Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, Ensemble Vocal Alix Bourbon
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Faure - Orchestral Works and Incidental Music
Gabriel Faure's chorus Les Djinns (Op.12), was given its first performance on 22 April 1876 by the choirs of the Societe Nationale de Musique, a society founded some five years earlier by Camille Saint-Saens, Faure and several other French musicians for the promotion of contemporary French music. It is generally assumed that this work was composed in 1875 but some commentators think that it could have been written before that. The words that Faure set come from Les Orientates, a collection of poems by Victor Hugo which had first appeared in 1829. Norman Suckling, one of Faure's biographers, has described the poem Les Djinns as lozenge shaped for, while it begins and ends with lines of two syllables, by the middle it has gradually built up to lines of ten. The djinns (or jinns) were an order of spirits somewhat lower than the angels which were wont to transform themselves into human or animal forms.
Like Les Djinns, the Berceuse (Op.16) was originally conceived with a piano accompaniment. Both of these pieces, however, were soon orchestrated and it is in that form that they are heard on this recording. The Berceuse was composed in about 1879 and received its first performance on 24 April 1880 with the twenty-five-year-old Belgian violinist, Ovide Musin, as soloist and Edouard Colonne as conductor.
Almost exactly one year later, on 23 April 1881, Colonne was again the conductor when the Societe Nationale presented the first performance of Faure's Ballade for piano and orchestra (Op.19). The composer himself was the soloist. Initially Faure had conceived his Ballade as a work for piano alone and it was that version he showed to Franz Liszt in 1877. After playing a few pages Liszt gave up, claiming it to be too difficult!
Another of Faure's works to have its first performance in April was the Elegie for cello and orchestra (Op.24). Faure had composed this piece back in 1880 for cello and piano, possibly with the intention of using it as the slow movement of a sonata and, in this form, it had been performed by its dedicatee, Jules Loeb, on 15 December 1883. Some twelve years later, however, Faure orchestrated the accompaniment at the suggestion of Edouard Colonne who, with Pablo Casals as soloist, was to be the conductor at the Societe Nationale concert on 26 April 1901 when this new version received its first performance.
It was in 1888 that Faure was asked to compose some incidental music for a new production of Caligula by Alexandre Dumas pere. Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, had written his play about the tyrannical Roman emperor some fifty years earlier but, at that time, it had not proved terribly successful. For the revival Faure provided a march, a dance, fanfares and choruses and these were heard for the first time at the Theatre de I'Odeon in Paris on 8 November 1888 played by a band consisting of six wind and brass instruments and a harmonium. Before long Faure had re-orchestrated the music and this concert version was given on 6 April 1889 at a Societe Nationale concert conducted by Gabriel Marie.
Later that year, on 17 December, more new incidental music by Faure was heard at the Odeon. This time it was for a play by Edmond Haraucourt called Shylock which was very loosely based on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Again Faure soon created a concert work from the music for this production and the resulting symphonic suite consists of four purely orchestral items and two songs for tenor and orchestra. In this form the Societe Nationale gave it its first performance on 17 May 1890, again under the baton of Gabriel Marie.
After writing the music to accompany what was essentially an English play performed in Paris, Faure went on to compose, in 1898, a score for a French play which was to be performed in London. It was the British actress Mrs Patrick Campbell who had commissioned a translation of Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelleas et Melisande for a production at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Piccadilly, and she who had asked Claude Debussy to provide the incidental music. When Debussy declined her offer - he was busy at that time working on his own operatic version of Maeterlinck's play - she turned to Faure, who was happy to produce the required music. Although time was short, Faure, with the help of his pupil Charles Koechlin, had composed and orchestrated the music well before the play's first performance on 21 June 1898. 'Mrs Pat' was delighted with the result and, in her autobiography, My Life and Some Letters, described how Faure 'had grasped with most tender inspiration the poetic purity that pervades and envelopes M. Maeterlinck's lovely play'.
In 1907 Faure began work on what was to be his only full-length work for the opera house.
Its libretto was by Rene Fauchois and it dealt with the return of Ulysses, the king of Greek mythology, to his faithful wife Penelope. Work on this opera occupied Faure for several years and it was not until 4 March 1913 that it received its first performance in Monte Carlo with Lucienne Breval in the title role and Leon Jehin conducting.
Towards the end of the First World War Faure composed his Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (Op.111). It was intended for the pianist Alfred Cortot and it was he who gave it its first performance at the Salle Gaveau in Paris on 14 May 1919. It seems, however, that Cortot gave no more performances of this work and this both saddened and annoyed Faure.
It was also at the end of the war that Faure received a commission from the Prince of Monaco to create the music for a one-act divertissement, again to a text provided by Rene Fauchois. The resulting Masques et Bergamasques consists of eight numbers, four of which Faure borrowed from previously composed works. Thus, included along with the new music are the Madrigal (Op.35) for choir and orchestra which dates from 1883; Le plus doux chemin for tenor and orchestra (Op.87 No.1) which dates from 1904 and, like the Madrigal, has words by Armand Silvestre; Clair de lune (Op.46 No.2) which, with a text by Paul Verlaine, dates from 1887; and the famous Pavane (Op.50), also from 1887, which was composed for the Countess Elisabeth Greffuhle. The first performance of the Masques et Bergamasques took place in Monte Carlo on 10 April 1919, thus providing Faure with yet another April premiere.
- Peter Avis, 2001