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ClassicsOnline Home » FAURÉ, G.: Piano Quartet No. 2 / Piano Trio (version for clarinet trio) / 3 Romances sans paroles (Kungsbacka Piano Trio, P. Dukes, R. Hosford)
Gabriel Fauré’s chamber works, long overshadowed by his popular Requiem (Naxos 8.550765), are regaining their rightful place. This new release from the Kungsbacka Piano Trio follows their recording of Fauré’s First Piano Quartet and other chamber works (8.573042), described by Gramophone as ‘a delectable way into Fauré’s chamber music’. The programme features the less frequently heard original version, with clarinet, of the Piano Trio, the Second Piano Quartet, which includes an evocation of the bells of Cadirac near the composer’s home, the Romances sans paroles, described by Marcel Proust as ‘intoxicating’ and one of Fauré’s most famous works, the Berceuse from the Dolly Suite.
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Piano Quartet No. 2 • Piano Trio (clarinet version) • Trois romances sans paroles • Berceuse
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 was the pianist in the first performance of his Second Piano Quartet, given in January 1887 at the Société Nationale, founded in 1871 for the promotion of French music. It was published in the same year, with a dedication to Hans von Bülow.
The first movement starts with a characteristic theme, boldly introduced by the three string instruments, accompanied by the piano, which takes up the theme, in a movement of seamless fluency. The viola, which has an important part to play in the work, introduces an expressive derivative of the main theme, suggesting a second subject. Viola and cello introduce a new theme, molto tranquillamente, which opens the development of a broadly classical first movement, proceeding forward to magical shifts of key as the music unfolds. In the recapitulation the viola secondary theme returns in G major, and this key is maintained until the end of the movement, The second movement is a scherzo, without a trio, and makes use of scale patterns, while bringing thematic elements derived from the main theme of the first movement in what is a cyclic work. The slow movement offers tranquillity, the piano recalling the bells of Cadirac, near Fauré’s family home at Montgauzy, while the viola presents a theme of gentle melancholy. Turbulence returns in the energetic finale, with its oblique references to earlier thematic elements.
Dolly, a suite of six pieces for piano duet, was dedicated to Hélène Bardac (Dolly), daughter of the singer Emma Bardac, a banker’s wife, who later became Debussy’s second wife. The first of the set, Berceuse, dates from 1893 and is the most familiar of the pieces, from a variety of arrangements. It is here played by violin and piano.
The Trois romances sans paroles, Op. 17, were written in about 1863, dating, therefore, from Fauré’s period at the Ecole Niedermeyer. These piano pieces were published in 1880 and have been variously arranged. In a letter of 1912 to Robert Montesquiou, his model for Baron de Charlus, Marcel Proust describes one of the pieces as ‘un morceau de piano déja ancien mais enivrant’ and there is no doubt of the intoxicating charm of these Romances sans paroles, in whatever version.
Fauré wrote his Piano Trio in D minor 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. It is recorded here as seemingly originally intended, with the clarinet adding a new dimension to a work generally familiar in its more conventional published version. Fauré first completed the Andantino and then, back in Paris, the other two movements, with the final Allegro vivo finished by March 1923. The work was dedicated to Mme Maurice Rouvier, widow of the former banker and President of the Council.
The first movement, in modified sonata form, starts with a long-drawn cello theme, eventually taken up also by the clarinet. The piano introduces a second thematic element, duly passed, in turn, to the clarinet and cello. Both themes, developed and extended as the movement takes its course, are highly characteristic of Fauré, in a musical language familiar from his songs. Their varied treatment leads eventually to a short recapitulation, with the first theme reintroduced by the clarinet, and elements of both themes interwoven, as the movement comes to an end. The F major Andantino entrusts the principal theme to clarinet 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 and, for Fauré, improbable resemblance of the opening of the finale to Canio’s Ridi, Pagliaccio in Leoncavallo’s opera. At all events this motif, played by clarinet and cello, introduces a movement in the mood of a scherzo and is answered at once by the piano. Clarinet 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.
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