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8.553638 - FAURÉ: Piano Music for Four Hands

Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)

Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)

Piano Music for Four Hands

Souvenirs de Bayreuth / Huit pièces brèves, Op. 84

Masques et bergamasques, Op. 112 / Allegro symphonique, Op. 68

Dolly, Op. 56


The sixth and youngest child of a father with aristocratic connections, a former teacher, employed in the educational inspectorate and then as director of a teachers' training college, Gabriel Faure was encouraged by his family in his early musical ambitions. His professional training, designed to allow him a career as a choirmaster, was at the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris, where, by good fortune, he met Saint-Saens, who was then teaching the piano at the school. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until the death of Saint-Saens in 1921.


Faure completed his studies at the Ecole Niedenneyer in 1865 and the following year took up an appointment as organist at the church of St Sauveur in Rennes, turning his attention increasingly, during the four years of this provincial exile, to composition. After similar less important appointments in Paris, in 1871 he became assistant organist at St Sulpice, later moving to the Madeleine as deputy to Saint-Saens and subsequently as choirmaster, when Theodore Dubois succeeded Saint-Saens in 1877. Marriage in 1883 and the birth of two sons brought financial responsibilities that Faure met by his continued employment at the Madeleine and by teaching. At the same time he wrote a large number of songs, while remaining, as always, intensely critical of his own work, particularly with regard to compositions on a larger scale.


The last decade of the nineteenth century brought Faure more public recognition In 1892 he became inspector of French provincial conservatories and four years later principal organist at the Madeleine In the same year he at last found employment as teacher of composition at the Conservatoire, the way now open to him after the death of the old director Ambroise Thomas, who had found Faure too much of a modernist for such a position His association with the Conservatoire, where his pupils over the years included Ravel, Koechlin, Enescu and Nadia Boulanger, led, in 1905, to his appointment as director, in the aftermath of the scandal that had denied the Prix de Rome to Ravel. He remained in this position until 1920, his time for composition initially limited by administrative responsibilities, although he was later able to devote himself more fully to this, adding yet again to the repertoire of French song, with chamber music and works for piano.


Faure's musical language bridged a gap between the romanticism of the nineteenth century and the world of music that had appeared with the new century, developing and evolving, but retaining its own fundamental characteristics. His harmonic idiom, with its subtle changes of tonality and his gift for melody, is combined with an understanding of the way contemporary innovations might be used in a manner completely his own.


It was together with Andre Messager that Faure travelled in 1879 to Cologne to hear Wagner's Das Rheingold and Die Walkure and later to Munich to hear the complete Ring Cycle. There were further Wagnerian journeys, including, in 1882, a visit to London to hear the Ring Cycle and, again with Messager, in 1888 to Bayreuth itself, to hear Parsifal, a work that affected him deeply. It was with Messager, in a much lighter vein and in the same year, that he collaborated on Souvenirs de Bayreuth, a series of five short piano duets in the form of a quadrille, based on favourite themes from The Ring, some of which are transformed into something less instantly recognisable.

The Eight Pieces, Opus 84 were assembled for publication in 1903, with titles that were the publisher's, not Faure's choice. These include two fugues from 1869, written while he was in Rennes. Two of the pieces, the Capriccio and Improvisation, were originally intended as sight-reading tests for the Conservatoire, while others may have had an earlier origin. The Fantaisie is redolent of Faure as a song composer, as is the Adagietto, while the Fugues are predictably formal in structure. Allegresse, marked Allegro giocoso, again shows the composer's gift for melody, here over a rippling accompaniment, and the set ends with a D flat major Nocturne.


Faure wrote Masques et Bergamasques in 1918 in response to a commission by Prince Albert I of Monaco for music to accompany a choreographic divertissement, to be staged in April 1919 For this purpose, apparently a transitory one, he was able to use again a number of earlier compositions. As the title indicates, the divertissement was to be based on poems by Verlaine, adapted for this purpose by Rene Fauchois, contrasting the Theatre Italien actors Harlequin, Gilles and Columbine, on an idealised Cytherean island, with their formal theatre audience, figures from the aristocratic world of Watteau, now watched by the actors from their hiding-place, for whom they unwittingly provide a performance. The evocative title comes from the second line of the first poem of Fetes Galantes, Clair de lune, the source of inspiration for the whole work. From the original eight movements Faure derived a suite of four movements. These start with an Ouverture that was originally the Intermezzo de symphonie written in Rennes and first performed there in 1868. This provides an apt and lively opening, to be followed originally by the Pastorale, that is placed later in the Suite. The Menuet was written in 1918 and 1919 and is in a stately Baroque tempo. The Gavotte dates from 1869, while the Pastorale, completed in the early months of 1919, is aptly placed at the end of the Suite, to which it provides an element of unity with a brief reference to the opening theme of the Ouverture.


Faure wrote his Symphony in F or Suite d'orchestre, Opus 20, between 1867 and 1873, an attempt at writing of this kind that must have convinced him that his real talents lay elsewhere. The first movement of the symphony was arranged in 1893 by Leon Boellmann for piano duet, although the work was first heard in 1873 when Faure and Saint-Saens performed it in a two-piano version that has not survived. The third and fourth movements provided material for the Gavotte and Ouverture of the Masques et bergamasques suite. The Allegro symphonique is in sonata form, with an asymmetrical first subject and a second, lyrical theme, duly developed and heard in recapitulation.


The Dolly Suite was written between 1893 and 1897 for piano duet and the whole set of pieces was dedicated to Helene Bardac, Dolly, daughter of Emma Bardac, who, as a singer, had exercised a strong fascination over Faure. She was subsequently to leave her banker husband to bear a child to Debussy, whom she later married. Their daughter inspired Debussy to write his own Children's Corner. Faure's suite starts with a Berceuse, a familiar cradle-song. Mi-a-ou, with its editorial indication of a cat, was originally designed as an evocation of Dolly's brother Raoul, Messieu Aoul, while Le jardin de Dolly (Dolly's Garden) provided Dolly with a particularly evocative and beautiful New Year present in 1895. The Kitty Valse, a birthday present in 1896, refers, in its original title, to Raoul's pet dog, and Tendresse (Tenderness) was originally dedicated to Adela Maddison, wife of a music-publisher, the apparent object of Faure's affections at this time and perhaps in later years, after she had left her husband and settled in Paris. The suite ends with an excursion into the world of Spain.


Keith Anderson



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