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GABRIEL FAURÉ (1845-1924)


November 12, 2023: Angel Blue, soprano; Bryan Wagorn, piano

Fauré’s first work, “Le papillon et la fleur,” was a mélodie (song) composed in 1861 when he was a sixteen-year-old student at the École Niedermeyer. He continued to compose mélodies throughout his long life, penning his last set, L’horizon chimérique, in 1922. He progressed from writing primarily romances to working in a mature style—influenced by poet Paul Verlaine—beginning with the celebrated “Clair de lune,” and eventually focusing his attention on the song cycle and its many interconnections. Often considered the master of French song composers, Fauré left his mark on all who followed, including Debussy, Ravel, and Roussel.

Fauré loved texts that permitted him to create a mood or set a scene rather than those that restricted him to illustrative details and he altered texts of lesser poets when it suited his purpose. Verlaine’s poetry drew a new style from him, a more continuous flow and more use of modality, though he still concentrated on atmosphere rather than on each textual nuance, as Debussy did at roughly the same time. Fauré’s first Verlaine setting, “Clair de lune” (1887), is subtitled “minuet,” the composer’s response to the eighteenth-century images in the text of elegant statues, parks, and masqueraders.

Verlaine’s Mandoline, which describes eighteenth-century commedia dell’arte serenaders, was set by Fauré in 1891, having already attracted Debussy in 1882. Fauré permitted himself to repeat the opening verse to achieve a ternary form. His accompaniment figures suggest the plucked mandolin.

In 1884, submerged beneath Fauré’s musically serene exterior, there lurked a certain violence, which erupted in “Fleur jetée.” One of Fauré’s most successful Silvestre settings, it recalls Schubert’s “Erlkönig” in its savage repeated octaves and blustering scales. The voice part is no less dramatic as the rejected lover implores the wind to dry up her broken heart.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

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