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8.553010 - CHABRIER: Piano Works, Vol. 2

Emmanuel Chabrier (1841 - 1894)

Marche des Cipayes
Ronde champêtre
Souvenir de Brunehaut

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 pieces 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.

Chabrier's Marche des Cipayeswas written in 1863, allowing the Sepoys of the title a sinister progress, contrasted with a pleasant trio section of mounting intensity, before the march proper resumes. The Opus 1 waltz Julia is remarkable enough, considering the date of its composition, 1857. It is not surprising to find here traces of Schumann and, even more, of Chopin in what is essentially a salon piece, calculated to impress admiring relatives. Nevertheless there are, for whatever reason, chords that might shock an elderly aunt. Chabrier's C major Impromptu was written in 1873 and dedicated to Mme Edouard Manet. It represents a marked step towards maturity of style in piano music, subtle in its use of harmony and rhythms. There are hints here of Spain and innovations that led to the Pièces pittoresques.

Chabrier's Aubade and Ronde champêtre were published posthumously in 1897, the first and last of a set of five piano pieces. The first of these is a finely evocative dawn greeting, while the second, a rustic rondo, varies the energy of a dance with a gentler pastoral mood. The Capriccio encompasses a wide variety of moods, calling at times for the kind of playing of which Chabrier was a master, changing from the tenderly lyrical to the fiercely bravura.

Souvenir de Brunehaut, written in 1862, the first of Chabrier's compositions to be published, is an extended waltz sequence, very much in the spirit of the time, but demonstrating yet again the composer's mastery of melodic invention in themes or fragments of themes of winning charm, set off by subtly changing harmonies.

Georges Rabol
Georges Rabol was born in Paris, the son of a father from Martinique. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, winning awards in piano, harmony and counterpoint, and embarked on a career as a recitalist and chamber-music player, working with musicians of considerable distinction, including Misha Maisky and Gérard Caussé. As a composer he has written music for ballet and for the cinema, for Roland Petit and for Luis Bunuel, and his musical inclinations have developed from the romantic to the discovery of the abundance of material emanating from the Americas, much of it near to popular taste. He is also an enthusiastic champion of French music.

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