Telemann: Gulliver Suite in D major for Two Violins from Der Getreue Musik-Meister
Debussy: Petite Suite for Piano, Four Hands
Franck: Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano
Fauré: Piano Quartet no. 1 in c minor, op. 15 (1876–1879)
A TASTE OF FRANCE
NOTES ON THE PROGRAM
GEORG PHILLIPP TELEMANN
(Born March 14, 1681, Magdeburg; died June 25, 1767, Hamburg)
Gulliver Suite in D major for Two Violins from Der Getreue Musik-Meister
Approximate duration: 7 minutes
The Gulliver Suite is based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the popular satirical novel in which Captain Lemuel Gulliver finds himself shipwrecked on four separate occasions in lands inhabited by strange and undiscovered species.
I., II. Following a lively Intrada, or introductory movement, Telemann writes a Chaccone, a Baroque dance normally written in a steady triple tempo. This Chaconne, however, is danced by the Lilliputians, a tiny race of people, and is appropriately played at breakneck speed. The dance is over in less than thirty seconds.
Next, the gargantuan Brobdingnagians dance a Gigue. Here, Telemann does the opposite: he takes a normally quick tempo and slows it down considerably to accommodate these behemoths.
The following movement, subtitled “Daydreams of the Laputians and Their Attendant Flappers” follows Captain Gulliver to the flying island of Laputa. The Captain’s own account of the scene provides as good an explanation of the music as any that can be given:
“At my alighting I was surrounded by a Crowd of People, but those who stood nearest seemed to be of better Quality. They beheld me with all the Marks and Circumstances of Wonder; neither indeed was I much in their Debt; having never till then seen a Race of Mortals so singular in their Shapes, Habits, and Counte- nances. Their Heads were all reclined to the Right, or the Left; one of their Eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the Zenith. Their outward Garments were adorned with the Figures of Suns, Moons, and Stars, interwoven with those of Fiddles, Flutes, Harps, Trumpets, Guittars, Harpsichords, and many more Instruments of Musick, unknown to us in Europe. I observed here and there many in the Habit of Servants, with a brown bladder fastened like a Flail to the End of a short Stick, which they carried in their Hands. In each Bladder was a small Quantity of dried Pease, or little Pebbles, (as I was afterwards informed). With these Bladders they now and then flapped the Mouths and Ears of those who stood near them, of which Practice I could not then conceive the Meaning. It seems, the Minds of these People are so taken up with intense Speculations, that they neither can speak, or attend to the Discourses of others, without being roused by some external Taction upon the Organs of Speech and Hearing; for which Reason, those Persons who are able to afford it, always keep a Flapper… in their Family, as one of their Domesticks; nor ever walk abroad or make Visits without him. And the Business of this Officer is, when two or more Persons are in Company, gently to strike with his Bladder the Mouth of him who is to speak, and the Right Ear of him or them to whom the Speaker addresseth himself. The Flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his Master in his Walks, and upon Occasion to give him a soft Flap on his Eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in Cogitation, that he is in manifest Danger of falling down every Precipice, and bouncing his Head against every Post; and in the Streets, of jostling others, or being jostled himself into the Kennel.”
Telemann illustrates the relationship between each flapper and his master by alternating slow, pensive musical thoughts in the lower register of the violins with quick, frantic, and high-pitched figurations.
On Captain Gulliver’s fourth and last adventure, he encounters a noble breed of horses called Houyhnhnms, who boast a moral and intellectual superiority to all other races. In spite of their majesty, however, the Houyhnhnms share their land with the Yahoos; a dirty, untamed, and uncivilized people. Telemann’s music juxtaposes the Houyhnhnms’ stateliness with the wildness of the Yahoos.
– Patrick Castillo
(Born August 22, 1862, St Germain-en-Laye, France; died March 25, 1918, Paris)
Petite Suite for Piano, Four Hands
Approximate duration: 14 minutes
At the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, Manuel-Achille Debussy joined the Commune National Guard, a short-lived socialistic government in Paris that sought to expand its governance to all of France. Following the Commune’s defeat by the French national army, Manuel-Achille was sentenced to four years imprisonment, where he met composer Charles de Sivry. Manuel-Achille’s son Claude, a nine-year-old pianist preparing for entry to the Paris Conservatoire, was taken into the custody of the pianist Antoinette Mauté on de Sivry’s recommendation. Having received no formal education aside from his musical training, Claude Debussy encountered and was spellbound by the written work of Mauté’s son-in-law, the Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine. These poems soon became the inspiration for nearly one-third of the composer’s art songs, including the song settings in his Petite Suite.
Debussy’s work from the late 1880’s sought to cultivate a uniquely French musical language apart from the predominant Germanic tradition (he denounced the influence of Richard Wagner, and at one time planned to publish an article on “The Futility of Wagnerism”). The Petite Suite is no exception – the narrative of the first two movements, En bâteau and Cortège, are derived from Verlaine’s racy 1869 volume Fêtes galantes. The Menuet and Ballet, though lacking an explicit storyline, continue the dialect established in the opening two movements.
