FAURE: Nocturnes Nos. 1-6 / Theme and Variations, Op. 73
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Gabriel Fauré (1845 - 1924)
Nocturne No.1 in E Flat Minor, Op. 33, No.1
Nocturne No.2 in B Major, Op. 33, No.2
Nocturne No.3 in A Flat Major, Op. 33, No.3
Nocturne No.4 in E Flat Major, Op. 36
Nocturne No.5 in B Flat Major, Op. 37
Nocturne No.6 in D Flat Major, Op. 63
Theme and Variations in C Sharp Minor, Op. 73
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 first three Nocturnes of Fauré, Opus 33, were published in 1883. The Nocturne in E flat minor, the first of the set, was probably composed as early as 1875. The tradition that Fauré follows here is that of Chopin, who had followed John Field in developing this particular poetic form of piano composition. An expressive melody marks the first section, leading to a more disturbed central section, after which a gradual diminuendo ushers back the theme of the opening, followed by a short coda. The second Nocturne, in B major, follows a similar pattern. Again an expressive first section is followed by a B minor section, marked Allegro ma non troppo, with the original key and Andantino espressivo restored in a final section, ending in a brief, quicker, whispered coda. The second Nocturne was written about the year 1880. The third, conjecturally dated to 1882, and in the key of A flat major, opens again expressively, but with a greater degree of intensity. It is again tripartite in structure, the return of the opening section followed by a gentle coda that contains still further harmonic subtleties.
The fourth Nocturne, Opus 36, in E flat major, was probably written in 1884, the conjectural year of the fifth, Opus 37, in B flat major, both of which were published in 1885. In the first of these there is once more a wonderfully expressive melody at the outset. The central section moves into a tranquil E flat minor, with material that makes its re-appearance briefly in the coda that follows the return of the opening. Marked Andante quasi allegretto, the fifth Nocturne starts in waltz rhythm, the melody of the central B flat minor section appearing at first in an inner part, with the simplest of material to bring back the lilt of the opening in the original key.
Fauré wrote the sixth of his Nocturnes, Opus 63, in D flat major, in the summer of 1894 at the house of his wife's family at Bas-Prunay. Here, after neglecting piano composition for some six years, he returns to it with greater power, intensity, subtlety and profundity, in a work that has inspired admiration and wonder, not least from the great French pianist Alfred Cortot, who detected in it the universality of a masterpiece. The first theme, marked Adagio, slowly unwinds, reaching its height to introduce a change of mood. In the enharmonic key of C sharp minor, the following section is marked Allegretto molto moderato. There is an A major section of great beauty, with the second and third themes developed until the return of the principal theme, with which the Nocturne had opened.
The Theme and Variations, Opus 73, in C sharp minor, was written in 1895 and published two years later. This very substantial work is based on a theme marked Quasi adagio and consisting of the threefold repetition of a four bar phrase, framing two appearances of a second such phrase. The first variation has the theme in the lower register, with the second increasing in speed, with the off-beat accents of the theme emerging through a more complex texture. Asymmetrical rhythms mark the third variation, with a fourth allowing the theme an inner voice and a fifth characterized principally by its chains of thirds and sixths. The following version of the theme, marked Molto adagio, has the thematic material principally in octaves in the bass and is followed by an Allegro moderato of gentle expressiveness. The eighth variation, marked Andante molto moderato, offers a moment of serenity, to be followed by the syncopated Quasi adagio of the ninth. The tenth is in a lively triple metre and is capped by a final shift, in the eleventh, to the tonic major key and a fittingly grandiose conclusion to a work in the tradition of Schumann or Brahms.
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 T