Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Gabriel Fauré

Gabriel Faure

Luminous music,
Tender, calm, and so peaceful:
Gabriel Fauré

A requiem that dwells on
Eternal rest and light, peace,
Mercy and welcome.

Grace and elegance,
Music that soothes and comforts:
Gabriel Fauré.

The more I have read about Gabriel Fauré, the more I have wanted to read.  And the more I have listened to his music, the more I have wanted to hear.  What a fascinating fellow!

He was drawn to music at an early age, and was sent to study at a music school in Paris, which in time was headed by Camille Saint-Saëns.  At first, Saint-Saëns was Fauré’s teacher, but the two became close friends.

After graduation, Fauré worked as a church organist…until he showed up one Sunday morning in his evening clothes after partying all night.  Thereafter, he became the organist at a different church.1

He fought in the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. 1

After the war, he was choirmaster at Saint-Sulpice, where Charles-Marie Widor was organist.  The church had two organs, and the two would improvise together, trying to trick each other with unexpected key changes.  Saint-Saëns described Fauré as “a first-class organist when he wanted to be.” 1

As a professor at the Paris Conservatory, Fauré taught Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger, among others.  He later became the school’s director, and modernized procedures and updated the curriculum to include works by Debussy and Wagner.  Old-timers were not amused by the inclusion of this newfangled music.  However, the group of contemporary composers known as Les Six adored him. 1

Fauré’s music spanned the period between Romanticism and 20th century music.  His later music hints at the changes that were occurring at the time, away from a fixed tonality and traditional chord progressions, and toward more amorphous harmonies.  His last work was his first string quartet, finished less than two months before he died. 1

An example of Fauré embracing the modern is now a great treasure.  He recorded a number of piano rolls, and through them, we can hear him playing his own music.  At the links you can hear Fauré play his Pavane (Op. 50), a Valse Caprise from Op. 38, a Valse Caprice from Op. 59, and Nocturne No. 7 (Op. 74).

I would be remiss to omit Fauré’s Requiem.  I could write an entire post on it—and I will, because I am currently learning to sing it.  But I need to immerse myself in it more first to be able to adequately describe it to you.  It is a towering work, a giant, but one that whispers.  A deeply emotional work, yet one that Fauré said that he wrote “for nothing—for fun, if I may say so!”2   The Requiem departs from the traditional requiem text, and focuses on eternal rest and perpetual light.  In a way, it is reminiscent of the Brahms German Requiem in its comforting tone.   It is beautiful, and I look forward to singing it and telling you more about it soon.

It is hard to know what to highlight, there are so many works I could present for you.  I’ll pick two.  First, his lovely song Aprés Un Rêve, sung here by Pumeza Matshikiza with pianist Simon Lepper.

And, for now, I leave you with Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine (Op. 11) for orchestra and choir.  Fauré wrote this when he was 19 years old, and it took first prize in a composition competition (imagine his competitors!).

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_Faur%C3%A9
  2. Letter from Fauré to composer Maurice Emmanuel, quoted in Nectoux, Jean-Michel, Gabriel Fauré – A Musical Life, trans. Roger Nichols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p 116.
  3. http://www.classicfm.com/composers/faure/guides/howard-goodall-gabriel-faure/

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Image attribution:  Photograph of Gabriel Fauré by De Jongh, Lausanne, 1907 [Public domain in US], original held by the Bibliothèque nationale de Francehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Faure1907.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Amy Beach

Photograph of Amy Beach, American composer

Amy Marcy Beach,
Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,
Are one and the same.

A child prodigy,
A talented composer,
Brilliant pianist.

Her music constrained
By society’s standards;
Yet she persevered.

Once gone, her music
Languished for many a year.
Times changed; she’s now hailed.

American born,
Forward-looking Romantic,
Extraordinary.

In recent years, Amy Beach (1867-1944) has again begun to receive recognition for her great talent.  In her lifetime she was lauded by audiences, her peers of the Second New England School of composers (the “Boston Six”), and by critics, although sometimes grudgingly so.  She brought a thoroughly American voice to music.

It must have been frustrating for her sometimes though.  She was allowed to perform in public for the first time only when she was nearly an adult, although she had been playing and composing since her childhood.  Her musical activities were circumscribed by her mother, then by her husband.  Her performances were limited (a concession to her husband), so she concentrated on composition. But she did not have access to professional instruction, so she taught herself what she did not know and immersed herself in the study of music theory, translating for herself texts by Berlioz and Gevaert.1

After the death of her mother and husband, her performances resumed, and her composition activity again flourished.

The BBC has an hour-long podcast on Amy Beach’s life and music.  A blog has been established to coalesce information about Beach and her work, and can be found at amybeach.org. Scores of her music may be found in the Petrucci Music Library.

Despite the obstacles, Beach created a phenomenally rich body of music.  Here you can find videos of some of her key works, the Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor, Grand Mass in E Flat Major (Kyrie), and Symphony in E Minor Op 32 “Gaelic”. The Piano Quintet (Op. 67) reflects Beach’s incorporation of distinctly modern elements. The Quartet for Strings (Op. 89) uses Alaskan Inuit melodies as themes.

There is much to discover:  a symphony, songs, chamber music, and even an opera.  But for now, let us relax and enjoy Beach’s Dreaming from Four Sketches for Piano.

References

  1. Block, Adrienne Fried, Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 p 55.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Amy Beach from the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmy_Beach_01.jpg and http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b12657/