Fauré & Friends

Enescu, Hahn, Saint-Saëns

Release on the 6th of September, 2024

Irène Duval, Violin
Angus Webster, Piano

HAHN: Romance in A Major (1901) 5’
FAURE: Berceuse op.16 (1879)
FAURE: Andante B flat major op.75 (1897) 4’
ENESCU: Sonata 2 F minor op.6 (1899) 22’
SAINT-SAENS: Berceuse op.38 (1871)  5’
FAURE: Romance B flat major op.28 (1883) 5’
FAURE: Sonata 2 E minor op.108  (1916-17) 24’
FAURE: Morceau de lecture (1903) 2’

‘For me, art, especially music, consists of elevating ourselves as far as possible above what is.’ Gabriel Fauré

Fauré is one of my favourite composers. His music transports us to an ideal world of multiple reflections and harmonic nuance, in a continuous musical and rhythmic flow. The warmth of his music sings, touches, consoles, fills with joy, exults! He is the composer who has accompanied me the most over these past five years. 2024 marks the centenary of his death, and with this programme, I wished to celebrate him along with single works by his friends Georges Enescu, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Reynaldo Hahn.

The first of these, Reynaldo Hahn’s Romance in A major, was composed around 1901; it is dedicated to Gaspar Marcano – Hahn’s fellow-Venezuelian compatriot, author of works on pre-Columbian Venezuela. Born in 1874 in Caracas, Hahn was four years old when his family moved to France. He showed an astounding early talent for music; composing his first and successful cycle of melodies, “Les chansons grises” on poems by Verlaine from age 12 and 15. Singing always held an important place in his musical life (he himself had a beautiful baritone voice); as one plays his music, one can easily imagine him in a Parisian salon, singing at the piano, ‘a cigarette at the corner of his mouth’ as described by Marcel Proust, his friend and onetime lover… The present Romance seems to be his first piece for violin, a sonata and concerto for the instrument following some 25 years later. The melody is simple, charming, and melodious, the violin and piano conversing in an expressive dialogue.

Hahn had a great admiration for Gabriel Fauré. He spoke of him beautifully when introducing four concerts dedicated to Fauré’s music in 1914, at the Université des Annales. *

‘He has remained in glorious maturity what he was in his adolescence. Poets such as Fauré remain always children through a certain freshness of the soul that never alters itself; they go through life, they suffer, they are hurt, they are often assailed by darkness, but they retain in a certain mysterious corner of their being a sacred point, guileless, invulnerable, that nothing can fade or tarnish.’

Fauré was at this time 68 years old; his catalogue for violin and piano, in addition to his famous Sonata in A major op.13, included the Berceuse op.16 (1879), Romance op.28 (1883), and Andante op.75 (1897).

Berceuse, op.16: dedicated to Mrs. Hélène Depret, it was premiered by the violinist Ovide Musin with the composer on the piano, at the Société Nationale de Musique (SNM) on February 14, 1880 and was later orchestrated. Although Fauré did not attach great importance to this short piece, it was a huge success and was taken into the repertoire of many famous violinists, including Ysaye, who later recorded it.

Romance, op.28: Dedicated to the American violinist Arma Harkness, this was inspired by the mountains of Cauterets in France where Fauré spent part of August 1877. In a letter from the composer to his friend Marie Clerc to which he added one of his many drawings, he says: ‘it is like this (drawing): that is to say, with a contour that recalls the crests of the mountains!’

Andante, op.75: dedicated to Johannes Wolff, this gorgeous piece was premiered on January 22, 1898. Jean-Michel Nectoux, whose research and writings on the composer are treasures, suggests that some of its themes may have belonged to the second movement of Fauré’s unfinished Violin Concerto… Unfortunately, no traces of that movement remain – so we will never know!

And a little extra: le Morceau de lecture (without opus number)… Fauré, who was a teacher of composition at the Paris Conservatory from 1896, later becoming the director, wrote this delicate, dreamy little piece on July 24, 1903, as a sight-reading test for the violin class entrance exam.

