“Le Secret”: Fauré’s Mystical Art Song

Throughout Gabriel Fauré’s 1879 song, Le Secret, serene, hypnotically repeating chords in the piano toll like an immortal bell. We drift into a detached dreamscape which seems to anticipate the final, time-altering movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.  The song’s text is a setting of Paul-Armand Silvestre’s poem, Mystère, from the collection, Le pays des roses (1882). Its three stanzas blur the lines between dawn, day, and night. A sense of transcendental mystery is …

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Fauré and Debussy: Two Charming Settings of Paul Verlaine’s “Mandoline”

Gabriel Fauré’s 1891 song cycle, Cinq mélodies “de Venise”, Op. 58, begins with music which is as charming and infectious as it is brief. Mandoline is a setting of a poem from the 1869 collection, Fêtes galantes, by the French Symbolist, Paul Verlaine. The poem was inspired by a series of paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau depicting (as Robert Gartside writes) “18th century nobility in their fêtes champètres, those elegant picnics redolent of a mixture of gaiety, …

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Fauré’s Second Piano Quintet: “Youth and Serenity”

The Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 115 was one of Gabriel Fauré’s final pieces. Completed in 1921, three years before the composer’s death, it retreats into the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. It’s filled with the subtle and inexplicable sense of mystery and revelation we hear often in the late works of the most canonical composers. Dedicated to Paul Dukas, it was written in secret, seemingly for posterity, at a …

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Fauré’s “Ballade in F-Sharp Major”: Bending Harmony

Gabriel Fauré’s Ballade in F-sharp Major, Op. 19 is filled with harmony-bending moments. For example, listen to the opening of the piece. The first phrase follows a graceful and beautifully consonant arc. Then at the 0:26 mark, we get a sudden, wrenching dissonance. Floating over a serene, hypnotically repeating rhythmic line, this music doesn’t seem far off from Erik Satie’s dreamy Gymnopédies, published ten years later in 1888, or the second movement of …

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Remembering Sanford Sylvan

The renowned American baritone Sanford Sylvan passed away suddenly last week. He was 65. Sylvan’s career on the opera stage included premieres of works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies and Christopher Rouse. He was the first to perform the role of Chou En-lai in Nixon in China (1987) and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). In addition, he premiered Adams’ haunting setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, The Wound Dresser. He was an …

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Eight Composers on Piano Roll

When you consider the piano roll, what kind of music comes to mind? Probably Scott Joplin’s elegant rags, or perhaps the exuberant swing of Tin Pan Alley. Interestingly, a number of less likely composers, from Mahler and Debussy to the 80-year-old Camille Saint-Saëns, were recorded on piano rolls in the early years of the twentieth century. In some cases, these are the only historical record of the composer’s playing. Additionally, they offer …

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Live Concert Recording: Gingold Plays Fauré

Over the weekend, I ran across this amazing 1966 live concert recording of Josef Gingold performing Gabriel Fauré’s First Violin Sonata. The recording’s sound quality isn’t the best. But the essence of Gingold’s soulful, sweetly vibrant tone and smooth, golden phrasing cuts through the tape hiss and audience noise. In a recent interview Joshua Bell described the tone that poured out of Gingold’s Strad as, “the most beautiful sound of any violinist, to …

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