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ClassicsOnline Home » FAURÉ, G.: Piano Quartet No. 1 / Piano Trio (Kungsbacka Piano Trio, P. Dukes)
Gabriel Fauré’s musical language bridges a gap between the romanticism of the 19th century and the new worlds of music which appeared in the 20th, employing subtle harmonic changes and a gift for melody to combine innovation with an entirely personal idiom. His First Piano Quartet is filled with characteristic French colour and lyricism, and the Piano Trio in D minor is a late work whose musical language is familiar from his songs. Both the Pavane and the popular Sicilienne express nostalgia for earlier times, and the short Pièce has great simplicity and charm.
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Piano Quartet No 1 • Piano Trio • Pavane • Pièce • Sicilienne
The sixth and youngest child of a father with some aristocratic connections, a former teacher, employed in the educational inspectorate and then as director of a teachers’ training college, Gabriel Fauré was encouraged by his family in his early musical ambitions. His professional training, designed to allow him a career as a choirmaster, was at the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris, where, by good fortune, he met Saint-Saëns, who was then teaching the piano at the school. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until the death of Saint-Saëns in 1921.
Fauré completed his studies at the Ecole Niedermeyer in 1865 and the following year took up an appointment as organist at the church of St Sauveur in Rennes, turning his attention increasingly, during the four years of this provincial exile, to composition. After similar less important appointments in Paris, in 1871 he became assistant organist at St Sulpice, later moving to the Madeleine as deputy to Saint-Saëns and subsequently as choirmaster, when Théodore Dubois succeeded Saint-Saëns in 1877. Marriage in 1883 and the birth of two sons brought financial responsibilities that Fauré met by his continued employment at the Madeleine and by teaching. At the same time he wrote a large number of songs, while remaining, as always, intensely critical of his own work, particularly with regard to compositions on a larger scale.
The last decade of the nineteenth century brought Fauré more public recognition. In 1892 he became inspector of French provincial conservatories and four years later principal organist at the Madeleine. In the same year he at last found employment as teacher of composition at the Conservatoire, the way now open to him after the death of the old director Ambroise Thomas, who had found Fauré too much of a modernist for such a position. His association with the Conservatoire, where his pupils over the years included Ravel, Koechlin, Enescu and Nadia Boulanger, led, in 1905, to his appointment as director, in the aftermath of the scandal that had denied the Prix de Rome to Ravel. He remained in this position until 1920, his time for composition initially limited by administrative responsibilities, although he was later able to devote himself more fully to this, adding yet again to the repertoire of French song, with chamber music and works for piano.
Fauré’s musical language bridged a gap between the romanticism of the nineteenth century and the world of music that had appeared with the new century, developing and evolving, but retaining its own fundamental characteristics. His harmonic idiom, with its subtle changes of tonality and his gift for melody, is combined with an understanding of the way contemporary innovations might be used in a manner completely his own.
Fauré started work on his First Piano Quartet in 1876, helped by the hospitality of the well-to-do Clerc family at their summer residence on the coast of Normandy. 1877 brought emotional disturbance to his life with his brief engagement to Marianne Viardot, which she soon broke off. He completed the Piano Quartet in 1879 and gave the first performance the following year at a concert of the Société Nationale in Paris with the violinist Ovide Musin, the Belgian violist Louis van Waefelghem and the cellist Ermanno Mariotti. Fauré later rewrote the finale, and the revised work was first performed in 1884, again at a concert of the Société Nationale. There had been difficulty finding a publisher for the Quartet, which was rejected by Durand and by Choudens and accepted, for publication with no payment, by Julien Hamelle. It was dedicated to the young violinist Hubert Léonard, who had given technical help during the composition of Fauré’s Violin Sonata No 1, published in 1877 by Breitkopf und Härtel on similar terms.
The first movement of the quartet is in sonata form. The first subject, introduced by the stringed instruments together, is strongly rhythmical and its spirit dominates the movement. The viola introduces the second subject, followed, in imitation, by the violin, the cello and then the piano. The opening rhythm plays a large part in the central development, after which the two contrasting subjects make their due return. The E flat major Scherzo starts with plucked chords from the strings, before the lighthearted entry of the piano, with the thematic material presented in varying metre. There is a shift to B flat major for a trio section, with muted strings, after which the piano leads to the return of the scherzo. To this the sombre C minor Adagio makes a distinct contrast, with telling use made, as so often, by the occasional resort to unison strings, almost a French characteristic in chamber music of this period. A secondary theme is introduced by the violin, followed in imitation by the viola and cello, against an asymmetrical piano accompaniment. The finale is again in sonata-form. Its first subject, based on an ascending scale and recalling the opening of the preceding movement, is heard first from the viola, which is later to introduce the second subject. The development and recapitulation lead to an emphatic C major conclusion.
