About this Recording
8.223492 - DAVID: Piano Trios Nos. 2 and 3
English 

Felicien David (1810 -1876) Piano Trios

Félicien David (1810-1876)

Piano Trios

 

The French Revolution of 1789 was more than a single event that toppled the old order in a wave of cataclysmic upheaval. It was an ongoing process, a period of protracted instability that persisted well into the next century. Economic theorists, utopian socialists, estheticians, visionaries and saviors were abroad in the land, purveying all manner of solutions to restore a sense of order, to create abetter order or simply to further their own ends. It was in such a climate that Félicien David grew to manhood, and when he arrived in Paris in 1830, he came to a city steeped in revolutionary ferment.

 

Born in the south of France at Cadenet, Vaucluse on 13 April 1810, David was orphaned at the age of five. He began his musical education three years later when he became a choirboy at the cathedral of Saint-Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence. Soon he was composing motets and hymns, and by the age of 13 he had written a creditable string quartet. His entry into the Jesuit college of Saint-Louis in 1825 opened up wider musical horizons. Studying on his own, he came to know the sacred works of Haydn, Mozart and Cherubini along with opéra-comique in the rather curious guise of religious music! When the college closed in 1828, David worked in various capacities for the next two years: in his brother-in-law's legal office, as assistant conductor at the Aix theatre and then as maître de chapelle back at Saint-Sauveur.

 

Desiring to complete his musical education, he left for Paris in 1830, where with Cherubini's permission he entered the Conservatoire. He lived in poverty, and when his uncle withdrew a meager allowance the next year, he tried to support himself by giving music lessons. Strongly attracted to the Saint-Simonians' spiritual teachings and probably discouraged by his temporal situation, the young composer joined the 40-rnernber Saint-Simonian monastic community at Ménilmontant outside of Paris. There he donned the characteristic white trousers, red waistcoat and blue-violet tunic, let his hair and beard grow, practised celibacy and composed music for the daily temple rituals and special events. David was not the only composer to venture into the Saint-Simonian sphere. Berlioz and Liszt had flirted with the philosophy, but neither's involvement was deep or long-lasting. The Saint-Simonians took their ideas and their name from one Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Count of Saint-Simon (1760-1825), who espoused the Revolution's ideals of liberty and fraternity (if not always of equality) and who further envisioned a prosperous and peaceful world founded on a harmonious, three-tiered ordering of society: industrialists and businessmen, then intellectuals and artists, and finally workers. Saint-Simon had tempered his technocracy with religious ideals of brotherly love. The religious element grew stronger and increasingly bizarre after the charismatic Barthélemy-Prosper Enfantin (1796-1864) appointed himself Le Père, the high priest, in 1825 and transformed Saint-Simonism from a social philosophy into a full-blown religious cult that preached a zealous faith in the power of universal love to remedy the world's ills. Rumours of sexual impropriety, true of Le Père but not of his celibate followers, spread, prompting public curiosity and indignation, but when Enfantin predicted the coming of a female messiah, La Mère, who would dispense a new moral law and emancipate women, that was the last straw. In 1832 the French government disbanded the Saint-Simonians by decree and sent Le Père to prison.

 

Led by one Émile Barrault, 24 sectarians, including David, undertook a voyage to the East in order to revitalize Egypt with the Saint-Simonian gospel and to search there for La Mère. For the Saint-Simonian cause the journey was disastrous. Arrested by the sultan of Constantinople and then expelled from the city, continually threatened by cholera, viewed with suspicion by the Franciscans in Jerusalem, and beset by internal dissension and defections, the group eventually broke apart, its mission unfulfilled. Nevertheless, having travelled with his piano from Lyons to Marseilles and then onto Constantinople, Smyrna, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Alexandria and finally to Cairo, David found himself intoxicated with the East and powerfully inspired. His travels were to alter the course of French music.

 

In 1836, a year after his return to France, David published seven books of piano pieces, Melodies orientales. The public was not quite ready for such exotic fare, but in 1844 it was electrified by his ode-symphony Le Désert, which evoked the mysterious East and awakened the French passion for the exotic which was to colour the works of Gounod (La Reine de Saba), Bizet (Les Pêcheurs de perles, Djamileh), Delibes (Lakmé), Saint-Saëns (Samson et Dalila, Suite algérienne), Lalo (Namouna), Massenet (Le Roide Lahore) and many others. Encouraged by his success, over the next four years David followed Le Désert with three similar vocal-symphonic compositions: the oratorio Moïse au Sinaï, the ode-symphony Christophe Colomb, and the oratorio-mystery L'Eden. Then he turned to opera, still attempting to capitalize on exotic settings and spectacle in Le Perle du Brésil, Herculanum and four others. None fired the public's imagination as had Le Désert, but with the opera Lalla-Roukh David composed his masterpiece.