The text of Fêtes galantes depicts the banter between two lovers, often employing comedically manipulative measures to take advantage of each other. The set’s sensuality and clashing emotions of sadness and joy attracted not only Debussy, but also his colleague Gabriel Fauré, who used the text in his own Cinq mélodies de Venise.
En bâteau (“Sailing”) opens the work with a feathery, fanciful temperament. Debussy depicts the image of peaceful waves with rolling arpeggios over a dainty melody. The movement ends quietly, as Verlaine’s poem darkly states:
Meanwhile the moon sheds its glow
On the skiff’s brief course below,
Gaily riding the dream-like flow.
The second movement, Cortège (“Retinue”), sets forth a cruder story of a lady manipulated by her pageboy to retire to the bedroom. The music takes on the characteristics of an animated parade, and builds to a forceful conclusion.
Yet she appears now unaware
As up the flight of stairs she goes
How insolent approval shows
In her familiar creatures’ stare.
The Menuet and Ballet provide equal balance to the non-contextual portion of the work. The main theme of the Menuet conveys a noble yet frolicsome character. The Ballet, though not a traditional dance movement, concludes the suite on a jubilant note.
(Born December 10, 1822, Liége, Belgium; Died November 10, 1890, Paris)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major
Dedicatee: Eugène Ysayë
Public Premiere: December 31, 1887, Paris
Approximate duration: 27 minutes
Born in Liége, Belgium in 1822, César Franck gazed as the musical world transitioned from the legacy of Beethoven and Hummel (the former died when Franck was age five, just beginning his musical training at the piano) to Franz Liszt, Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy, and others. As a young prodigy himself, Franck’s overbearing father moved the young pianist and composer to Paris in 1835 for a public debut, which landed on deaf ears. Franck studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1837–1841, when Franck’s father withdrew him to establish a professional career. Following underwhelming debuts in Belgium as a pianist, and an unfavorable revealing of his first major composition, an opera entitled Ruth, Franck declared independence from his father and began teaching piano in 1848.
It wasn’t until 1870, after being appointed Professor of Organ at the Conservatoire that Franck’s compositional career burgeoned. He began a decade-long process of composing a masterwork entitled Les Béatitudes (1879), and revised his earlier version of Ruth (1871). In 1879, Franck began work on his exhilarating Piano Quintet, famously dedicated to his student, August Holmes. His role at the Conservatoire began to take root, attracting accomplished students such as Vincent d’Indy, and giving Franck the platform to transiently collaborate with many of France’s most beloved composers.
The Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major was composed to honor the wedding of the accomplished violinist Eugène Ysayë, whom Franck knew well, and his bride-to-be Louise Bourdeau. It is presumed that he began writing the sonata twenty-eight years early to have been dedicated to Cosima Liszt (daughter of Franz Liszt and later wife to Richard Wagner). Franck gifted the manuscript to Ysayë on the morning of his wedding, September 26, 1886, and after a hurried breakfast rehearsal with pianist Marie-Léontine Bordes-Pène, it debuted for an audience of wedding guests later that same day.
Ysayë later premiered the work publically in Brussels on December 31, 1887. The performance was long, and provisions had not been made to have candlelight in the theater. As the gloomy light of the sun disappeared, Ysayë remarkably performed the remainder of the sonata from memory.
Frank intended the first movement to be slow and lyrical, but upon revision Ysayë proposed it be an Allegretto, to which Franck affixed “ben moderato.” It trades dominance between the violin and piano, perhaps suggesting two equal marital partners, given the context in which it was written. The rampant second movement Allegro opens with a violent toccata, which reappears throughout providing momentary instability to the melody. Drawing on thematic material from the Allegro, the third movement begins with an exposed violin recitative, growing into a thorny and flowing fantasia. The delightful Allegretto poco mosso resolves the earlier conflict between violin and piano, with one respectfully following the other’s melody. As the movement develops, the two parts harmoniously dance around the other, giving way to a sudden and vibrant ending.
(Born May 12, 1845, Pamiers, Ariège; died November 4, 1924, Paris)
Piano Quartet no. 1 in c minor, op. 15
Approximate duration: 33 minutes
Gabriel Fauré can in many ways be regarded as a musical forebear to the likes of Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, and even Dutilleux, just as Beethoven spawned the German Romantic musical tradition. He is one of the only French composers of note who did not study at the Paris Conservatoire. In his childhood, he displayed a natural musical ability and was sent to the École Niedermeyer in Paris, which was known for its high level of musical instruction. There, he studied with Camille Saint-Saëns, whom Fauré would regard as his mentor for the rest of his life. By the time he graduated, Fauré was already composing and even seeing his work published. He was also active for some time as a church organist, which was a necessary means to supplement his income. As was the case with many French composers around the turn of the 20th century, Fauré developed a musical language that consciously contrasted that of the German Romantics. In fact, Fauré might be said to have honed the most unadulterated French sound, as it is he who steered clearest of Wagner’s inﬂuence among his contemporaries . The pianist Marguerite Long, who was a close friend and great interpreter of Fauré, once wrote: “In the years 1877 to 1879 Fauré still had not escaped from the Wagnerian inﬂuences he had come under on his visits to Bayreuth with…Saint-Saëns. But however overwhelmed he may have been, his music still retained its individuality. His inspiration, devoid of grandiose gestures, showed itself through charm, modesty, restraint, and freshness of expression.”
