|Rite of Spring|
Pavane, Op. 50
The bulk of Gabriel Fauré’s music – whether piano, chamber, vocal or orchestral – conveys the impression of a personal and private statement, an intimate conversation between the composer and his muse. Throughout his life Fauré’s ideal was to create chamber music; the grander forms, opera, symphony or concerto, were not for him. Although he tried several times to write symphonies, he abandoned or rejected them; the same fate awaited his attempt at a violin concerto. His music is admirably suited for performance in private homes or small halls. But the elegance and ease of much of his work belies the painstaking effort that went into the composition. Fauré was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Fauré was a student of Camille Saint-SaŽns, the quintessential French neo-classicist of the late nineteenth century who considered form as an essential component of “good” music. Fauré respected Saint-SaŽns greatly, and while the structure of his works usually adheres to classical models, he often experimented and surprised audiences with unexpected phrasing and harmonies. His Requiem, for example, represents a quiet, comforting revolution in the Catholic approach to death (it lacks the Dies irae, describing the panic of damned souls awaiting judgment). Although a secret agnostic and freethinker, he worked for many years as organist and choirmaster at La Madeleine, one of the largest churches in Paris.
Fauré composed Pavane in 1887 for a small orchestra with an optional chorus part with a text by Robert, comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921). The text is frequently omitted since it adds little to the delicate and nostalgic mood of the piece. The modest orchestration is in line with Fauré’s dislike of vivid colors and effects, which he considered a form of self-indulgence and a cover-up for a shortage of ideas. Nevertheless, the elegant and gentle well-known theme represents the “A” in a conventional ABA form ; In the brief middle section, Fauré gives in to an orchestral outburst in sixteenth-century modal harmony, eliciting the image of a Velázquez princess surrounded by weeping courtiers in black with elaborate lace ruffs.
Pavane became quite popular, and Fauré made a piano arrangement in 1889.
|C'est Lindor! c'est Tircis ! et c'est tous nos vainqueurs !|
Cest Myrtil! c'est Lydé ! Les reines de nos coeurs !
Comme ils sont provocants! Comme ils sont fiers toujours !
Comme on ose règner sur nos sorts et nos jours!
Faites attention! Observez la mesure !
‘ la mortelle injure!
La cadence est moins lente! Et la chute plus sŻre !
Nous rabattrons bien leur caquets!
Nous serons bientôt leurs laquais!
Qu'ils sont laids! Chers minois !
Qu'ils sont fols! Airs coquets !
Et c'est toujours de même, et c'est ainsi toujours!
On s'adore! on se hait ! On maudit ses amours !
Adieu Myrtil! Eglé ! Chloé ! démons moqueurs!
Adieu donc et bons jours aux tyrans de nos coeurs!
Et bons jours!
| It's Lindor! It's Tircis! and all our vanquishers!|
It's Myrtil! It's Lydia! The queens of our hearts!
How they provoke us! How they are always so proud!
How they dare to control our destinies and our days!
Pay attention! Observe the beat!
O the mortal injury!
The cadence is slower! The fall more certain!
We shall beat back their cackles!
We will soon be their stooges!
They are so ugly! Such darling little faces!
They are so foolish! Such coquettish airs!
And it's always the same, and so it shall always be!
We love them! We hate them! We speak ill of their loves!
Farewell, Myrtil! Egle! Chloe! mocking demons!
So it is farewell and good day to the tyrants of our hearts!
And good day!
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 33
It is said that at his first public concert in May 1846 the ten-year-old Camille Saint-SaŽns, after playing Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos as well as some solo works by Bach and Handel, offered to play any one of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas as an encore – from memory. A child prodigy who grew to become a phenomenal polymath, Saint-SaŽns wrote articles and books on many scientific topics, including astronomy, biology and archaeology in addition to his composing and musicological studies.
In his youth Saint-SaŽns was considered an innovator, but by the time he reached maturity he had become a pillar of the establishment, trying to maintain the classical musical tradition in France. As an accomplished organist and pianist – he premiered his five piano concertos – he sported an elegant, effortless technique. But neither his compositions nor his pianism were ever pinnacles of passion or emotion. Berlioz noted that Saint-SaŽns “...knows everything but lacks inexperience.” Saint-SaŽns was supportive of some younger composers, but his visceral dislike of Debussy actually engendered endless headlines in the tabloid press.
The defeat of France at the hands of Prussia in 1871 shocked the country’s pride and spurred a revival of French arts and letters. One of the results was the founding by Saint-SaŽns and his colleagues of the Société Nationale de Musique, whose motto and purpose was “Ars gallica” (French art). One of its results was the establishment of three newly energized competing symphony orchestras in Paris by three great conductors - …douard Colonne, Jules-…tienne Pasdeloup and Charles Lamoureux - who urgently looked for new works by French composers.
Saint-SaŽns composed the Cello Concerto in a minor in 1872 in response to this demand. It is in three continuous movements with no pauses, similar to the Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann. Unlike the standard classical concerto, Saint-SaŽns's Concerto opens with only a single orchestral chord, after which the soloist introducing the principal themes. The first one is an assertive and virtuosic melody that will be used throughout the Concerto as a unifying device. The cello also introduces the standard contrasting second theme in the relative major mode. (Note how the flute sneaks in with the Concerto's motto.) The exposition concludes with an energetic closing motive. There is virtually no development section in this movement, merely a varied restatement of the themes in order. The second theme gradually softens the mood and the music glides into the second movement, an understated minuet in the orchestra. † When the cello enters, it plays a counter-melody over the minuet and then a little waltz on its own. Again, the end of the Minuet blends without pause into the Finale.
