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Gabriel Fauré

Biography

Gabriel Fauré’s personality contains a singular mix of contradictory elements. He learnt his craft at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, an institution devoted to raising the standards of church music by studying plainchant and Renaissance music. He then made his ...

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Biography

Gabriel Fauré’s personality contains a singular mix of contradictory elements. He learnt his craft at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, an institution devoted to raising the standards of church music by studying plainchant and Renaissance music. He then made his name with songs and piano music of sensuous melodic allure and an apparently easy fluency, which earned him a reputation as a society composer that he never emerged from in his lifetime as far as the wider world was concerned.

Thanks to the early advocacy of his teacher Saint-Saëns, he made his way in the musical world and rose through the hierarchies of Paris church posts – assistant to Widor at Saint-Sulpice, then organist at the fashionable Madeleine – and teaching positions, eventually becoming director of the Conservatoire. In the latter capacity, he was a reformist; socially, he was an established figure, taking advantage of his apparent popularity with women, though it should be remembered that salons were a prime venue for artistic networking and musical performance: Fauré would there meet Debussy and Ravel, Colette and Anatole France, while his improvised piano duets with Messager were legendary. Overseas he attempted to make himself known in London, with limited success.

For two decades at the end of his life he suffered a hearing affliction that distorted pitch, and progressive deafness. The concentration and introverted nature of his later music is sometimes attributed to this condition, but it is also the logical outcome of the way he had always composed. His Niedermeyer training had instilled the elements of counterpoint and especially the modes, which give his melodies and harmonies their personal flavour. Technically speaking, a fondness for sharpened fourths and flattened sevenths, and a reluctance to use perfect cadences, made for a marked lessening of the dramatic tensions that typified fully tonal music at the turn of the 19th century.

Instead, Fauré’s music expresses its energy in restless, intricate harmonic movement. The even way in which it flows can make it seem bland on the surface, and it demands focused listening (and performing), and an awareness of where the various lines are going, for its full intensity to register. This goes as much for his most familiar work, the Requiem, as for his highly distilled String Quartet.

Fauré continued to compose piano music and songs throughout his life. They are the mediums best matched to an idiom that depends more on the performer’s artistry than on instrumental colour; his equally impressive body of chamber music almost all uses a piano, apart from the String Quartet and two pieces for harp. Little interested in orchestration, he often assigned the task to others, although he was responsible for scoring four-fifths of his only opera Pénélope, a work of ravishing beauty and rather static dramaturgy.

Profile by Robert Maycock © BBC



Tracks (42)

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Impromptu no. 3 in A flat major Op.34 for piano
Impromptu no. 3 in A flat major Op.34 for piano
Performer
Last played on
Fantasy for flute and piano
Fantasy for flute and piano
Performer
Lorant Kovacs
Erika Lux
Les Roses d'Ispahan Op. 39, no 4
Les Roses d'Ispahan Op. 39, no 4
Performer
Joseph Middleton
Last played on
Requiem Op.48 for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra: In Paradisum
Requiem Op.48 for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra: In Paradisum
Choir
King's College Cambridge Choir
Last played on
Nocturne no. 6 in D flat major Op.63 for piano
Nocturne no. 6 in D flat major Op.63 for piano
Last played on
Souvenirs de Bayreuth for piano duet (Fantaisie en forme de quadrille) ...
Souvenirs de Bayreuth for piano duet (Fantaisie en forme de quadrille) ...
Performer
Martin Roscoe
Kathryn Stott
Last played on
Dolly - Suite for piano duet (Op.56)
Dolly - Suite for piano duet (Op.56)
Performer
Erzsebet Tusa
Istvan Lantos
Overture to Masques et bergamasques, Op.112
Overture to Masques et bergamasques, Op.112
Last played on
Impromptu (for harp), Op. 86
Impromptu (for harp), Op. 86
Performer
Elena Zaniboni
Last played on
Pelleas et Melisande - suite Op.80
Pelleas et Melisande - suite Op.80
Orchestra
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Pie Jesu (Requiem)
Pie Jesu (Requiem)
Performer
John Scott
Conductor
Singer
Caroline Ashton
Romance for violin and piano (Op.28) in B flat major
Romance for violin and piano (Op.28) in B flat major
Last played on
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor (Op.45)
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor (Op.45)
Performer
Lilli Maijala
Nils-Erik Sparf
Andreas Brantelid
Stefan Forsberg
Requiem, In Paradisum
Requiem, In Paradisum
Performer
Paavo Järvi
Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris
Apres Un Reve
Apres Un Reve
Performer
Karen Jones, Catherine Edwards
Fantaisie for flute and orchestra (Op.79) orch. Albert
Fantaisie for flute and orchestra (Op.79) orch. Albert
Orchestra
London Festival Orchestra
Orchestrator
Albert, Louis
Conductor
Last played on
Requiem  Op.48 for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra (extract)
Requiem Op.48 for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra (extract)
Choir
Belgian Radio Choir
Conductor
Ensemble
Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra Soloists
Last played on
Le Papillon et la fleur (Op.1 No.1)
Le Papillon et la fleur (Op.1 No.1)
Author
Hugo, Victor
Singer
Paula Hoffman
Apres un reve (Op.7 No.1) (1878)
Apres un reve (Op.7 No.1) (1878)
Singer
Paula Hoffman
Dolly Suite, Op. 65
Dolly Suite, Op. 65
Orchestrator
rabaud
Performer
Richard Davis
Peter Dixon
Kathryn Stott
Last played on
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