In 1896, Fauré was appointed Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire; from 1905 to 1920, he would serve as the Conservatoire’s director. In his capacity at the Conservatoire, he had many prominent students, including Florent Schmitt, Georges Enescu, and Maurice Ravel. Another of his protégés was Nadia Boulanger, who would in turn become an iconoclastic composition teacher herself and whose own students included many major 20th-century American composers, such as Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Irving Fine. A close listening to these composers, in addition to the likes of Ravel and Enescu, will reveal just how tremendous a sphere of musical inﬂuence Fauré indeed possessed. His own music, which truly bears an immediately recognizable sound, is characterized by many qualities which we now think of as hallmarks of both French and American music: lush, sensual harmonies, freely ﬂowing and deeply felt melodies, and an expressive and communicative immediacy.
In contrast to many of his contemporaries, who were determined to forge a new path in musical history, Fauré preferred to develop his own distinct musical language from within traditional classical frameworks. He found his niche as a composer in writing music for smaller forces; namely songs, chamber pieces, and works for solo piano. In fact, one of his best-loved works, the large-scale Requiem for chorus and orchestra, was originally (and, many feel, more successfully) scored for a small chamber orchestra with organ. The author Harold Schonberg has said of Fauré’s work, “It is music that contains the essence of everything Gallic—form, grace, wit, logic, individuality, urbanity…those who love the music of Fauré love it as a private, cherished gift from one of the gentlest and most subtle of composers.”
Fauré’s c minor Piano Quartet of 1879 (revised in 1883) is the ﬁrst of his two piano quartets and the earliest of his six major chamber works. In addition to this and a second piano quartet, the latter completed in 1886, Fauré also composed two piano quintets, a piano trio, and a string quartet, which was composed in the ﬁnal year of his life and which would also prove to be his last composition. But of these six works, the ﬁrst piano quartet remains the most beloved by musicians and music lovers today.
The quartet was completed in the wake of—and perhaps as a cathartic response to—Fauré’s broken engagement to Marianne Viardot. The Viardots were a prominent family in French cultural circles, and Marianne’s mother, Pauline, was a noted composer herself. Fauré was quite dismayed by the break up, though he later acknowledged, “Perhaps the break was not a bad thing for me. The Viardot family might have deﬂected me from my proper path.” It is not entirely clear what Fauré meant by this, though some biographers believe that Pauline Viardot pressured Fauré to compose opera, when he was truly in his element composing for smaller voices: songs for voice and piano or intimate chamber works such as this piano quartet.
The quartet begins with a vigorous theme, stated in unison by the strings and underscored by syncopated chords in the piano. From this musical idea, Fauré extrapolates a sweeping and impassioned melody. The theme next appears in the violin, colored by expressive countermelodies in the lower strings. The viola introduces the second theme, taken up subsequently by each of the other voices. Fauré develops these two musical ideas extensively throughout the rest of the movement. In the development section, Fauré juxta- poses the two themes in a romantic duet, like two lovers singing to each other.
The second movement scherzo begins lightly and delicately. Pizzicato chords in the strings provide a hushed accompaniment to the piano’s playful melody. When the strings take over the melody, the meter changes from 6/8 to 2/4. But the piano almost immediately resumes control, and the meter shifts back into 6/8. This rhythmic interplay continues throughout the piece. At times, Fauré even writes different meters for different instruments. The rhythmic vitality of the scherzo is present in the trio section, as well.
If there is any truth to the story that Fauré composed this quartet in response to his lost love, it is most evident in the deeply felt slow movement. The stoic chords in the piano right away present a stark contrast to the jubilant scherzo. A weeping, yearning melody is played, ﬁrst by the cello, then joined by the viola, and ﬁnally the melody is played in unison by all three strings. The movement is organized into ternary form, comprised of an A section, a B section, and then a repeat of the A section. The B section begins with a much sunnier melody, as if looking nostalgically upon happier times.
Like the ﬁrst movement, the ﬁnale is organized into sonata form. The opening melody also takes its dotted rhythm from the ﬁrst movement’s primary theme. Almost as if reacting to the pathos of the slow movement, the ﬁnale begins with quiet but intense agitation. A still more agitated extension of this melody serves as a transition to the more melliﬂuous second theme, introduced by the viola. The development section primarily explores the lyrical second theme, and the remainder of the ﬁnale features Fauré at his ﬁnest: his handling of the musical ideas set forth in the exposition makes for a brilliant and ravishing ﬁnish.
– Patrick Castillo
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