While many nineteenth century works bring back the opening theme at the very end as a way of providing closure and an arch-like structure, Saint-SaŽns expands greatly on this architectural concept. The Finale, the longest of the movements, continues the development of the opening theme of the concerto but also includes a new more expansive second theme, as well as a burst of new thematic material, including a little orchestral refrain, and, of course, rapid scales, arpeggios and high harmonics that permit the soloist to indulge in virtuoso brilliance. The Concerto concludes with a restatement of the opening theme and the closing motive from the first movement plus a coda that accelerates the tempo for a dramatic finish.
Après un rêve, Op. 7, No. 1
The bulk of Gabriel Fauré’s music conveys the impression of a personal and private statement, an intimate conversation between the composer and his muse. All his life Fauré’s ideal was, as he put it, to create Musique de Chambre; the larger forms – opera, symphonies or concertos – were not for him. His music is admirably suited for performance in private homes or small halls. The elegance and “ease” of much of his music belies the painstaking effort that went into the composition: Fauré was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.
In this country Fauré is best known for his Requiem and his chamber music. But in France, his over 100 songs are standard concert fare.
Fauré composed Après un rêve in 1877 to a poem by French poet Romain Bussine, based on an anonymous Italian text in which a lover dreams of his beloved and, upon waking, wishes he could return to the lies brought to him by the night.
Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
In 1909 Igor Stravinsky, a budding composer just striking out for himself, got what can be called his big break – thanks to the laziness of the composer Anatol Lyadov. Impresario Sergey Diaghilev of the famed Ballets Russes in Paris had commissioned Lyadov to write a ballet on the Firebird theme from Russian folklore. When Diaghilev heard that after three months Lyadov had only gone as far as to buy the lined paper, he withdrew the commission and gave it to Stravinsky instead.
Stravinsky was a student of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, the standard bearers of Russian musical conservatism and nationalism, and the resultant Ballet, The Firebird, was a true Rimsky-style work. It catapulted Stravinsky to instant fame and led to a string of commissions from Diaghilev.
In 1913, however, Stravinsky completely broke with tradition in the ballet Le sacre du printemps. Its premiere created a riot in the audience, with whistles, catcalls, fistfights, a true “war over art” in the words of one critic. The composer literally had to escape from the theater through a bathroom window.
The impetus for the work was the romanticized vision of the rituals of pagan Russia, depicting a ceremony in which wise elders sit in a circle around a girl who dances herself to death as a sacrifice to the god of spring. Stravinsky worked with the painter Nikolai Röhrich (1874-1947), an acknowledged specialist in the pagan history of ancient Russia, who helped work out the scenario.
To its first audience, everything was wrong with the score: the pounding, syncopated rhythms in dissonant tone clusters, the absence of traditional tonal harmony, the fragmented melodies, “primitive” non-balletic movements of the dancers and, certainly, the disturbing sensuality of the work as a whole.
The choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky upset the first audience as much as Stravinsky’s score. The dancers were obliged to throw out a lifetime of training in grace and élan, to dance flat-footed rather than on point, and to count the jerky, constantly changing meters.
Ironically, Stravinsky's enormously complex score portrays the primeval rituals of a primitive tribe. The music of each section evolves organically, often piling on new melodic motives and rhythms in keeping with the dramatic thrust of the dance. However, few people have ever seen the Rite of Spring performed as a ballet; rather, it remains a strongly evocative concert work that is most often enjoyed without any reference to the original scenario.
Part I, The Adoration of the Earth, opens with the Introduction on the bassoon, based on a Lithuanian folksong. The bassoon theme frames a series of melodic fragments almost like birdsong in the upper woodwinds by the other woodwinds. A quiet ostinato figure introduces the “Dance of the Adolescent Girls,” which evolves into a stomping, pulsing rhythm with savage dissonances. A horn melody accompanied by the flutes leads to the “Mock Abduction,” the dissonant horn calls suggesting a grotesque hunt. A flute trill and a high woodwind chant lead to the “Spring Rounds Dance” with its chant-like theme accompanied by a slow ostinato in the basses and cellos. In the “Game of the Rival Tribes,” a fragmentary theme dominates the mock battle† The tribal battle is interrupted by the horns and the timpani, heralding the “Entrance of the Sages,” a short motive, repeated for some time † With all the celebrants now assembled, four slow mystical bars played pianissimo, followed by a long, expectant pause, introduce the wild “Dance of the Earth.”
Part II, The Sacrifice, opens with a mysterious introduction on the woodwinds and strings, leading directly to the “Mystic Circle of the Adolescent Girls,” a delicate, hesitant dance of the girls waiting for the moment of selection of the Chosen One. “The Glorification of the Chosen One” is a wild celebration, almost pure rhythm.† A sudden dramatic crescendo on the timpani and a trumpet fanfare introduces the “Evocation of the Ancestors.” “The Ancestors’ Ritual Dance” then begins with a gentle, pulsing rhythm, punctuated by short phrases in the English horn and clarinet. A repeated motive slowly builds to a massive crescendo before plunging into the “Sacrificial Dance of the Chosen One.” The suicidal sacrifice begins in slow bursts of syncopated rhythm, picking up in speed and rhythmic intricacy until the Chosen One dances herself to exhaustion and death. Interestingly, although Stravinsky does build up his orchestral forces to depict the dance, the ending is more like the escape of the virgin's final breath.
The complexity of the score, especially the interplay of cross rhythms, has always been a challenge to conductors. In 1943 Stravinsky reorchestrated and simplified some of the sections, especially the final one. When conductor George Solti asked him why, the composer retorted ”because I cannot conduct the original anymore.”
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2012|