's sister, Ginette Martenot, made transcriptions of works by several composers of her time, among them Ravel's. She arranged for four ondes Martenot some excerpts from Ma mère l'oye, as well as the first movement from this quartet, and had performed it for the first time with Maurice, and fellow ondists Marguerite Dupays and Darius Citanova. Upon finishing the transcription and performing it, they invited Ravel himself to come and give his opinion on it, to which he declared that "this is the way I hear this piece in my inner dreams." Ravel authorised these transcriptions in his programs but never wrote a piece for ondes Martenot.