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8.553652 - CHAUSSON: Symphony in B-Flat Major / Poeme / Viviane
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20
Born in Paris on 20th January 1855. Ernest Chausson grew up in the protective environment of a well-to-do family that was aware of contemporary artistic trends, in the Paris drawing-rooms of Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon, the Abbé Lacaria and one who would become a confidant and friend throughout his life, Vincent d'Indy. He chose to study law, doubtless to please his family, or perhaps through his own indecision. Attracted by painting and literature, he knew that he was destined for music, but undecided and hesitant by nature, he waited until he was twenty-two before daring to reveal his ambition. He became an advocate officially on 7th May 1877, a profession that he never had the occasion to practise before entering the Conservatoire in Massenet's class on 2nd October 1879. He also followed the courses of Cesar Franck, for whom he thereafter entertained the deepest admiration, joining there Franck's previous students, Henri Duparc, Vincent d'Indy, Joseph-Guy Ropartz and Sylvio Lazzari. There "he learned to discover the poetic feeling of great compositions, to appreciate their comprehensiveness and the logic of their structure. There, in this group of convinced artists... he learned to work slowly, without hope of money and fame. He was also not slow to win a special place in the affections of the man that his students, with respectful familiarity, called Father Franck, one whose goodness and devotion he took as an example in life. Later appointed secretary of the société Nationale de Musique, he contributed, over a long period, to the development of its concerts, always welcoming the work of young composers... and happy at their first successes." (Gustave Samazeuilh. Ernest Chausson, in La Revue Musicale, December 1925). Debussy, whom he had helped during a difficult period, had this to say, fourteen years after Chausson's death. "Ernest Chausson, on whom the Flemish influence of Cesar Franck weighed so greatly, was one of the most delicate artists of our time. If the influence of the Liege Master has undeniably been of service to some contemporary musicians, it seems rather to have done Chausson a disservice, in that to his natural gifts of elegance and clarity it opposed this sentimental rigour that is the basis of the Franckian aesthetic." (Claude Debussy, société Independante de Musique, 15th January 1913). It is true that Chausson had an undeniably independent spirit, which showed itself clearly from the composition of his Piano Trio, Opus 3, until his failure in the entry competition for the Prix de Rome. In spite of his many stays in Bayreuth, he refrained from undue endorsement of the Wagnerian aesthetic, always seeking creative procedures that suited him. Chausson died in his prime, at the age of forty- four, after a bicycle accident.
Symphonic music had been part of German tradition in the nineteenth century, marked by the influence of Beethoven. France shared more sparingly in this purely orchestral aesthetic. Of course there was Berlioz, with his Symphonie fantastique and Harold en Italie, but it was necessary to wait until the second half of the century for the appearance of the symphonies of Camille Saint-Saëns and of Bizet. With the establishment of the société Nationale de Musique, orchestral music found a new audience, curious to hear the Organ Symphony of Saint-Saëns in 1885, the Symphony in G minor of Lalo in 1886 and the Symphony on a French Mountain Song, the Symphonie Cevenole of Vincent d'Indy, in the same year. Chausson was not to be outdone. As was his custom, he left Paris to devote himself to composition and it was in the North of France, at Arras, that he revealed his ideas to Henry Lerolle, his brother-in-law and future dedicatée of the symphony: "If there were not this dirty black mud and miles of houses along the roads, this could be pretty, but this mud is terrible. All this speaks of industry, unclean progress. I would rather be murdered and eaten by a handsome savage than always live among these poor colourless faces, blackened and sickly. Just looking at them you can understand strikes, revolutions, murders... Back home again, when the symphony is not going forward, I am ashamed to grumble...", but the symphony was going forward "...Here my study is charming; I am trying to finish there the two first movements of the symphony. At present it is not yet finished, but perhaps it will come. I ought to be used to retouching things, since I do it so much. But every time I find the same difficulties. Actually I think the thing is very difficult." (Letter to Henry Lerolle, La Revue Musicale, 1925). Started in September 1889, the symphony was finished in December 1890, with the idea of performance at the Concerts Lamoureux. The first reading of the work took place on 17th February, to the satisfaction of Chausson, who declared that he had had no great surprise. "It seems to me that it sounds as I wanted, with perhaps too much fullness of orchestration all the time. But that could perhaps disappear with adjustment... This finale, it seems to me, is the one of the three movements that gains most from the orchestra." (quoted by Jean Gallois, Ernest Chausson, 1994). On 18th April 1891, in the magnificent Salle Erard, the symphony was given its first performance, conducted by the composer, a work that had taken fifteen months to write. In the audience were his constant friends, Lalo, Boucher, Chabrier, Massenet and Besnard. The Symphony in B flat major, Opus 20, has three movements, Lento-Allegro vivo, Très lent and finally Anime, with an orchestra that in addition to the strings includes triple woodwind, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, a tuba, timpani and percussion, with two harps. The introduction starts with a slow, serious 4/4 theme in the strings, without violins, clarinets and horns, its length and modulatory nature suggesting the school of Cesar Franck. A rapid ascending passage in the violins and woodwind announces the triple-time Allegro vivo, which starts at once, in the bassoon and horn, with a theme making principal use of the interval of a third, then another rhythmic theme that finds its counterpart in a lyrical melodic phrase. These last two, contrasting in character, are developed and combined in clever counterpoint "where brilliance vies with ingenuity and assurance of the