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Gabriel Fauré (1845 - 1924)
Nocturne No.7 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 74
Nocturne No.8 in D Flat Major, Op. 84, No.8
Nocturne No.9 in B Minor, Op. 97
Nocturne No.10 in E Minor, Op. 99
Nocturne No.11 in F Sharp Minor, Op. 104, No.1
Nocturne No.12 in E Minor, Op. 107
Nocturne No.13 in B Minor, Op.119
Prelude No.3 in G Minor, Op. 103, No.3
Prelude No.9 in E Minor, Op. 103, No.9
Trois Romances sans paroles, Op. 17
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 taught 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 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 Theodore 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 works 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 finding, at last, 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, Charles Koechlin, Georges Enescuand 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. His 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. Fauré's harmonic idiom with its subtle changes of tonality and his gift for melody, combine with an understanding of the way contemporary innovations might be used in a manner completely his own. His contribution to French music as a composer must lie chiefly in his songs, his piano music and his chamber music, although works like the poignant Requiem have an unassailable place in liturgical and choral repertoire.
The seventh of Fauré's thirteen Nocturnes, Opus 74, in C sharp minor, was written in 1898 and published the following year. Marked Molto lento, it opens with a theme of initial harmonic ambiguity, followed by a second D major theme of similar propensity. The development of the first theme leads to a central section in F sharp major, where once more the key is hidden at first, with the re-emergence of the pervasive first theme providing a subtle unity.
In 1903 the publisher Hamelle issued a set of eight short pieces, adding titles to each, in spite of Fauré's objections. The eighth of these, an eighth Nocturne, in D flat major, lacks the complexity of its immediate predecessor and was not originally given this title by the composer, who prefered to describe it simply as Pièce. It is marked by a song-like principal theme with a delicate accompanying figuration of semiquavers.
The ninth and tenth Nocturnes of Fauré, Opus 97, in B minor, and Opus 99, in E minor, were both written in 1908 and published the following year. The first is dominated by opening bars, while the second offers a song-like form of writing, both Nocturnes including significantly inventive codas. An eleventh Nocturne, Opus 104, No.1, in F sharp minor, coupled in publication with a Barcarolle, was issued in 1913, the year of its composition. It was written in memory of Noémi Lalo, wife of the critic Pierre Lalo, a poignant lament, ending in the gentle calm of the Requiem.
The last two Nocturnes, Opus 107, in E minor, and Opus 119, in B minor, were written in 1915 and 1921 respectively. The first of these, ambiguous in tonality and echoing Brahms in some of its cross-rhythms and textures, is dark-hued and intense. The second is meditative, concealing in its moving intensity all the complex craftsmanship of which Fauré was a master. It provides a moving conclusion to his composition in this form, now extended from its origins earlier in the nineteenth century into a new world of change.
Fauré's Nine Preludes, Opus 103, were written in the years 1909 and 1910, and published in 1910 and 1911. They were probably intended to form a single work, as suggested by thematic cross-references, but stand equally well in isolation. The third Prelude, in G minor, ends the first group, perhaps all that the composer at first intended to write. It is a moving work of some intensity, dominated by its opening thematic material. The last of the set, the ninth, in E minor, marked Adagio, unfolds with moving expression, before ending in the calm of E major.
The Three Romances without Words, Opus 17, were written while Fauré was a student at the Ecole Niedermeyer, and are conjecturally dated to 1863. Published in 1880, they served at once as a popular French counterpart to Mendelssohn's earlier Songs without Words. In these the composer's own voice is even now recognisable. The opening theme of the first is soon echoed in an inner voice, following the first in syncopation. The second, a livelier A minor Allegro molto, accompanies its song-like melody with a semiquaver figuration. The last of the set, in A flat major, relaxes into a gentler Andante, with a gradual diminishing of sound into a mere whisper as the Romance ends with the simple melodic phrase that had appeared at the opening.
Jean Martin, a pupil of Yves Nat, Pierre Pasquier, Pierre Kostanoff and Guido Agosti, divides his time between concert engagements and teaching, the latter as a member of the staff of the Versailles Conservatoire, after several years at the National Regional Conservatoires of Grenoble and of Lyon. His recordings include the music of Brahms and Schumann as well as the complete piano music of Weber, and, with his Trio, the Piano Trio of Lalo. His interest in contemporary music is represented by performances and recording of the work of the composer Claude Ballif.