About this Recording
8.570938 - FAURE, G.: Piano Quintets (Ortiz, Fine Arts Quartet)
English  French 

Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)
Piano Quintets


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, and 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. Throughout his work there are echoes of his songs, the epitome of his achievement as a French composer, reflecting always the culture and ethos of his country and time.

The composition of his Piano Quintet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 89, occupied Fauré intermittently over a number of years, as ideas came to him and problems that had arisen were gradually solved. The first sketches date from 1887, but it was in 1891 that he gave serious consideration to a quintet, considering first the addition of a second violin to what would have been a third piano quartet. Parts of two movements were sketched, then put aside. He returned to the work again in 1903 and finally completed the last of the three movements during the winter of 1905/6, ready for Eugène Ysaÿe, to whom it was dedicated, and a first performance in Brussels with the Ysaÿe Quartet in March 1906, to be repeated in Paris the following month.

The first movement opens with a texture of high D minor arpeggios from the piano, before the entry of the second violin with the first theme, soon to be joined an octave lower by the cello and then by the viola. A more forceful second theme is announced by the strings, each instrument on its lowest string. The piano, in octaves, introduces a further thematic element and the development is based on a version of the second theme. The music reaches a climax, before the recapitulation and elements of the themes return in the coda. The whole movement is an example of Fauré’s work at its finest, the parts intricately and indissolubly woven together into characteristic textures. The gentle Adagio starts with a first violin floating above a descending cello line and the delicate and lyrical piano part. This material is developed before a sudden break and the introduction of a second thematic element by the piano and viola, leading to a dynamic climax. The material is developed and there is a greatly varied recapitulation and brief allusive coda. The third movement starts with a theme in the piano, accompanied by plucked strings followed by a bowed countersubject, before they take up the piano theme. Further thematic material is introduced with some vigour, to be developed. The first theme returns, soon merging with the second and re-appearing in triplets in a final un poco più mosso, hushed briefly before rising to a final D major climax.

Fauré began work on his Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 115, in 1919 and completed it early in 1921, dedicating it to Paul Dukas. It had its first performance in Paris in May of the latter year. By now other demands on Fauré’s time had lessened, although his health and hearing had by now deteriorated. The principal theme of the first movement is introduced by the viola, over the characteristic accompanying texture of the piano. This is further developed before the appearance of a more rhythmically marked figure, introduced by the first violin, and a derivative of the first theme for the piano. This theme returns, announced by the first violin and viola in a transposed version and leading to characteristic shifts of key. There is a treatment of the second theme in imitation and a return of the piano theme that formed part of the thematic group. The first theme makes a strong re-appearance in its original key, to be further developed, with a passage in octaves for the first violin. The second theme is stated again and there is a final coda in C major. The second movement, a scherzo, marked Allegro vivo, has rapid scale figuration in the piano, in which the strings later join, with a more lyrical thematic element making its appearance in the strings, as the movement moves quickly on. It is followed by an Andante moderato, its expressive first theme heard from the strings, before the piano enters with a new element. The piano goes on to introduce a second theme, accompanied by off-beat piano chords. The strings start a development of the first theme and the second theme is heard again, as development of the material continues, to bring the movement finally to an end in its originally proposed tonality of G major. The viola, as in the first movement, has the task of introducing the first theme of the concluding Allegro molto. A second theme is proposed by the piano, with the viola, and after the return of the first theme and its derivatives a further theme is proposed. Without following the formal structure of a rondo, the movement ends with the combination of the three principal thematic elements and a C major coda.

Keith Anderson

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