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ClassicsOnline Home » SAURET, E.: Violin and Piano Music - Scenes villageoises / Souvenir d'Orient / Souvenir de Los Angeles (Wiancko, Vainshtein)
The French composer, child prodigy and virtuoso violinist Émile Sauret is little-known today, but enjoyed a dazzling reputation during his lifetime. His career took him from the royal courts of Europe to the concert halls of America, with music that is playful, lyrical, ethereal and evocative, and this program contains some of his most distinctive and enchanting works. Michi Wiancko’s “heightened expressive and violinistic gifts” (Gramophone) unite with acclaimed pianist Dina Vainshtein in a duo with a combined multi-award-winning pedigree.
By Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found
Émile Sauret (1852–1920)
Music for Violin and Piano
Violinist and composer, child prodigy and internationally-renowned virtuoso, Émile Sauret’s extraordinarily successful career spanned two continents and more than half a century. He was born in 1852 in Dun-le-Roi in France, but details of his early life and training are few. Some contemporary sources state that he attended classes at the Paris Conservatoire, others at the Conservatory in Strasbourg. It is unclear whether or not he enrolled at the Brussels Conservatory, although he did study with the famous Belgian violinist and teacher Charles de Bériot, as well as with Henri Vieuxtemps, to whom he dedicated part of his Gradus ad Parnassum du violoniste. What is certain, however, is that by the time he was eight years old, Sauret was already being invited to play at public concerts in Vienna, London and Paris, where he frequently performed at the court of Napoleon III. His reputation quickly began to spread, and he began to tour across Europe, visiting Russia, Sweden, England, France, Italy and Germany, among other countries. Reviewers were unanimous in praising his emotional intensity, delicate phrasing, show-stopping technique and phenomenal musical memory.
In 1872, after emerging from a two-year stint in the army, Sauret made the first of many visits to America, where he soon became extremely popular. It was whilst on tour in the United States that he met his first wife, the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño. They married in 1873, and Teresa gave birth to a daughter shortly afterwards, but the couple divorced only two years later. Sauret’s second, more successful, marriage took place in 1879. Meanwhile he continued to travel, performing and teaching. He was known not simply for his work as a soloist, but as a chamber musician as well. He had many private pupils, and also held posts at a variety of institutions, including the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin, the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he had moved in 1890, the Musical College in Chicago, a position that he accepted in 1903, and finally Trinity College in London, an appointment which he took up in 1908. The publication of his pedagogical work Gradus ad Parnassum du violoniste—a series of challenging exercises designed to instruct students in the skills that had made him so famous—took place in 1896. Since 1892 he had also been a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. He lived in London during the final years of his life, dying there on 12 February 1920.
The Scènes villageoises, Op. 50, were dedicated to Sauret’s friend and pupil Frederik Frederiksen, a violinist who performed many of Sauret’s works. Consisting of four evocatively-titled movements, it was completed by 1895, and published that year in London and Leipzig. The first movement, entitled Le Matin, opens with a lilting violin refrain, supported by delicate figuration in the piano part, while in the second, Pastorale, the wistful piano and violin melodies intertwine, drawing to a climax before gradually dying away. Vieille chanson (Old Song) begins with a mysterious piano introduction, before a lyrical violin melody emerges. It grows increasingly urgent and impassioned during the middle section, then returns to the poignant sweetness of the opening. Finally, in Danse, bell-like tones in the piano herald a joyful, rhythmically irresistible dance tune in the violin.
It is uncertain exactly when Sauret’s Souvenir de Los Angeles, Op. 11, was composed. It may well have been written, however, for his concert series in Los Angeles, which took place in June and July 1875. Beginning hesitantly, the dolorous violin refrain becomes increasing ornamented, until giving way to a markedly different second section. Here the music becomes more and more virtuosic, alternating lyrical flourishes with pizzicato passages and trills on the violin. Eventually the instruments return to the mood of the opening before finishing with a dramatic cadential gesture. The piece as a whole makes heavy use of double-stopping, a technique for which Sauret was especially noted.
The Souvenirs d’Orient, Op. 63, contain six movements, each of which is titled individually. In the opening Souvenir de Constantinople—Allegro non troppo, the piano begins with a bold gesture that announces a surprisingly soft, ecstatic violin melody. The colourful Danse follows, in which sweet, flowing passages alternate with moments of playful mischief, then the charming, lighthearted Ronde introduces a note of gentle humour. The fourth movement, entitled La Revue, features a lively, dance-like tune, which is repeated before eventually spiralling upwards into a spirited finale. The next section, Gondoliera (Gondolier’s Song) transports the listener from the cheerful atmosphere of the previous music to a mood of wistful mourning. Lastly, A Péra rounds off the set with whimsical vivacity.
The evocative Farfalla (Butterfly) imitates the motion of the insect of the title with effervescent flights and trills in the violin part. These sections alternate with meltingly lyrical melodic passages, before leading to a sprightly coda in which the interweaving instruments draw the piece to a sparkling conclusion. The powerful and sweeping Scherzo fantastique, Op. 9, which seems to have been first published in Berlin in 1880, showcases the composer’s flair for the dramatic. It begins with low, rumbling piano octaves in the left hand that introduce a virtuosic violin part, replete with arpeggios, runs and double-stops.
Sauret was evidently a breathtaking performer. Like the legendary Paganini before him, his skill was considered to be so extraordinary that it was tinged with the supernatural. ‘There is something demoniacal about his playing’, wrote one astounded critic, ‘his audience must follow him, must feel, laugh, weep, jest, or be sad with him. In the powerful spell which he casts over his audience, he is—perhaps—the only violinist who approaches Paganini.’ Sauret’s compositions—at once lyrical, playful, ethereal and ecstatic—reflect this mercurial allure, transporting the listener to a distinctive and bewitching musical world.
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