The piano is a central feature in this concert. We experience a multifaceted image of the possibilities of the instrument through chamber music by Fauré, Debussy and Mozart.
Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy both lived around the turn of the century. It is generally accepted that Fauré, the elder of the two, along with his contemporaries in France – Saint-Saëns, Franck, d’Indy, Lalo and others – was a prerequisite for Debussy and his musical style.
In 1871 Camille Saint-Saëns founded la Société Nationale de Musique – the French National Music Society – in Paris. France having suffered defeat by Prussia in 1871, the composers realised that they needed to make an effort for the nation and for the rebuilding of a French identity in the arts. The society’s primary task was to perform new French music – in particular chamber music.
Gabriel Fauré composed his first Piano Quartet (in C minor) in 1876. At the time he was Camille Saint-Saëns’s assistant as organist in the great Église de St-Marie-Madeleine in Paris. Encouraged by the musical circles around him he tried his hand at composing chamber music. His first Piano Quartet (in C minor, op. 15) was performed in the Sociéte in 1880. Following advice from colleagues he reworked the final movement and published it in 1883 as it is today.
As professor of composition and as director of the Paris Conservatoire Gabriel Fauré became an important teacher and an inspiration to many young musicians of the day. Two of the best known are Maurice Ravel – the second and final impressionist – and Nadia Boulanger, who in turn became a teacher and model for practically all composers in the twentieth century.
Claude Debussy embarked on his composition studies in 1880. He had already been a student at the Paris Conservatoire for several years, and was a gifted pianist, playing for instance in a Piano Trio financed by Tchaikovsky’s patron, Nadezhda von Meck. The trio performed a great deal of music by the Russian masters, composers that von Meck had known personally and to whose music she loved listening.
Debussy made his breakthrough as a composer in 1884 on winning the Prix de Rome with a cantata, but his real gateway to fame was his work Prélude à l´après-midi d’un faune.
In the time that followed Debussy came into contact with the great French poets, painters and musicians in Paris and developed his own style, first referred to as Debussyisme. With time the label already applied to painters – impressionisme – was also applied to Debussy’s music.
Debussy composed in a variety of genres. We shall hear two of his latest works. His latter years were filled with illness, both physical and mental, but he surmounted these obstacles to provide posterity with two powerful pieces of music.
A musical party
A hundred years earlier Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had spellbound the whole of southern Europe with his genius. However, in 1788 things started to go wrong for him. He was employed at court as a composer of chamber music, but his operas, and in particular Don Giovanni, were not well received by the gentry. With a relatively extravagant lifestyle the Mozartian household began to fall into debt. He therefore offered a friend this Piano Trio as a pretext to hold a musical party, so that he could secure some income. In the course of a few days he had written down the trio, which turned out to be one of his masterpieces. This is not least due to the final movement. With its complex structure and harmonies, it seemingly compresses a movement of a symphony into the format of a trio.
Perhaps that should be no surprise. Mozart was working not only on this trio at the time; he was concurrently composing his fabulous Symphony no. 39 in E flat major, which he completed three days after the trio.
Erling Dahl jr.
English version: Roger Martin