Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)
Piano Music for Four Hands
Souvenirs de Bayreuth / Huit pi?¿ces br?¿ves,Op. 84
Masques et bergamasques, Op. 112 /Allegro symphonique, Op. 68
Dolly, Op. 56
The sixth and youngest child of a father with aristocraticconnections, a former teacher, employed in the educational inspectorate andthen as director of a teachers' training college, Gabriel Faure was encouragedby his family in his early musical ambitions. His professional training,designed to allow him a career as a choirmaster, was at the Ecole Niedermeyerin Paris, where, by good fortune, he met Saint-Saens, who was then teaching thepiano at the school. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted untilthe death of Saint-Saens in 1921.
Faure completed his studies at the Ecole Niedenneyer in1865 and the following year took up an appointment as organist at the church of St Sauveur in Rennes, turning his attention increasingly, during the fouryears of this provincial exile, to composition. After similar less importantappointments in Paris, in 1871 he became assistant organist at St Sulpice,later moving to the Madeleine as deputy to Saint-Saens and subsequently as choirmaster,when Theodore Dubois succeeded Saint-Saens in 1877. Marriage in 1883 and thebirth of two sons brought financial responsibilities that Faure met by hiscontinued employment at the Madeleine and by teaching. At the same time hewrote a large number of songs, while remaining, as always, intensely criticalof his own work, particularly with regard to compositions on a larger scale.
The last decade of the nineteenth century brought Fauremore public recognition In 1892 he became inspector of French provincialconservatories and four years later principal organist at the Madeleine In the sameyear he at last found employment as teacher of composition at theConservatoire, the way now open to him after the death of the old director AmbroiseThomas, who had found Faure too much of a modernist for such a position Hisassociation with the Conservatoire, where his pupils over the years included Ravel,Koechlin, Enescu and Nadia Boulanger, led, in 1905, to his appointment asdirector, in the aftermath of the scandal that had denied the Prix de Rome toRavel. He remained in this position until 1920, his time for compositioninitially limited by administrative responsibilities, although he was laterable to devote himself more fully to this, adding yet again to the repertoireof French song, with chamber music and works for piano.
Faure's musical language bridged a gap between theromanticism of the nineteenth century and the world of music that had appearedwith the new century, developing and evolving, but retaining its own fundamentalcharacteristics. His harmonic idiom, with its subtle changes of tonality andhis gift for melody, is combined with an understanding of the way contemporaryinnovations might be used in a manner completely his own.
It was together with Andre Messager that Faure travelledin 1879 to Cologne to hear Wagner's Das Rheingold and Die Walkure andlater to Munich to hear the complete Ring Cycle. There were furtherWagnerian journeys, including, in 1882, a visit to London to hear the RingCycle and, again with Messager, in 1888 to Bayreuth itself, to hear Parsifal,a work that affected him deeply. It was with Messager, in a much lighter veinand in the same year, that he collaborated on Souvenirs de Bayreuth, aseries of five short piano duets in the form of a quadrille, based on favouritethemes from The Ring, some of which are transformed into something lessinstantly recognisable.
The Eight Pieces, Opus 84 were assembled for publicationin 1903, with titles that were the publisher's, not Faure's choice. Theseinclude two fugues from 1869, written while he was in Rennes. Two of the pieces,the Capriccio and Improvisation, were originally intended assight-reading tests for the Conservatoire, while others may have had an earlierorigin. The Fantaisie is redolent of Faure as a song composer, as is theAdagietto, while the Fugues are predictably formal in structure. Allegresse,marked Allegro giocoso, again shows the composer's gift for melody, hereover a rippling accompaniment, and the set ends with a D flat major Nocturne.
Faure wrote Masques et Bergamasques in 1918 in responseto a commission by Prince Albert I of Monaco for music to accompany achoreographic divertissement, to be staged in April 1919 For this purpose,apparently a transitory one, he was able to use again a number of earliercompositions. As the title indicates, the divertissement was to be based onpoems by Verlaine, adapted for this purpose by Rene Fauchois, contrasting theTheatre Italien actors Harlequin, Gilles and Columbine, on an idealised Cythereanisland, with their formal theatre audience, figures from the aristocratic worldof Watteau, now watched by the actors from their hiding-place, for whom theyunwittingly provide a performance. The evocative title comes from the second lineof the first poem of Fetes Galantes, Clair de lune, the source ofinspiration for the whole work. From the original eight movements Faure deriveda suite of four movements. These start with an Ouverture that was originallythe Intermezzo de symphonie written in Rennes and first performed therein 1868. This provides an apt and lively opening, to be followed originally by thePastorale, that is placed later in the Suite. The Menuet
was written in 1918 and 1919 and is in a stately Baroque tempo. The Gavotte
dates from 1869, while the Pastorale, completed in the early months of1919, is aptly placed at the end of the Suite, to which it provides anelement of unity with a brief reference to the opening theme of the Ouverture.
Faure wrote his Symphony in F or Suite d'orchestre,Opus 20, between 1867 and 1873, an attempt at writing of this kind thatmust have convinced him that his real talents lay elsewhere. The first movementof the symphony was arranged in 1893 by Leon Boellmann for piano duet, althoughthe work was first heard in 1873 when Faure and Saint-Saens performed it in atwo-piano version that has not survived. The third and fourth movementsprovided material for the Gavotte and Ouverture of the Masqueset bergamasques suite. The Allegro symphonique is in sonata form,with an asymmetrical first subject and a second, lyrical theme, duly developedand heard in recapitulation.
The Dolly Suite was written between 1893 and 1897for piano duet and the whole set of pieces was dedicated to Helene Bardac,Dolly, daughter of Emma Bardac, who, as a singer, had exercised a strong fascinationover Faure. She was subsequently to leave her banker husband to bear a child toDebussy, whom she later married. Their daughter inspired Debussy to write hisown Children's Corner. Faure's suite starts with a Berceuse, afamiliar cradle-song. Mi-a-ou, with its editorial indication of a cat,was originally designed as an evocatio