Saturday, July 31, 2004

Deconstructing Faure

I've set to work on the piano part of the Faure A major violin sonata. (Yes, Faure does have an acute accent, but my browser can't deal with it.) This was one of the pieces that got me into Faure when I was still a student. I got obsessed with several of Faure's chamber works, one at a time; this one took over from the C minor piano quartet. I was given a recording of it by Thibaut and Cortot and listened to it every day for about two months. Eventually I had to get it out of my system, so - unbeknownst to my piano teacher, who didn't really approve of chamber music - I practised it until blue in the face, then press-ganged an unsuspecting violinist into playing it with me. Sixteen years later, I'm at it again. Tom and I are planning to play it in our next recital, which will be in Borough Bridge, North Yorkshire, later in the autumn.

The A major sonata goes like the wind, or ought to. It surges along on waves of ecstasy and elan. It's Faure in love. Honest to goodness, he was in the full flood of a passionate attachment to Marianne Viardot, daughter of the great opera singer Pauline Viardot, and hoped to marry her. The sonata is dedicated to her violinist brother, Paul. The year the sonata was finished, 1877, Faure finally got Marianne to accept his proposal, but she later broke it off. It seems that his ardour frightened her away.

All of that ardour goes into the A major sonata - a bittersweet irony, too, in that its passion seems to be a ferment of white-hot anticipation for a love which was never to be fulfilled. (Faure was heartbroken after Marianne dumped him, but then discovered that there were plenty of other women in Paris who were more than happy to say yes to many things where he was concerned. After his eventual marriage to Marie Fremiet, he became one of those notorious French charmers who across many generations have misinterpreted Marie-Antoinette as having said 'Let them have their cake and eat it'.)

The task facing me here in 2004 is how to get to grips with the flurry of notes that convey these surges of ecstasy. A glance at the metronome marks nearly gave me a heart attack; fortunately Roy Howat's edition for Peters suggests slightly more humane ones. Amazingly, after 16 years, this piece is still somewhere in my fingers - not like starting from scratch at an age when the brain cells are dying off scarily fast. But there's nothing terribly ecstatic about it at the moment. It's a question of practising those pages of rippling quavers for hours, varying the rhythm to develop control on each note, steadying the pulse with a metronome, trying to keep the left hand quiet and let the right hand sing though not enough to obscure the violin (who will take all the credit as per usual). And so on and so forth. If, somewhere in the heart, Faure's ardour can survive the hard slog, then it can survive anything.