It is well worth rediscovering Gabriel Fauré’s orchestral works and concertante pieces. And here, the Urtext editions from Bärenreiter’s Complete Edition can help.
Fauré’s first biographer Hugues Imbert emphasized in 1888 the composer’s “pronounced inclinations towards true symphonic music”. From a present-day perspective this assessment seems rather odd, but in the 1870s and 1880s in particular, a series of ambitious orchestral works were created. Two volumes have just been published as part of the Œuvres complètes de Gabriel Fauré: Volume 2 in the Orchestral Works series contains the remaining symphonic works. Volume 3 contains the (largely well-known) concertante works. With these publications, together with Volume 1 published in 2013, Fauré’s orchestral works are available complete in critical editions.
Shylock, op. 57. Orchestral Suite
Fauré himself conducted the first performance of his incidental music to Shylock, Edmond Haraucourt’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on 17 December 1889 at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, Paris. In contrast to Caligula, composed just a year earlier, it represents a significant advance on his approach: the music is more closely woven into the drama and more prominent in the production. In addition to strings, the score from the Théâtre de l’Odéon requires only single woodwind (except for two clarinets), one horn, one trumpet and a harp; many sections reduce this even further. In contrast, the orchestral suite specifies double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, harps and a triangle. A comparison of the two scores shows that Fauré did not simply re-score his music, but made many careful revisions as well as introducing new passages. The Suite op. 57 was first performed at a concert of the Société nationale de musique on 17 May 1890, conducted by Gabriel Marie. Shylock contains some of Fauré’s most imaginative and colourful orchestration: the Nocturne is beautifully conceived, with its divisi muted strings, and the colours in the final movement perhaps owe something to Fauré’s experience in composing the last movement of his Symphony op. 40 (1884–1885).
Chanson – Entracte – Madrigal – Épithalame – Nocturne - Final
Scoring: Tenor solo, 126.96.36.199. – 188.8.131.52. – Timb., Trgl, 2 Hrfe – Str
BA 7906, Performance material on hire
Pelléas et Mélisande, op. 80. Orchestral suite
Fauré’s next important commission for orchestra was 1898 the incidental music to Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande, and the orchestral suite drawn from it may be considered his masterpiece in the field of orchestral music. The work took just one month, although constraints of time obliged him to delegate the task of orchestrating the score to his pupil Charles Kœchlin. Nine performances took place at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London beginning on 21 June 1898, the composer himself conducting the première. Fauré then set about compiling an orchestral suite, choosing three substantial movements: the Prélude, the second entr’acte, which became the Fileuse, and the fourth entr’acte, which became the Molto adagio (Mort de Mélisande). Orchestration was expanded, with a symphonic string section complemented by double woodwind (one oboe and one bassoon added), four horns instead of two, the original two trumpets and timpani unchanged but an extra harp specified. These additions occasioned many alterations to balance and voicings.
The Suite op. 80 was first performed on 3 February 1901 by Camille Chevillard and the orchestra of the Concerts Lamoureux. Not only in France, but further afield, it enjoyed considerable success in its three movements version, and there is evidence that the same is true of the Sicilienne in the years before its incorporation into the suite. The piece owes its existence to a commission for incidental music to the play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme by Molière. Although performed in four movements since December 1912, it was only in 1920 that Fauré formally requested Edgard Hamelle to incorporate the Sicilienne into the score of op. 80.
Prélude - Fileuse – Sicilienne - Molto adagio (Mort de Mélisande)
Scoring: 184.108.40.206. – 220.127.116.11. – Timb., 2 Hfe – Str.
BA 7995, Performance material on sale
Prélude from Pénélope (concert version)
The idea of writing for the operatic stage never quite left Fauré, and his correspondence is peppered with allusions to opera projects, collaborations with librettists and negotiations with producers. The idea of Pénélope was proposed to him by the singer Lucienne Bréval in Monte Carlo in February 1907.
Mme Bréval offered to put him in touch with a young friend of hers called René Fauchois, a playwright who had just written for her a play based on Homer’s Odyssey. Fauré accepted the offer with enthusiasm, but because of his duties as Director of the Paris Conservatoire, the vast majority of the opera was composed during Fauré’s summer holidays. The opera’s first performances were thus only in March 1913 at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, with Léon Jéhin conducting. The Paris première took place in May of that year, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. It was exceptionally well received, hailed as a masterpiece in many reviews, but the theatre was in severe financial difficulties, going bankrupt soon after the last performance on 28 October. Sets were sold off, and subsequent performances of Pénélope were interrupted by the First World War. However, the work was revived at the Opéra-Comique in January 1919, and there were successful performances in Belgium and throughout France between the wars, but the opera has never quite achieved the status in France of being part of the grand répertoire.
