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8.553080 - CHABRIER: Piano Works, Vol. 3
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841 - 1894)
Emmanuel Chabrier was born in 1841 in the Auvergne region of France in the small town of Ambert, the son of a lawyer and his wife, a woman of some refinement. His first music lessons in Ambert were from Spanish musicians, Carlists who had settled there after the defeat of their cause in 1839. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Clermont-Ferrand, where he attended the Lycée Blaise Pascal, and five years later the family moved again, this time to Paris, where the boy was able to complete his formal education, in preparation for a career as a civil servant. From 1861 until his resignation in 1880 he worked as an official of the Ministry of the Interior, following the intentions of his father for him, but in Clermont-Ferrand and in Paris he had been able to continue his musical studies, violin, piano and composition. His lack of formal Conservatoire training and of the obligatory Prix de Rome, while presenting little obstacle to his work as a composer, did some harm to the general perception of his abilities by the musical establishment, to which he seemed always something of an amateur.
After early piano compositions and songs Chabrier's friendship with Verlaine led to the composition of two operettas, Fisch-Ton-Kan, with its punning title, and Vaucochard et fils ler, neither of which, it seems, were completed. Verlaine recorded their relationship in a poem, where he recalls Chabrier's regular visits to his mother's house, where Votre génie improvisait au piano (Your genius used to improvise at the piano). His friends in Paris included painters, writers and musicians, and he was a discriminating collector of paintings, leaving, at his death in 1894, a substantial collection of works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Cézanne and others. His writer friends included Daudet, Mallarmé, Zola and Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, while contemporary musicians in his circle included Chausson, Fauré, Vincent d'Indy and Duparc, Saint-Saëns, Massenet and Messager. His parents died in 1869 and in 1873 he married, his first two orchestral compositions following in the years immediately after marriage. His larger musical ambitions had centred, from 1867, on an opera, Jean Hunyade, but this was abandoned. Theatrical success came with the operetta L'étoile in 1877, followed two years later by Une éducation manquée. It was at this point in his civil service career that Chabrier, after eighteen years at the Ministry of the Interior, chose to resign and to commit himself solely to music. Shortly before this he had visited Munich with his friends Vincent d'Indy and Henri Duparc and had heard for the first time Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, an experience that moved him very deeply.
Chabrier's compositions of the following years include the splendid set of piano pieces, the Dix pièces pittoresques of 1881 and two years later his evocation of the very spirit of Spain in España, the result of early education and an extended visit to Spain in the summer and early winter of 1882. More Wagnerian ambitions centred on a planned opera Gwendoline, with a libretto by the leading Parnassian Catulle Mendès, and a later work with a text by the same writer and the young poet Ephraïm Mikhaël, Briséïs, which was never finished. Gwendoline was at first rejected by the Paris Opéra, but was staged at the Brussels Théâtre de la Monnaie in 1886, in a number of German opera- houses and in Lyon, before it finally made its way to Paris in 1893, too late for Chabrier to take any particular pleasure in its performance. He enjoyed success in Paris and in Germany with the light opera Le roi malgré lui in 1887, but his last years were clouded by illness and passed largely away from the capital at his country house at La Membrolle-sur-Choisille, his hopes centred on Briséïs. He died in Paris on 13th September 1894.
The influence of Wagner on French composers of Chabrier's generation expressed itself in various ways. It lured Chabrier himself into grandiose operatic projects but had a subtler effect on certain harmonic tendencies. The historical importance of Chabrier in French music, however, lies in his expansion of harmonic resources and extension of melodic material, as well as in his subtle use of complex rhythms. His influence on younger French composers was very considerable, on Debussy and Ravel, and later, perceptibly, on the music of Les Six.
España remains the best known orchestral work of Chabrier, performed by him on the piano, to the danger of the instrument. He and his wife travelled to Spain in July 1882 and in the course of five months visited cities San Sebastian, Burgos, Avila, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Malaga, Cádiz, Córdoba, Valencia, Saragossa and Barcelona. During these travels Chabrier took careful note of rhythms and melodies. His very French orchestral reworking of this material into España achieved immediate success when it was performed at a Sunday concert in Paris under the direction of Charles Lamoureux, who had encouraged his journey in the first place. The version of the work for two pianos effectively suggests the colouring of the original orchestral version, with the rhythms of the jota and the malagueña.
Chabrier's Trois valses romantiques were composed in 1883. He wrote them during his first stay at the country house in Touraine provided by his mother-in-law, a retreat of which he was to make regular use in the following years. Here, as elsewhere, the mood and material are varied, with waltz tunes of the ball-room and passages of bravura. They were first performed at a concert of the Société nationale de musique in Paris by André Messager and the composer. The dancers are first called to attention, before the rapid whirling dance begins, a procedure followed in the second initially gentler and slower waltz.
The Pré/ude et marche francaise represent orchestral works, originally, as usual with Chabrier, written at the piano. Both formed part of an orchestral programme given at a festival of the composer's music at Angers in 1888. The first is gently pastoral in mood, while the second is better known by its later title of Marche joyeuse, treating the form suggested with wit and subtlety, captured in the piano duet version in all its gaiety. Cortège burlesque, composed in 1871 , originally had the title Pas redoublé, but is aptly described in its second title. Souvenirs de Munich, written in 1885 and 1886, is described as a quadrille on themes from Tristan und lsolde, a work that makes fun of Wagner and an opera that had moved Chabrier to tears when he had first heard it in Munich in 1880. His treatment of the themes from Tristan is evidence of his intellectual detachment from the music of Wagner, a composer that he can at the same time respect and regard objectively. Air de ballet was published posthumously in 1897 and the Suite de valses of 1872 still later, in 1913. Both exhibit characteristics of Chabrier in wit, subtlety and a fluency that belie his complaint at his own lack of facility, as a largely self-taught composer.
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