material" (Jean Gallois). The second movement, Très lent in D minor, certainly taxed the composer the most, as his sketches show. It is, as Jean Gallois says, "a great lament, sometimes near to despair... built on two melodies, the first of which does not reach its full flowering until the second has been completely revealed." The third movement, Anime, remains faithful to the Franckian principle in quoting more or less explicitly the themes and motifs heard earlier, in a free enough sonata-form, with the recapitulation replaced by one of the most extraordinary pieces of orchestral writing, a chorale of twenty-two bars for brass alone, particularly difficult to perform, a real hymn, leading to the brighter key of D major. Chausson's Symphony has often been compared to that of Cesar Franck, three years before. While the similarities cannot be denied, there are, equally, many differences, as the excellent book by Jean Gallois, published by Fayard, on the life and work of Ernest Chausson shows. It must not be forgotten that "there is a phrase of Schumann that is terrible and that resounds always in my ears like the trumpet of the day of judgement' 'One is not master of the thought until one is completely master of the form', I feel more and more the truth of this and it leaves me no rest," (Letter to Mme de Rayssac, Munich, 1879, in La Revue Musicale,1925),
"The Poème for violin and orchestra shows the composer's best qualities. The quality of the form never contradicts harmonious proportion. Nothing is more touching in its dreamy tenderness than the ending, when the music, leaving aside all description, all that is anecdotal, becomes the very feeling that inspires the emotion. These are very rare moments in the work of an artist." Debussy, in his report of 15th January 1913 for the société Independante de Musique, confirmed the profound originality of this work for violin, defying the usual rules of a solo concerto, Chausson and Ysaÿe since 1892 had talked of a composition for the famous violinist. Ysaÿe had wanted a concerto, but Chausson dreamed of poetry, He was inspired, perhaps, by a novel of Turgenev, whom he so much admired, since the first sketch of the Poème carries the words Le chant de l' Amour Triomphant (The Song of Love Triumphant). The plot concerns the unlucky passion (comparable, perhaps, to that of Turgenev for Pauline Garcia) of a young musician for Valeria, who has preferred Fabius to him. On his return from the East some years later, at a dinner, he makes them drink a mysterious wine from Shiraz, then plays on his Indian violin folk-tunes and a melody that is full and passionate, vibrating with joy triumphant, "the song of love happy and triumphant". The orchestra includes double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, a tuba, timpani, a harp and strings. Contrary to the statement of Debussy, the Poème is elaborate and detailed in construction, in five sections that Jean Gallois compares to five acts of a classical tragedy. The first, third and fifth of these are all in triple time in a generally slow tempo, Lento e misterioso, Poco lento, then Tempo I, and comparable in thematic material. The even-numbered sections are conceived in 8/8, Animato for the second and Allegro for the fourth, sharing the second principal theme of the work. After a thickly textured and mysterious orchestral opening, the poignant and full sound of the violin is heard in the silence of solitude, the music taken up again by the orchestra with feeling and harmonized with a counterpoint the expressive power of which bursts out strongly in the orchestral climax of the last section. The second theme, rhythmic and energetic in character, only appears fully in the fourth section, struggling wildly against the introductory motif. The song of love, happy and triumphant, shines out, in intensity, before dying away in renewed clarity of texture. The poème was first performed by Ysaÿe on 27th December 1896 at Nancy, under the direction of Joseph-Guy Ropartz, in the same concert-hall as that used for the present recording, which is, therefore, a celebration of the centenary of Chausson 's poème.
The symphonic poem Viviane, Opus 5, was Chausson's first purely orchestral work. It was dedicated to Jeanne Escudier, his fiancée, whom he married shortly afterwards. The first sketches go back to July 1882, but this work, inspired by the Round Table, was actually written at the end of 1882 and first performed at the Salle Erard on 31st March 1883, conducted by Edouard Colonne. Chausson had shown a particular interest in Celtic legends, having spent, since 1875, many hours in the Luxembourg Library studying the Arthurian cycle. The literary inspiration is given in the brief note that he wrote at the head of the score. "Viviane and Merlin in the forest. Love scene. Messengers from King Arthur range through the forest seeking the enchanter; he wants to escape and rejoin them. Viviane puts Merlin to sleep and surrounds him with thorn-bushes in flower." In finely expressive orchestration, Chausson admirably evokes both the mysterious magic atmosphere of the forest undergrowth and the growing tenderness between the lovers, love in a warmly lyrical unison phrase in the violas and cellos. To the trumpet-calls of Merlin's companions coming nearer and nearer Viviane's magic replies, which, after an intense struggle, will emerge victorious. To the friendly questions of Vincent d 'Indy, Chausson replied in a letter of 26th April 1883. "You are very, very kind to interest yourself in the fate of Viviane. For a first appearance in the world she really did not do badly. First I had the luck of having a very good copyist (Baudoux) and then took the trouble to revise the orchestral parts very carefully, with the result that there were no mistakes, except, only, for a small omission. The rehearsals were laborious, but in the end the performance was good, I do not say perfect... I do not conceal from you, without false modesty, that I was very happy with the whole thing. As for the details, there are some places that would benefit, I think, from different instrumentation. It is not a problem. I was sorry that you were not there, for I would have been very glad to have had your advice. The next time I hope to do better." In 1887, after full revision, Chausson issued a new score, fresh and youthful in its spontaneity, a portent of the expressive power of works to come.
Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy
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