About this Recording
8.553741 - FAURÉ: Pelleas et Melisande / Valses-caprices
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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.

David Doughty

Pierre-Alain Volondat
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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