Fauré wrote his Piano Trio between August 1922 and the following spring, undertaking the work at the prompting of his publisher, Jacques Durand. Whatever Durand may have suggested, Fauré, staying at Annecy-le Vieux in the Haute Savoie, first set about writing a work for clarinet, cello and piano, before turning to the more usual instrumentation. He first completed the Andantino and then, back in Paris, the other two movements, with the final Allegro vivo finished by March 1923. The Trio was first performed privately at the Paris home of Louise and Fernand Maillot, with whom Fauré had often stayed in Annecy. The first public performance was given by the pianist Tatiana de Sanzévitch, with Robert Kettly and Jacques Patté, in May 1923 for the Société Nationale in honour of Fauré’s 78th birthday. In June it was performed by the most distinguished ensemble of all, Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals. The work was dedicated to Mme Maurice Rouvier, widow of the former banker and President of the Council.
The first movement of the Piano Trio in D minor, in modified sonata-form, starts with a long-drawn cello theme, eventually taken up also by the violin. The piano introduces a second thematic element, duly passed, in turn, to the violin and cello. Both themes, developed and extended as the movement takes its course, are highly characteristic of Fauré, in a musical language familiar too from his songs. Their varied treatment leads eventually to a short recapitulation, with the first theme reintroduced by the violin on the G string, and elements of both themes interwoven, as the movement comes to an end. The F major Andantino entrusts the principal theme to violin and cello, with accompanying chords from the piano, which proceeds to a second thematic element, interwoven with the first and leading to further thematic material from the piano, marked Cantando espressivo. There is a recapitulation, briefly introduced by the piano, as the movement draws to a gradual close. Others have drawn attention to the accidental resemblance of the opening of the finale to Canio’s Ridi, Pagliaccio in Leoncavallo ’s opera. At all events this motif, played by violin and cello, introduces a movement in the mood of a scherzo and is answered at once by the piano. Violin and cello usher in a third element, in canon, to which the piano has its own reply. The three themes are to return, as the movement comes to its D major conclusion.
Completed originally in 1887, Fauré’s Pavane, Op 50, was scored for orchestra, for performance at a series of concerts conducted by Jules Danbé. At the suggestion of the Vicomtesse Greffulhe words were added by Robert de Montesquiou, and the work was heard in this form at a concert of the Société Nationale in April 1888, to the apparent satisfaction of the composer. The present arrangement for piano trio is by Henri Büsser, who had studied at the Ecole Niedermeyer and then with Guiraud at the Conservatoire, before winning the Prix de Rome. The Pavane has that air of nostalgia for an unattainable past suggested in the title, and reflected in Ravel’s later Pavane, and in Debussy’s Passepied in his Suite Bergamasque, which was inspired by Fauré’s work. Fauré made further use of his Pavane in his Masques et Bergamasques, a lyric divertissement first staged in Monte Carlo in 1919.
Written in 1906 as an E minor Vocalise-étude for the collection of such studies by AL Hettich of the Conservatoire, the A minor Pièce was issued in 1920 by Leduc in an arrangement by Théodore Donay for oboe, flute or violin and piano¹, and has enjoyed popularity in other versions, including that for oboe and harp. This short work, published without opus number, is one of great simplicity and charm.
Fauré’s Sicilienne, Op 78, has enjoyed wide popularity in a variety of arrangements. It was written in 1898 for cello and piano and dedicated to the English cellist WH Squire, but is known in a variety of alternative arrangements, including that for solo piano, as here. It formed part of the incidental music for performances of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme, and in the version orchestrated by Charles Koechlin was used in incidental music for an English translation of Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande in London, in both cases evoking an earlier world, whether baroque or medieval.
¹ The writer is grateful to Dr Roy Howat for details of the identification of this work.
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FAURÉ, G.: Piano Quartet No. 1 / Piano Trio (Kungs...