About this Recording
8.570545 - FAURÉ, G.: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Sicilienne / Élégie / Pavane / Papillon (Joost Ben-Sasson, Sternfield)
English  French 

Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Music for Cello and Piano


The sixth and youngest child of a father with some aristocratic connections, a former teacher, employed in the educational inspectorate and then as director of a teachers’ training college, Gabriel Fauré 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-Saëns, who was then teaching the piano at the school. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until the death of Saint-Saëns in 1921.

Fauré completed his studies at the Ecole Niedermeyer 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-Saëns and subsequently as choirmaster, when Théodore Dubois succeeded Saint-Saëns in 1877. Marriage in 1883 and the birth of two sons brought financial responsibilities that Fauré 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 Fauré 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 Fauré 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.

Fauré’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.

Fauré’s Sicilienne, Op. 78, has enjoyed wide popularity in a variety of arrangements. It was written in 1898 for cello and piano and dedicated to the English cellist W.H. Squire. It formed part of the incidental music for performances of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme, and in the version orchestrated by Charles Koechlin was used in incidental music for an English translation of Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande in London, in both cases evoking an earlier world, whether baroque or medieval.

Fauré wrote his Sonata for cello and piano, Op. 117, in 1921, dedicating it to Charles Martin Loeffler. It was first performed by Gérard Hekking and Alfred Cortot at the Société Nationale the following May. The first subject of the sonata-form first movement opens with a piano melody with syncopated accompaniment, immediately imitated by the cello. A secondary element, introduced by a descending seventh, leads on to the piano cantando second subject, themes and motifs that form the development. The first theme returns in recapitulation in the cello, closely shadowed by the piano. This G minor movement ends in G major, and the other movements also change, in their course, from minor to major. The C minor Andante has its origin in a Chant funèbre, commissioned for the celebration in May 1921 of the centenary of the death of Napoleon. The mood lightens marginally with the introduction of a secondary theme, after which the funeral march resumes. The final Allegro vivo opens with the piano’s ascending theme, to which the cello offers a descending scale in initial reply. A secondary chordal element is introduced by the piano, in simple four-part harmony. The main theme seems about to return, leading, instead, to a contrasting section of piano divided octaves, with pizzicato cello chords, and repeated cello notes. The two principal elements of the movement are further developed before the final coda.

Après un rêve, Op. 7/1, is thought to date from 1878 and is in origin a setting of a translation by Romain Bussine from the Italian Levati, Sol, ché la luna è levata. The mood of the poem, captured in its opening lines, Dans un sommeil que charmait ton image / Je rêvais le bonheur, ardent image, is reflected in the music of the song, that has been much transcribed, as here by Pablo Casals, never losing its nostalgic charm and effectiveness. Fauré’s Elégie, Op. 24, written in 1880, was dedicated to Jules Loëb, who gave the first performance in 1883. As so often the idiom of Fauré’s songs seems always near, and here the cello melody is heard over the repeated quaver chords of the piano. More elaborate keyboard figuration, with a second theme, leads to a cello cadenza and the return of the main theme, now an octave higher, with the secondary melody returning as the piece draws to an end. It has been suggested that the piece was originally intended as the slow movement of a cello sonata. The Romance in A major, Op. 69, was written in 1894, originally intended, it seems, for cello and organ, and showing some trace of its origins, in spite of the obvious modification of the keyboard accompaniment. The Berceuse, Op. 16, was written in 1879 and had its first performance the following year at the Société Nationale with the violinist Ovide Musin and the composer. It has been variously transcribed and remains among the most familiar of these short pieces. Papillon, Op. 77, seems to have been written in 1884, although not published until 1898. It came about at the request of the publisher, Hamelle, who sought a companion piece for the Elégie. The butterfly flutters first in a perpetuum mobile, with a contrasting secondary theme that offers some respite. The main theme resumes, with the secondary theme, after which the perpetual motion returns briefly, leading to a whispered conclusion. Sérénade, Op. 98, was published in 1908 and dedicated to Pablo Casals. It suggests the world evoked by Verlaine and reflected in earlier songs by Fauré. Its two themes, with their own contrasts, are capped by the return of the first, to end the work.

The first of Fauré’s two cello sonatas, the Sonata for cello and piano, Op. 109, was written in the summer of 1917 and dedicated to the conductor and cellist Louis Hasselmans. The first performance was given in November of the same year by Gérard Hekking and Alfred Cortot. The cello enters with the D minor first subject of the opening Allegro, over the abrupt syncopations of the piano, which is later entrusted with the calmer and more expressive secondary theme. Both subjects are developed and contrasted before the return of the first theme, introducing the recapitulation, where the piano figuration is further varied. Both elements have their place in the final coda. The Andante, in G minor¸ presents its two themes at the outset, later to be further juxtaposed and contrasted, before both return in the final section of the movement. The D major finale, marked Allegro comodo, again offers two contrasting subjects, the second marked by its initial octave ascending leaps. As the movement proceeds, the first theme is treated in canon, with both brought together in the final coda.

Fauré’s nostalgic Pavane, Op. 50, arranged for cello and piano, was originally for orchestra, with chorus parts later added. Completed in 1887, it has become equally familiar from various arrangements, always reflecting that contemporary yearning for a past long gone, a world reconjured by Verlaine and other writers.

Keith Anderson

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