THE HARMONIC ALCHEMY OF GABRIEL FAURE
This month we’ve asked Winston Choi to share his thoughts on Gabriel Fauré. Please watch for Civitas Ensemble’s performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor at the end of the month in our April newsletter.
Gabriel Fauré believed that “music exists to elevate us as far as possible above everyday life.” He had his own distinct way of elevating performers and musicians, and created a musical language that is at once intensely moving and deeply personal.
Delving into the music of Fauré is a stimulating, enriching and unique experience. Upon first hearing his music, one can almost instantly recognize something distinct about his compositional language. It comes from the profound beauty and effortless lyricism of his melodic lines, which seem to spin on and on. On the surface, we can detect the fluidity and subtleness of the French language in his music, yet it is what lies beneath that truly distinguishes Fauré.
His harmonic progressions are ambiguous, though always anchored in a tonality. The manner in which he modulates (progresses from one musical key to the next) is unique: often we hear a beautiful flowing melody pass by and realize afterwards that everything underneath has shifted considerably. It’s akin to looking at your favorite outdoor sculpture, and while circling around this piece of art, the context changes depending upon the viewing angles and what is visible in the background. Or looking at a piece of art in a museum and experiencing the transformative powers of a gradual lighting change when the sun emerges from behind the clouds. Certain colors are further illuminated, and you start to notice different qualities about something you previously thought you fully understood. These sorts of shifts of harmonic context are all over Fauré’s music, yet they are embedded into his language seamlessly.
Fauré began working on his Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 in 1876, shortly after completing his first Violin Sonata, Op. 13, and just a few years after Brahms completed his third Piano Quartet (Op. 60, also in C minor). The first movement of Fauré’s Piano Quartet opens with an impassioned melody sung by the string players, with accompanying off-beat chords in the piano. The textures are thick, reminiscent of the bedrock sound of Brahms. Yet already in the second phrase, we hear many quick chord changes as he moves through various key centers. This is not achieved in a restless way but with freshness and the spirit of discovery behind it.
No matter how much Fauré one listens to, one is still surprised by these magical shifts that occur throughout. His music often sounds like it ventures into some fantasy world, and is highly unpredictable, though always with immaculate attention to balance, structure and form. The resulting musical poetry surprises, moves, inspires, and yes, elevates us beyond the everyday.
– Winston Choi (04/2014)
Gabriel Fauré – Requiem
Fauré playing Fauré
Bill Evans – Pavane (Gabriel Fauré)
About the Author
Canadian pianist Winston Choi is an inquisitive performer whose fresh approach to standard repertory and masterful performances of works by living composers, make him one of today’s most dynamic young concert artists.