Official Release: 16 July 2021
The two Violin Sonatas composed by Gabriel Fauré seem to frame his compositional experience: the first was written by a still young composer and was his first purely instrumental chamber work, while the second was composed by a relatively aged musician, who was approaching the end of his life.
Both are masterpieces, and both evidently display the marks of Fauré’s style and personality; however, they are also profoundly different from each other, mirroring their composer’s biography and reflecting – albeit moderately – the changes in the musical language and aesthetics of the era.
Gabriel Fauré came from a cultivated and numerous family (he was the family’s sixth and youngest child), and his parents understood and fostered his musical talent and his desire to develop it with a thorough musical education. His professional goal was to train as a choirmaster, and, for this purpose, he attended the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris. There, his piano teacher was another genius composer, Camille Saint-Saëns. In spite of his being Fauré’s senior by just ten years, Saint-Saëns would always act as a mentor and supporter for his younger colleague: both musicians reached a ripe old age, and their friendship continued for decades. Saint-Saëns not only helped Fauré to develop his musical talent, including in the field of composition; he was also fundamental in finding employment opportunities for his former student, who earned his living for years as a church musician and organist. In 1871, Fauré took the job of assistant organist at the church where Saint-Saëns was the principal organist, La Madeleine in Paris; later, he would become choirmaster there. In 1883 Fauré got married, and soon two children were born; thus, Fauré had to balance his aspirations to composition with the need to provide for his family. He was therefore very active both in the field of church music and as a teacher; in 1896, he eventually obtained a Chair of composition at the prestigious Conservatory of Paris, of which he would also become the Director in the following years. Although holding this place was a great honour, it was also a heavy burden for him: administrative duties were countless, and he had little time to dedicate to composition, his only true aspiration in life. Notwithstanding this, he suffused his teaching with passion and enthusiasm, as is proved by the famous students who came from his school, including most of the greatest French musicians of the early twentieth century.
Fauré’s contributions to the chamber music repertoire are numerous and fundamental; his two Violin Sonatas certainly qualify among the finest examples of this genre written between late nineteenth- and early twentieth century.
The stimulus prompting the composition of Violin Sonata No. 1, in A major, op. 13, came indirectly from Saint-Saëns, who, in 1872, had introduced Fauré to the salon of Pauline Viardot. This celebrated alto, one of the greatest singers of her time, was also a very accomplished woman, being active as a composer, pianist and teacher. Fauré fell in love with her daughter, Marianne, to whom he was briefly engaged, and befriended Pauline’s son, Paul, who was an excellent violinist and who would become the Sonata’s dedicatee. Moreover, Paul actually premiered, in a private performance, the freshly written Sonata, playing with Fauré himself. That event took place at another salon of the cultural elite of the era, in the home of Camille Clerc, a wealthy industrialist who deeply appreciated Fauré’s music. In order to facilitate Fauré’s concentration and, consequently, the creation of his masterpieces, Clerc invited the composer to spend some time at their family residence in Sainte-Adresse, in Normandy, during the summer of 1875. Not only the place provided Fauré with quiet and calm, but it also gave him the opportunity of having his musical ideas immediately tested through rehearsals with another great violinist, Hubert Léonard.
The piece’s public premiere took place in January 1877. Fauré was once more at the piano, while the violinist was neither Paul Viardot, to whom it was dedicated, nor Hubert Léonard, with whom it had been rehearsed. This time, the performer was Marie Tayau, a very promising young violinist who seemingly contributed substantially to the piece’s success. Fauré was impressed, as he stated writing to a friend: “The sonata had more of a success this evening than I could ever have hoped for. Saint-Saëns said that he felt that sadness that mothers feel when they see their children are too grown up to need them any more!… Mlle. Tayau’s performance was impeccable”.
In turn, Saint-Saëns expressed his satisfaction with his former student’s music, writing about it these enthusiastic statements: “In this sonata you can find everything to tempt a gourmet: new forms, excellent modulations, unusual tone colors, and the use of unexpected rhythms. And a kind of magic floats above everything, encompassing the whole work, causing the crowd of usual listeners to accept the unimagined audacity as something quite normal. With this work Monsieur Fauré takes his place among the masters”.
