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ClassicsOnline Home » FAURÉ: Pelleas et Melisande / Valses-caprices
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) Piano Music
Born in 1845 in southern France, the
young Fauré was both reticent and apart. A possibly unwanted addition to a
large family, he was the sixth child of Honoré and Marie-Antoinette-Hélène
Fauré and spent his first four years away from home with a foster nurse.
Despite provincial beginnings, Fame soon
found his way to Paris and to music school. He studied at Niedermeyer's Ecole
de Musique Classique et Religieuse, devoted to the study of music of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, training for a career as a choirmaster and
organist. Niedermeyer kept the young composer well away from the influences of
the new Romantics and it was not until the appointment of Saint-Saëns as his
teacher that Fauré was introduced to contemporary artists and musicians such as
Liszt, Schumann and Wagner.
After a spell as organist at Saint
Sauveur in Rennes, he was back in Paris at Notre-Dame-de-Clignancoutt by 1870.
The conflict with Prussia saw Fauré conscripted and experiencing the horrors of
war and an ensuing revolution. Despite French defeat in 1871, Fauré became a
member of a new patriotic group aiming to promote French music. War was soon
far enough past for Fauré and Saint-Saëns to enjoy a trip to Weimar where they
fell under the spell of Wagner, leading to the opera Pénélope.
Fauré married in 1883 and produced two
sons. His father died in 1885, his mother two years later, inspiring his best
known work, the Requiem. Despite this bleak period, Fauré wrote
incidental music to plays including Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande.
In 1896 Fauré was at last appointed to
the staff of the Conservatoire and by the beginning of the new century his
fortunes were further in the ascendant. In 1901 he became a professor at the
Ecole Niedermeyer and music critic of Le Figara in 1903. In 1905 he was
appointed director of the Conservatoire. By now Fauré had begun to suffer that
cruelest of afflictions for a musician. Like Beethoven, he was becoming deaf.
The war years after 1914 saw Fauré in poor
financial conditions and forced to take up music editing. By 1921, his
composing days seemed to have come to a halt. He began to fear that inspiration
had finally left him. June 1924 saw him struggling to complete a Quartet. He
died in November of that year, having returned to Paris to be with his family.
This quiet genius of French music was given a state funeral at the Madeleine,
attended by the President of the Republic. His wife died one year later.
Despite the influence of the German late
Romantics such as Wagner and Liszt, Fauré never aspired to being a composer of
large scale orchestral music. Exceptions are his opera and perhaps the Requiem,
not a Mass in the usual Romantic fashion days of wrath and judgement. He
was the greatest French composer of chamber music and master of the small form
that includes the many pieces that he wrote for the piano. His works bear
simple titles such as Mazurka or Valse Caprice. A keyboard player
by training and by love, even those pieces known in their later orchestral
guises, such as Pelléas and Mélisande and the famous Pavane, were
often orchestrated by other composers.
This disc is part of a series of Fauré's
complete piano music and contains two works better known in orchestral form
with some less well known originals.
The four pieces from Pelléas et
Mélisande in their original version are some of the most subtle of the
composer's music written for the stage. The opening Prélude sets the
scene and introduces themes representing the naivety of the heroine and the
passion she is unable to escape. This is followed by a Fileuse, the
introduction to Act 3 where Mélisande is at her spinning wheel. The Sicilienne,
introduction to the fountain scene of Act 2, is the one part of the suite
Fauré composed some years earlier and scored himself for sextet. Finally, La
mort de Mélisande (The Death of Mélisande) is an intense parallel to the
heroine's music in the Prélude, portraying her Act 5 death scene.
The Pavane was orchestrated at a
later date and the original version for piano of this well-known piece shows
that the simple archaic melody should be played at a faster speed than is the
case with the orchestral or choral versions.
The four Valses-caprices are not a
cycle. The two earlier pieces were written in the early 1880s, the later pair a
decade later. Although Saint-Saëns enjoyed Opp. 30 and 38. their
indebtedness to Chopin and their attempt at capriciousness does not suit
Fauré’s introverted nature. The later pieces are more successful and. despite
retaining traces of the virtuoso style, are more introspective, nearer to the
true nature of the composer. The Mazurka hints again at a tribute to
Chopin, but shows no debts to Polish folk rhythms. Similar in style to the Valses
Caprices, it has a haunting central slow section.
Pierre-Alain Volondat was born in 1962 at
Vouzon, Loire-et-Cher. He studied at the Orléans Conservatoire and then at the
Conservatoire National supérieur de Musique in Paris, where he won first prizes
in harmony, chamber music and piano. In 1984, at the age of twenty, he won the
First Grand Prix, the Queen Fabiola Prize and the Audience Prize at the Queen
Elizabeth of the Belgians Competition and since then has enjoyed a career that
has taken him to success in most countries of Europe as well as in the Far
East. In technique and musical understanding, Pierre-Alain Volondat
acknowledges a debt to Vera Moore, continuing the tradition of Clara Schumann.
His wide repertoire extends from Bach to Xenakis and he is also a composer.
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FAURÉ: Pelleas et Melisande / Valses-caprices