Gabriel Fauré was a man of great humility. Though he produced extremely popular works like his Pavane and Requiem along with numerous staples of the chamber music repertoire, he was often self-deprecating, bemoaning that he could never quite express the complex emotions he hoped to. The quotations below are drawn from At the Piano with Fauré, a biography-memoir by French pianist Marguerite Long. The composer’s words reveal how deeply he thought about the music he was creating, and his many passionate and playful chamber works show how well he was in fact able to translate those feelings into music.
“For me art, and music especially, consists of raising ourselves as high as possible above that which is.”
Papillon for Cello and Piano, Op. 77
Fauré wrote a number of short pieces for cello, including this playful and uplifting depiction of the flight of a butterfly.
“I remembered having translated (almost involuntarily) the distant memory of bells which in the evening…came to us…when the wind blew from the west. From this dull sound a vague dreaminess arose, which, like all vague dreams, is literally untranslatable.”
Adagio non troppo from Quartet No. 2 in G minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 45
The composer intended the passionate slow movement from his Second Piano Quartet to recall the hazy memory of the sound of bells filtered by the wind. These distant, overlapping bells can be heard clearly in the opening gestures in the piano, figures that reoccur and are imitated by nostalgic melodies throughout.
“I always enjoy seeing sunlight play on the rocks, the water, the trees and plains. What variety of effects, what brilliance and what softness.... I wish my music could show as much diversity.”
Scherzo from Quartet No. 1 in C minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 15
Fauré fills the Scherzo from his First Piano Quartet with a spectacular “variety of effects.” The piano dances atop a bedrock of string pizzicatos, while the restless repeated melodies change constantly change shape and length. The softness and introversion of the muted strings in the middle section can’t escape the mood of sunny lightness created by running arpeggios in the piano.
“You will detach yourself from it, perhaps...all that has no importance. I have done what I could.... And so, judge, my God.”
Andante from Sonata No. 2 in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 117
Penned in 1921, the Second Cello Sonata is one of the last pieces Fauré wrote. The Andante is a transcription of the “funeral song” that he composed for the 100th anniversary of Napoleon’s death. There is one outcry at the climax of the movement, but most of the music is occupied by pulsing piano harmonies and a tender, understated cello melody. The above words were reportedly the last that Fauré spoke and they are well in keeping with the message of peaceful resignation that comes through in this music.
“But I'm not in the habit of attracting crowds.”
Mi-a-ou from Dolly Suite for Piano, Four Hands, Op. 56
Fauré didn’t spend all his time thinking deep thoughts. He was also known for a biting sense of humor, even about matters he could just as well have taken as personal slights like poor concert attendance. The ironic Fauré is on display throughout the Dolly Suite, a piece he wrote for the daughter of his mistress Emma Bardac. Mi-a-ou celebrates Dolly’s second birthday, and combines Fauré’s rich tonal palette with a sheer, perhaps even self-deprecating, playfulness.
Hear Fauré's Quartet No. 1 in C minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 15 on January 26, 2020 in Alice Tully Hall.
Article by Nicky Swett.