Monday, May 28, 2012

The power of laughter

One thing I want to do when I have a spare mo is to go and see Sacha Baron Cohen's film The Dictator. As Channel 4's Lindsey Hilsum says in her blog post here, there's nothing that cuts down to size as efficiently as humour. "The plot was bonkers and the jokes variable, but after 18 months immersed in the horrors perpetrated by Gaddafi, it was good to see him diminished by humour," she says.

Maybe that's why comedy is, notoriously, the hardest genre of all at which to succeed - and probably why it doesn't get into music very often, as we noted not long ago when splitting our sides at Rainer Hersch's Victor Borge show in the West End.

Fauré and his one-time flatmate André Messager managed it, though. Perhaps it was with a coating of laughter that they were able to protect themselves against the great "red spectre" of Wagner that constantly haunted and intimidated their friend Chausson and many other musicians whose personalities were positively overwhelmed by that particular juggernaut. Fauré took what he needed, or wanted, from Wagner, and left the rest. You can hear plenty of Wagnerian influence in his opera Pénélope, where perhaps it was expedient for him to employ a leitmotif system, or in the twizzling, sleight-of-hand enharmonic pivoting of the harmonies in such works as the Nocturnes nos. 6 and 7. But Fauré was able to remain very much his own man. So was Messager - who, incidentally, ended up in London running the Royal Opera House.

You want perspective? Laugh. Here's Souvenirs de Bayreuth for piano duet by Fauré and Messager, played by Pierre-Alain Volondat and Patrick de Hooge.