“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’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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Autumnal Fauré

Autumn is the subject of one of Gabriel Fauré’s most celebrated art songs. The season becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness and inevitability of time, the nature of memory, and ultimate mortality. A 33-year-old Fauré wrote Automne, Op. 18, No. 3 in 1878, the year the Eiffel Tower was under construction for the Great Paris Exhibition. The text is by the poet Paul-Armand Silvestre: Autumn, time of misty skies and heart-breaking horizons, of rapid sunsets and pale dawns, I …

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The Ébène Quartet Plays Fauré

Listen to the opening of Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 89 and you might get the sensation of floating. It’s the musical equivalent of an out-of-body experience. This is a piece which seems to start somewhere up in the clouds, with sparkling, lighter-than-air piano arpeggios ushering in an expansive but intimate melody. You might be reminded of the childlike innocence of the In Paradisum from Fauré’s Requiem, which was written around the same time …

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Dona Nobis Pacem: Six Musical Invocations of Peace

The phrase Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us Peace”) comes from the Agnus Dei section of the Roman Catholic mass. It’s a simple, yet eternally powerful, invocation which has come to life in countless musical settings, from the serene simplicity of the traditional canon to the melodic perfection of Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major. At the end of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, it emerges as a triumphant celebration. In the twentieth century, it becomes a …

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Trio Wanderer’s Fauré Recording

Recently, I’ve been listening to Trio Wanderer’s exceptional 2010 recording of Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartets. The members of the all-French trio (violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, cellist Raphaël Pidoux and pianist Vincent Coq) first performed together as students at the Conservatoire de Paris in the early 1990s. Their background includes studies with the Amadeus Quartet and with Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio. Here, they’re joined by violist Antoine Tamestit. The buoyant, suave sense of French style, a wide array of rich …

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