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Composer of the Month #6
May 30th, 2020
Each month, we celebrate the anniversary of a composer by highlighting their work and history, as well as giving you nice arrangements of some of the artist’s most iconic pieces that you can download directly into your Newzik library! This time, let’s talk about the great Gabriel Fauré.
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A few words about Gabriel Fauré
Childhood and beginning
Gabriel Fauré is a French pianist, organist and composer. He was born on May 12,1845 in Pamiers (France), from his father Toussaint-Honoré Fauré (1810-1885), a teacher, and Marie-Antoinette-Hélène Lalène-Laprade (1809-1887), mother of a large family of 6 children. Gabriel, the youngest of the siblings, leaves their family home in Foix at the age of 9 in 1954 to join the École de musique classique et religieuse de Paris, also known as the École Niedermeyer.
He studied there for eleven years, where he met many well-known musicians, including piano teacher Camille Saint-Saëns, who introduced him to the music of great composers: Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin,Franz Liszt. He also met the director, Gustave Lefèvre, with whom he learned composition.
In this school he composed about twenty of his famous melodies and even tried his hand at religious music, including his famous Cantique de Jean Racine (1864 : listen), for mixed four-voice choir, strings and organ, at the age of only 19.
In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War in which he took part, Fauré was appointed titular organist in Paris at Saint-Honoré-d'Eylau and then at Saint-Sulpice until 1874. He completed his Sonata for violin and piano No. 1 op. 13 the following year, as well as his first Nocturne for piano (op. 33 No. 1), which seemed very daring for the time.
In 1878-1879, he went to Germany where he had the chance to meet Liszt and listen to the works of Richard Wagner. The composer married Marie Fremiet in 1883. Daughter of the sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet, Marie and Gabriel will have two sons together. Despite this, Fauré falls into depression. At this time he experiences a real lack of musical recognition, especially since his music earns him very little because his publisher, having all the rights, sells his scores for only 50 francs each.
“To me, art and music consist in elevating ourselves and distancing ourselves as far as possible from what exists.”
Luck finally comes to Fauré
In the 1890s, luck finally smiled on the composer. In 1892, he was appointed Inspector of Teaching for French conservatories and then professor of composition.
At the age of 51, he replaced Jules Massenet as professor of composition at the Conservatoire. Without knowing it at the time, he had the honour of teaching great names such as Maurice Ravel, Georges Enesco and Nadia Boulanger.
In 1905 he was appointed director of the Conservatory, despite his deafness which had appeared a few years earlier. Regarded as a discreet and modest man, he nevertheless managed with authority to renovate the prestigious institution.
“Will the gruesome tempest in which we find ourselves save us by giving us back our common sense, that is to say our ability to think clearly, our taste of sobriety and purity in form, our contempt of thick gesture?”
Between 1907 and 1913, Fauré began composing an opera: Pénélope. This project was not a great success and left him, in his own words, "flattened with fatigue". He ended his life composing mainly chamber music. A few days before his death, he finished his 4-string quartet, which some see as a decline due to his deafness and others as the brilliant culmination of a musical quest that owes nothing to the evolutions of his time.
He died of pneumonia on 4 November 1924 and a state funeral was held in his memory at the Madeleine church before being buried in the Passy cemetery in Paris.
And now, the music!
We selected some of our favorite pieces by Fauré and spent a little bit of time analyzing them. We also offer you free sheet music for all these works, so you can practice your instrument with Newzik!
Barcarolle No.1 Op.26
The « Barcarolles » are a series of thirteen pieces for piano written by Gabriel Fauré at different moments of his life, and count amongst his most famous piano pieces. The first work of the series was composed in 1880, and created by his teacher Camille Saint-Saëns two years later at the French National Society of Music.
It begins with a traditional Venetian style in 6/8, develops into a more elaborate form before introducing the second theme : a melodic line in the middle range, accompanied by delicate arpeggios in the treble and bass ranges. While this piece was written at the beginning of Fauré‘s career, one can already detect the subtle dissonances distilled in the general softness of the music, a strong mark of the composer’s nascent style.
Cantique de Jean Racine
The “Cantique de Jean Racine” is probably the most famous vocal piece composed by Gabriel Fauré. Written in 1865 while he was only 19, this piece is a classic SATB choral music work, intended to be accompanied by a piano or an organ, which earned Fauré the first prize of composition at the Niedermeyer School of Paris, where he was studying at the time.
After a long instrumental introduction, the four voices enter one after the other. An instrumental bridge follows, and the piece reaches its climax after a modulation to A flat major then B flat minor. It then comes back to its slow and solemn initial mood. The lyrics of this piece are from French poet and author Jean Racine, which he originally adapted from an old anthem dating back to the early the middle age: Consors parterni luminis, attributed to Aurelius Ambrosius (340-397), Archbishop of Milan.
Violin and piano sonata No.1 in A major, Op.13
The violin and piano sonata No.1 in A major, Op.13, is the first of the two such sonatas Fauré composed. Written from 1975 to 1976, Fauré created it himself in 1877 at the French National Society of Music with violinist Marie Tayau, a performance met with great enthusiasm by the audience. Dedicated to violinist Paul Viardot, brother of Fauré’s then fiancée Marianne Viardot, this original piece for violin is considered a highlight of the French chamber music of this period.
Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem is certainly the most famous piece he ever wrote, and is considered one of the most beautiful requiem of the XIXe century. It took him several years to finalize, from 1877 to 1891, even though a first unfinished version was created on January 16th, 1888, in La Madeleine, a famous Parisian church.
Fauré himself described the piece as something he wrote « purely for the pleasure of writing », which sets this work apart from other famous requiem it is sometimes compared to and in particular, the one by Johannes Brahms, which he composed after the death of his mother. While many commentators assumed it was also the case for Fauré, he himself denied and explained that part of the music had already been written in 1877, ten years before the passing of his mother.
After finishing the choral version of the piece in 1891, Fauré continued to work on this piece which evolved into a symphonic version in 1893 to which French arranger Roger Ducasse contributed according to various sources. This new version was presented to the public on July 12th, 1900 during the Exposition Universelle of 1900 and was then played across Europe. Naturally, the piece was also executed during Fauré’s funeral in La Madeleine on November 8th, 1924.
Fauré’s Requiem is considered a cornerstone of the XIXth century classical music: it was created in many countries, used during political events after World War II. Like any other masterpiece, it was almost met with criticism by several famous composers and musicians such as Pierre Boulez and Oliver Messaïen, who both disliked it.
We hope you liked this Composer of the Month and that you will have a great time practicing these tunes! See you next month for another episode of Composer of the Month!
Disclaimer: all the scores provided in this article were found online and all listed as either Public Domain or Creative Commons and encouraged to be shared freely by their creators. If you want to learn more about the best online sources for legally getting sheet music, go ahead and read this article. Also, if despite our best effort to respect the will of the original creators, you are one of these creators and disagree with our use of your work, please contact us.