 

In 1857, during the operatic period, he composed his three piano trios in E-flat major, D minor and C minor, no doubt in response to the French public's growing interest in chamber music. Eleven years earlier he had written a series of 24 miniature string quintets grouped in four books as Les Quatre Saisons, and in the late 1860s he would again return to chamber music. With the collapse of the old order in 1789 and the loss of aristocratic patronage, chamber music was sorely neglected in France during the first half of the 19th century. Rehabilitation began in the 1850s, in large part due to the efforts of Saint-Saëns and Lalo. The dating of David's trios marks them as pioneering works of the French chamber music renaissance.

 

The exoticism usually associated with David's music is notably absent from the trios. When compared to the classically inspired chamber works of his older contemporaries, George Onslow (1784-1852) and Alexandre Boëly (1785-1858), they breathe the air of romanticism. But alongside the works of Alexis de Castillon, Edouard Lalo and Camille Saint-Saëns, they seem old fashioned, as if belonging to the age of Schubert. Early in his career David professed a great love for Weber, whose powers of romantic evocation he especially admired, and for Beethoven, whose Choral Symphony was in fact the model for Le Désert. David venerated Beethoven's symphony as "a poem which sings the grandeur and goodness of eternity," and which therefore expressed the Saint-Simonian ideals of the good and the beautiful that he too sought to represent.

 

Approached on their own terms, apart from David's reputation for the spectacular and the exotic, the trios impress immediately with their intrinsic melodic beauty and natural grace. The C minor trio begins with a straightforward sonata movement based on two flowing melodies, closely related but contrasting the emotional colours of majorand minor tonalities. The music unfolds leisurely, as if to savour its own loveliness. In the slow movement a melody in 6/8 and a variant derived from it alternate time and again, calling to mind all the charm of a Viennese Ländler. The galloping, unusually expansive minor-key scherzo recalls Beethoven with a touch of Saint-Saëns, and the broadly melodic trio is decidedly French. The finale, which indicates a repeat of the exposition, is again in textbook sonata form. The minor-key Beethovenian first subject and the broader second theme in the majorexhibit a healthy vigor, and the movement proceeds with lively imagination. The trio is dedicated to Jean-Barthélemy Arlès-Dufour, a wealthy silk manufacturer who remained a faithful disciple of Enfantin and provided financial support to his friend David.

 

The trio in D minor comprises only three movements, the last designated "Scherzo finale, Allegro non troppo". Like the C minor trio, this one begins with a sonata movement based on two related themes, the first in the minor mode and the second in the major. An interesting feature is the modulation of the first into the major before the appearance of the second, which creates a particularly lovely effect. Overall the folklike simplicity and the rhythmic choppiness of the second theme make for an unusual and memorable opening movement. In contrast a flowing, nocturnal impression characterizes the adagio that follows. As in the C minor trio the emphasis is on melody. The last movement is a scherzo functioning as a finale, consisting of a minor-key theme in anapest rhythm, alternating thrice with a lilting trio as it gallops to a conclusion.

 

Ilona Prunyi

 

Ilona Prunyi was born in Debrecen in 1941 and studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, distinguishing herself in the Liszt-Bartók Competition while still a student. Her career as a concert performer was interrupted by a period of ill health, and for personal reasons she spent ten years as a teacher at the Academy before making her début in 1974. Since then she has appeared frequently in solo and chamber music recitals and as a soloist with the principal Hungarian orchestras.

 

Eszter Perényi

 

The Hungarian violinist Eszter Perényi studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, winning distinguished prizes in her own country, where she has a distinguished career as a soloist. Abroad she has appeared with various orchestras in the United States of America and in England, where she played with the London Symphony Orchestra in concerts conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and István Kertész, with whom she appeared in Germany, Italy and Sweden. Eszter Perényi was awarded the Hungarian Liszt Prize and the title of Meritorious Artist of the Hungarian Republic. Since 1975 she has taught at the Liszt Academy.

 

Tibor Párkányi

 

The cellist Tibor Párkányi was born in 1942 and completed his studies at the Budapest Academy in 1967, winning, in the same year, the Hungarian Radio Cello Competition. He was served since 1964 as principal cellist of the Hungarian State Opera and the Budapest Philharmonic Society. From 1974 until 1985 he was a member of the new Budapest String Quartet and teaches at the St. István Conservatory.


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