In spite of the great musician’s appreciation, the Sonata was not immediately accepted by a publisher. It was once more Camille Clerc who found the possibility of offering it to one of the leading publishers of the era, the Leipzig-based Breitkopf & Härtel. The company did accept the work, but imposing a mortifying condition to the composer: the publisher would retain the Sonata’s copyright and therefore correspond no rights to the musician. Their reply was worded in rather unflattering terms: “M. Fauré is not known in Germany and the market is overflowing with works of this sort, even though they are often inferior to the one we are discussing”.
Rightly, however, Fauré understood that he had to swallow this bitter pill: a publication with Breitkopf could launch his career and propose him as one of the leading young musicians of the era. Fauré’s First Violin Sonata in fact became one of the best loved works in this genre, conquering the admiration of such musicians as the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, pianist Alfred Cortot and composer George Enescu, as well as of the famous author Marcel Proust. It displays an extremely original language, in which modernity and novelty are found by looking backwards to the ancient Church modes, with which Fauré was well acquainted in his capacity as a church musician. This Sonata anticipates another masterpiece in the genre, the Violin Sonata by César Franck, with which it shares many features; together, they cooperated in establishing and proposing a new style of chamber music, which is projected into the twentieth century.
It was only with the new century (and well into it), in fact, that Fauré ventured once more in the composition of a Violin Sonata, even though he had written several shorter but beautiful works for violin and piano in the meantime.
If the First Sonata was a young musician’s aesthetic statement, the Second Sonata is the retrospective gaze of an accomplished and revered composer. However, both works inaugurate a new stage in their composer’s life: indeed, also the Second Sonata paves the way for a new series of pieces, constituting a striking collection of wonderful chamber music works.
At the time of its composition, Fauré was in the midst of a very complex period of his life. He was struggling with an impending deafness, which cruelly limited his capability to enjoy music. Moreover, in that year 1916, war was raging throughout Europe; Fauré’s son Philippe was at the frontline, and one can easily imagine his father’s feelings at such uncertain times.
Once more, Fauré began writing this Sonata during the summer holidays, when he was free from teaching and administrative duties. On that occasion, he was spending some time at the beautiful lakeside of Evian, by Geneva. He would complete the work before the end of that same year, once back in Paris.
Unsurprisingly, given the situation, the Second Sonata expresses a very different overall mood in comparison with the First. Whilst the First Sonata is marked by a pronounced lyricism, by generous outpourings and intense expressivity, the Second is soberer, more subdued, more concentrated and intimist. In spite of this, Fauré never renounces the beauty of his melodic lines, the elegance of his harmony and also the vivacity of his inspiration: even in the midst of that painful time, his inspiration never fails him.
The piece was premiered about one year later, in November 1917, at the Société Nationale de Musique; Louis Capet played the violin, and Fauré sat at the piano. On that occasion, also Fauré’s First Cello Sonata was premiered. The Second Violin Sonata was dedicated to Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, who loved to play the violin and had expressed her admiration for the composer.
This opportunity to listen to both Sonatas side by side is therefore a very welcome one. Together, they constitute a diptych, a fundamental stage in the evolution of the violin and piano repertoire, and also a poignant testimony of their composer’s creative and human experience.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Paolo Ghidoni was born in Mantova, Italy in 1964 and graduated at the young age of 17 under the guidance of Ferruccio Sangiorgi. Following this instruction, he attended chamber music courses at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole with the Trio di Trieste and at the Accademia Chigiana di Siena where, for three years (1983-85) he worked towards the completion of the distinguished violin diploma from the class of Maestro Franco Gulli. In addition to his studies with M. Gulli, Paolo Ghidoni has also studied with Ivri Gitlis at the Accademie de Sion, Franco Claudio Ferrari in Mantova and with Salvatore Accardo in Cremona. As a soloist and chamber musician, Ghidoni has performed more than 1500 concerts. He is a founding member of the prestigious Trio Matisse (1983), which won the "Vittorio Gui" prize in Florence when Ghidoni was only 19 years old. He has widely performed in Europe, the United States, Australia, Israel, China and South America. Paolo Ghidoni has collaborated with various musicians such as: Mario Brunello, Enrico Dindo, il Trio d'Archi della Scala with Franco Petracchi, Giuliano Carmignola, and Danilo Rossi. In addition, he has collaborated with hornists: Ifor James, Hermann Baumann and Jonathan Williams and also with various pianists, one of which being Bruno Canino.
Gabriel Fauré: (b Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; d Paris, 4 Nov 1924). French composer, teacher, pianist and organist. The most advanced composer of his generation in France, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th-century composers. His harmonic and melodic innovations also affected the teaching of harmony for later generations.