Among the performers at the concerts dedicated to Fauré at the Université des Annales mentioned above was Georges Enescu, who performed Fauré’s first violin and piano sonata with the composer at the piano. Born in 1881 in Romanian Moldavia, Enescu showed extraordinary all-round gifts for music, becoming one of the most important figures of his time as a conductor, pianist, violinist, and composer. In October 1888, at the age of seven, he was admitted (as the youngest-ever student) to the Vienna Conservatory to study piano, violin and composition. After seven years there he moved to Paris to continue his studies; the young boy took composition lessons with Fauré, with whom he formed a strong bond, later dedicating his second piano quartet to the older master.

Ensecu’s second violin sonata was first conceived around the time that the teenage boy arrived in Paris. As he told the journalist Bernard Gavoty in 1951: “At the age of fourteen, while I was walking alone in Prince Maurouzi’s garden, a theme came to my mind. I kept it within me for three years; then, at the age of seventeen, I wrote my Second Violin Sonata in the space of a fortnight.’

The Sonata No. 2, op.6 (1899) was dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, who premiered it with Enescu on the piano. Upon first hearing this work, I immediately felt the influence of Fauré, through the broad melodic lines, the unusual and subtle harmonic changes, the delicacy of the writing… I was captivated by the mystery of the very beginning of the piece, a long sinuous phrase enunciated in unison by the two instruments. I would later realise that this theme is actually the thread linking all three movements of the sonata, reappearing transformed in multiple ways…

The atmosphere of the first movement is very intriguing, hovering between agitation, questioning, passion, and unease. The music is dense and troubled, ending in a gradually diminishing lament, recalling the first motives. With a sense that the story is continuing, the second movement starts with a melody akin to an old Doïna – an improvised Romanian folk lament. ‘This music is above all that of dreams,’ Enescu told Gavoty, ‘because it stubbornly returns to the minor, which is the very colour of nostalgic reverie’. In the joyful finale, Enescu plays with a festive and mischievous folk style tune with references to the two previous movements. The work concludes with the opening of the whole sonata, the same theme again heard in unison – but in major! The unity of form in this work is miraculous; it’s incredible to think that Enescu was only 17 years old at that time.

A very different master, and Fauré’s main teacher, was Camille Saint-Saëns. Born in 1835 in Paris, Saint-Saëns remained one of Fauré’s closest friends for nearly sixty years. The two men were bound in an affectionate and trusting friendship – like father and son. Saint-Saëns’s gentle Berceuse, op.38 (1871), like Fauré’s, requires the use of a mute. Dedicated to Paul Viardot, son of the famous singer Pauline Viardot (and brother of Fauré’s one-time fiancée), it is insouciant, innocent and charming, with a brief allusion to the bells of the nursery rhyme ‘Frère Jacques’.

Fauré’s Sonata No. 2, op.108, is dedicated to Elisabeth, Queen of the Belgium, a keen amateur violinist, who at one point played second violin in a performance of Fauré’s 1st piano quintet. Premiered by Lucien Capet and Alfred Cortot in November 1917 at the SNM, it is a work that has never attained the popularity of Fauré’s first sonata – unfairly, in my opinion. Fauré, 71 years old at the time of its composition, was suffering from acute deafness. The later works develop a language of their own, outwardly more complex, perhaps, but actually suffused with a new simplicity, much influenced by the early church music that Fauré had loved since his youth. Begun in August-September 1916 in Evian, the sonata was completed in Paris in the winter of the same year. Despite the horrors around him, and the personal stresses – Fauré’s son Philippe had been sent to the Front – this sonata is full of light. I feel that there is such passion in his music and such goodness, that when I listen to it or play it, I feel so uplifted!

In the sonata’s first movement, the agitated opening theme is countered by a second melody of wondrous delicacy which holds an important place in the whole work; this melody evolves and becomes a true liberation of expression and culmination nearing the end of movements one and three. It completely reflects the passion found in Fauré’s music, full of love and ecstasy! The second movement is purity and gentleness; for me, it is an escape from the outside world, a long inner reflection that goes from questioning to an obvious conclusion that everything will end well. A theme “with grace” then welcomes us for a cheerful, warm and animated third movement. As in Enescu’s sonata, there is a sense of a closing circle; the music regains the expressive expansion of the first movement with its opening theme, transformed by the exhilarating flowing accompaniment and, in its momentum, similarly brings forth our liberating second theme one last time. This sweeps the sonata to a magnificent conclusion – joy and celebration triumph!

Irène Duval ©2024