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Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) Preludes, Op. 103
25,31,34,91,102 & 86bis
Born in Pamier on12th May 1845, Gabriel Faure had his principal musical training at the EcoleNiedermeyer in Paris, where he was a student from 1854 until 1865. Hisdiscovery there of plainchant made a great impression on him, leaving anindelible mark on his aesthetic outlook.
Faure began tobecome known in the 1870s, thanks to the Societe Nationale de Musique, in theestablishment of which he had taken part. In Germany he heard the music ofWagner. Impressed by its power, he nevertheless remained apart from it,preferring to develop works marked by a very personal style. His reputation wasgrowing and in 1892 he became organist at the Madeleine, then, four yearslater, succeeded Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire, counting among his pupilsRavel, Koechlin, Aubert and Schmitt, among others.
Director of theConservatoire from 1905, Faure showed remarkable authority in the innovationshe made. It was only in 1920 that, deaf already for some years, he retired frompublic life. He died in Paris in 1924.
The writer PaulLandormy has noted that to speak of Faure is to touch on what is most intimateand most secret in the genius of France1. The words epitomize theuniqueness of Faure's art. A fervent admirer of Mendelssohn and of Chopin, herejected excess, to convey the poetry of his inspiration through a musicallanguage of great refinement. Unfortunately some only heard or wanted to hearin his music an easy elegance and the atmosphere of the salon. Yet there isnothing easy about this music the riches of which the listener must learn tounderstand without being troubled by what there often is in it of the ambiguousor disconcerting.
"There aresometimes privileged moments when poetry and music are seen to join as brothersone with the other, as if through some sudden conspiracy" wrote VladimirJankelevitch2 Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise / O??l'Indecis au Precis se joint (Nothing is dearer than the grey song /Where Indefinite and Definite meet). This "grey song" that PaulVerlaine celebrates in his Art Poetique belongs also to Faure and itwould be hard to understand his genius outside the context of symbolist poetry.
His music has made his own the poet's Prends l'eloquence et tords-lui le cou"
(Take eloquence and wring its neck). Nocturnes, Barcarolles, Preludes, wecontinually experience in Faure minute nuances and subtle gradations, assistedby writing that is comparable to none.
A late example ofFaure's piano music, the nine Preludes, Opus 103, form one of the mostunderrated examples of his work. It was in 1909 and 1910, at the heart of theperiod that saw the composition of Penelope, written between 1907 and1913, a period, moreover, rich in music for the piano, such as the BarcarollesNos. 8-11 and the Nocturnes Nos. 9-11, that the group of Preludeswas written. The work of a composer of sixty-six, already going deaf, theselast must be considered in the light of the biographical context in which theywere conceived, the often nostalgic and bitter dimension that marks them thentaking on its full meaning. There is nothing uniform in a collection that bearswitness, on the contrary, to a great diversity of moods, and, moreover, to greatterseness of expression.
In D flat major PreludeNo.1 is marked Andante molto moderato and is in the manner of anocturne. Prelude No.2, in C sharp minor and marked Allegro, formsa complete contrast, a kind of moto perpetuo that taxes the legato techniqueof a performer. The spirit of the nocturne re-appears in Prelude No. 3,in G minor and marked Andante, about which Vladimir Jankelevitch wrote"it might be a barcarolle strangely interrupting a theme of very modernstylistic contour"3. Among the most attractive, PreludeNo.4, in F major and marked Allegretto moderato, casts a spell on theear through the subtlety of a harmony tinged with the modal and itsmelodic freshness. Ce bel acc?¿s de col?¿re ('This fine outburst ofanger') wrote Louis Aguettant4 of the Prelude No.5, an Allegroin D minor that is striking in its dark and anxious mood, followed by anending full of resignation. This leads to Prelude No.6, an Andante inE flat minor, in the form of a canon. In A major, Prelude No.7, marked Andantemoderato, grows gradually livelier, sensual in its expression, leading inthe end to the mood of calm with which it began. Like the second of the series,Prelude No.8, in C minor and marked Allegro, offers aparticularly technical aspect, with its repeated notes suggesting the characterof a toccata. Prelude No.9, an Adagio in E minor, brings toan end the set with a lyrical quality marked by seriousness and detachment.
"This last prelude", wrote Jankelevitch, "belongs from beginningto end to another world."
Gabriel Faure'sopera Penelope occupied the composer from 1907 to 1912 and was firstperformed at the Monte Carlo Opera on 4th March 1913 under the direction ofLeon Jehin, with the soprano Lucienne Breval in the title r??le. It was she,indeed, who had urged Faure to undertake the composition of the work and hadintroduced him to Rene Fauchois, the author of the libretto. In spite of thefine elements it contains, this work has never become part of operaticrepertoire and today generally nothing of it is known except the prelude, inits orchestral version or in the piano arrangement made by Faure. In G minor,it starts with the Andante moderato Penelope theme, serious and noble incharacter, followed a little later by a very manly motif symbolizing Ulysses.
This material provides writing of great polyphonic wealth that is particularlywell suited to the piano.
The collection offive Impromptus appeared two years after the death of Faure. Thisbrought together work from the first and the last periods of the composer'screative life, works that had before appeared as separate publications.
Contemporary with the Romances sans Paroles, Opus 17, of the BarcarolleNo.1 and the first three Nocturnes, the first three Impromptus werewritten in 1883. Alfred Cortot compared Impromptu No.1, Opus 25, in Eflat major to a rapid barcarolle, in which carefree grace characterizes thelighter mood of the whole series. In F minor, Impromptu No.2, Opus 31,delights us with its airy and impalpable writing, but the most attractive andmost famous of these first three remains the A flat major Impromptu No.3,Opus 34, a work remarkable for its dash and the delicacy of its colouring.
With this last, Faure abandoned the impromptu for more than twenty years. Heonly returned to it, in fact, in 1905 with the D flat major Impromptu No.4,Opus 91, that, without giving way to a dark mood, shows always a profoundmaturity of style, as evinced in the meditative Andante central section.
In F sharp minor, Impromptu No.5, Opus 102, written in 1910, delights usthrough the fluidity of its writing and by the harmonic flavour suggested bythe use of the whole-tone scale. Impromptu, Opus 86, in D flat major,originally written for harp for a Conservatoire competition, was composed in1904. Some years later A