Fauré took great care over orchestral colour, mindful that he was establishing the atmosphere for the whole opera. The Prélude is far from a pot-pourri of themes assembled from the finished work: indeed Fauré envisaged it as integral to the opera, similar in approach to Wagner’s Musikdrama in this respect. In performance, the Prélude runs seamlessly into the first Act, and it was necessary to adapt its closing bars when Fauré came to prepare a concert version. He did this by adding a short passage based on Penelope’s love theme, and the Prélude ends in an atmosphere of calm, with an echo of the miraculous closing bars of Act I, played as Penelope invites the disguised Ulysses to take shelter.
Scoring: 2.2.Cor angl.2.Clar bs.2. – 18.104.22.168. – Timb., Cymb., Gr. caisse, Hfe – Str.
BA 7907, Performance material on hire
Masques et Bergamasques, op. 112. Orchestral suite
Fauré’s final orchestral offering, published in 1920 by Durand, was the suite from his musical divertissement Masques et Bergamasques of 1919. The commission for this work was due in no small measure to Camille Saint-Saëns, Fauré’s lifelong champion, who evidently suggested the idea of a small scenario based on the theme of the Fête galante to Prince Albert I of Monaco. As requested by Raoul Gunsbourg, René Fauchois constructed a loose plot to link some of Fauré’s older pieces; Fauré added a short Ouverture, a Menuet and a Gavotte. The complete divertissement had been performed in Monte Carlo (1919) and at the Opéra-Comique in Paris (March 1920).
The incidental music contains eight numbers, whereas the four-movement orchestral suite op.112 brings together all those items which had not yet been published, in revised versions. One of the most fascinating aspects of Masques et Bergamasques is the way in which Fauré used and altered much earlier work, the older, wiser man correcting and improving his own youthful conceptions. The Ouverture goes back to an Intermède symphonique, from 30 March 1869 (an earlier version for piano duet even dates from 1864). The origins of the Minuet are unclear, though it is conceivable, given its style and formal conventionality, that it too is based on much earlier material. The Gavotte is developed from a Gavotte for piano written in 1869 and its orchestration in the Symphony in F op. 20, whereas the Pastorale, placed at the end, is Fauré’s very last composition for orchestra, dated 1919.
Ouverture – Menuet – Gavotte – Pastorale
Scoring: 22.214.171.124. - 126.96.36.199. - Timb. – Str.
BA 7894, Performance material on sale
Berceuse op. 16 for violin and orchestra
The risk for Hamelle in publishing the Berceuse was extremely small in 1879: short pieces like this for violin (or cello) and piano were very fashionable around 1880, and as well as this, Fauré’s Berceuse distinguished itself from the run-of-the-mill pieces of the day because of the inimitable charm of its melody. In structure and style, it is similar to Frédéric Chopin’s Berceuse op. 57 (1843/44), the inspiration, as it were, for all subsequent works with this title: a simple, dreamy melody in a rocking 6/8 meter over an ostinato bass. And the piece really did cause a stir, not only in Paris; together with the Élégie for cello, in the two following decades up to the turn of the century it became almost a calling card for the composer Fauré. It was orchestrated (at first still with horn) by the beginning of 1880, but was later revised and refined before being published in 1899.
Scoring: Violin solo – 1,0,1,0 – 0,0,0,0 – str
BA 7909, performance material available on hire
Ballade op. 19 for piano and orchestra
The original version of the Ballade for piano was written in late summer/ autumn 1879. In formal terms, here Fauré follows Liszt’s concept of several movements within one movement, but transfers it stylistically into the realm of character pieces. As much as the basic form recalls Chopin’s Nocturnes (a fast central part is framed by slow sections), the form is original with three motivically-related themes and an interlude.
The orchestral version of 1881 can barely hide its origins as a pure piano work. The original part is only transferred fully into the orchestra in a few places; small interjections and colourings in the orchestra predominate, but at key passages there are also concertante dialogues with the wind instruments. The Ballade only came to be performed frequently with leading orchestras and soloists after its publication in 1902 and a concert in 1903 with Isidor Philipp (who also made an arrangement for two pianos in 1908), and through Marguerite Long’s championing of the work. It ultimately blossomed into Fauré’s most imposing orchestral piece par excellence.
Scoring: piano – 2,2,2,2 – 2,0,0,0 – str
BA 7910, performance material available on hire
Élégie op. 24 for cello and orchestra
The Élégie was probably first performed in its original version for cello and piano to a large circle of musicians as part of Saint-Saëns’ famous Monday soirees in June 1880; the first public performance with the dedicatee Jules Lœb as soloist took place in the 136th Concert of the Société nationale de musique on 15 December 1883. Fauré had originally envisaged two trumpets in his orchestration. After the publication of the orchestral version in 1901, the Élégie, alongside the Ballade, acquired cult status amongst Fauré’s concertante works and was frequently performed both in France and abroad.
Scoring: Violoncello solo – 2,2,2,2 – 4,0,0,0 – str
BA 7908, performance material available on hire
(from [t]akte 1/2017)
(translation: Elizabeth Robinson)