Showing posts with label Gabriel Fauré. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gabriel Fauré. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Happy big birthday, Steven Isserlis!

Steven Isserlis is 60 today!

I have flipping' well missed his big birthday concert on Monday at the Wigmore Hall - which included appearances by Simon Keenlyside, András Schiff, Radu Lupu, Ferenc Rados, Josh Bell and Connie Shih - because for some reason we'd thought it would be a good idea to go to Iceland in the middle of December to try and see the Northern Lights... As my Dad used to say, one lives and learns.

Steven Isserlis
Photo: PA

Anyway, it was a wonderful excuse to pop up to north London the other week and interview Steven himself. We talked about music, books, cellos, Rabbi Moses Isserles, Schumann, Fauré, Bloch, the perils of curly hair and the Marx Brothers, among much else. You can read the whole thing in the JC, here. 

And here's one select story.
His Twitter account makes lively reading, full of hair-raising stories about his travels with his cello. “I was on a Japanese airline, business class — very nice — and I asked the stewardess if she could help make up the bed,” he recounts. “I thought she said: ‘Are you sexy?’ It took me a minute to work out that ‘Yes, I’m in 6C…’”

Here he is in a spot of Fauré": the Romance in A major, Op.69, with pianist Pascal Devoyon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Fauré Requiem, up close and personal

Portrait of Gabriel Fauré by John Singer Sargent

I had an extraordinary day a few weeks ago, heading for Paris and the Bibliothèque National with the composer and conductor Bob Chilcott, the presenter Frances Fyfield and the producer Tom Alban to meet the manuscript of the Fauré Requiem. BBC Radio 4's 'Tales from the Stave' is a fascinating series which explores the hidden stories within the composer's handwritten scores, and ours will be on today at 11.30am, and repeated on Sunday.

We found, among other things:
...some coffee stains;
some intriguing corrections;
some elaborate crossings-out;
some later changes and slightly wobbly phrase marks;
a few bits where he'd started writing on the wrong line, probably because he was scribbling too fast or was completely knackered;
in general, a very practical, down-to-earth working score for this other-worldly work of genius.

I was mildly disappointed that he hadn't doodled caricatures of Saint-Saëns in the margins, but needs must.

Hope you enjoy the programme. You can hear it here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Birthday treat: Fauré plays Fauré

It's Fauré's birthday. A good few years after I wrote his biography for the Phaidon 20th-Century Composers series, I love him more than ever and would dearly love to start that book all over again. Not the most practical idea at the moment, so instead, here is his own piano roll recording of his Nocturne No.7 in C sharp minor.

While piano rolls do have their limitations, in this case it's the closest we can get to the real thing. He made this in 1910.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It was Fauré's 170th birthday yesterday

Cor, an anniversary - an excuse to play some of Fauré's finest. And it was YESTERDAY, ahem...we have been a bit preoccupied with stuff that happened last week. Love you, Monsieur Gabriel. (you know about my book already, but in case you didn't...)

Here are three amazing historical performances for us to enjoy on this glorious spring morning. In London the sun is blazing down, the leaves are bright and fresh, the cats are chasing each other and everything that moves, and we are trying not to let certain other things get us down.

Ballade Op.19 - Gaby Casadesus (piano), with the Orchestre Lamoureux conducted by Manuel Rosenthal. Recorded in Paris 1948.

Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor, Op.45 - Marguerite Long (piano), Jacques Thibaud (violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Pierre Fournier (cello). Recorded in Paris in 1940 just as the Germans were invading. Apparently they could hear the bombs falling...

Nocturne No.6 in D flat major, Op. 63 - Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, recorded 1956. (Another of a large number of truly great women pianists from the earlier part of the 20th century who have been cruelly sidelined in history...)

Anyway, hope you love all these as much as I do. Bon anniversaire, mon cher Archange.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Who is the Johnny Depp of classical music?

Some would say it's Jonas Kaufmann.

Others suggest that my lovely Hungarian Dances violinist colleague, David Le Page, bears a certain resemblance to the film star.

But full marks to The Mozart Project - the producers of a superb interactive, multi-media e-book about the composer - for noting that in fact the mysterious hero of Hollywood appears to have been separated at birth from none other than...

...our very own Gabriel Fauré.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

When Edward met Gabriel

I spent a very pleasant evening yesterday addressing the London branch of the Elgar Society - a remarkable collection of knowledgeable enthusiasts who meet regularly in Harley Street for lectures and studies of their chosen composer. Membership is highly recommended! People from all walks of life, many with fascinating backgrounds, are drawn together by their love of the great man's music, and I was invited to come along and give the Christmas talk as "something a little different". I went down memory lane a little way, exploring Elgar's impact on my life for, sort of, ever.

One matter we revisited was that of "Windflower" and the Violin Concerto; and it was also a fine opportunity to draw attention to the closer-than-expected links between Elgar and Fauré. Interesting to think that had the publisher's series elected to count Elgar as a 20th-century composer, I might have ended up writing about him instead of, or as well as, his fabulous French colleague, who lived through a decade less of the century. Here is a brief taster from last night.


Fauré and Elgar had the same British patron, the banker Leo Frank Schuster, who was responsible for Fauré having a strong reputation in certain educated circles of Britain, rather to the composer’s own astonishment - though nevertheless not to the full extent that he deserved, as Elgar recognised. On one occasion in 1908 Fauré came to England to hear the rehearsal for the London premiere of Elgar’s First Symphony and Schuster held a dinner party for both composers together, which must have been a fine moustache-fest. 

They had much in common besides those moustaches, silver hair and dark eyes: an elegant sensibility, an unfailing instinct for songful melody, an intimacy of expression and a very rich, flexible harmonic language, which Fauré took considerably further; and each enjoyed an unexpected "Indian summer" of composition in which they produced some of their finest works. They also both had a great fondness for younger women, but thereby hangs many other tales: notably a Vera for Elgar and a Marguerite for Fauré...
Elgar held Fauré in very considerable esteem. After the French composer died, Elgar wrote to Schuster: “He was such a real gentleman – the highest type of Frenchman and I admire him greatly. His chamber music never had a chance here…I feel that it was held up, to our loss. As far as I resent anything – which is not far – I resent such neglect.” There’s no record, unfortunately, of what Fauré had thought of Elgar. But there are passages of Faure in which one can detect a real convergence of style.
I think that what the two shared in musical terms was actually the influence of Schumann. If you take this slow movement from Fauré’s Piano Quintet No.1, written in 1905, you can detect very Schumannesque qualities in the off-beat rhythms and the kind of textures and polyphonies he employs; it’s as if he’s passed Schumann through a prism and turned him inside out.
Or the beginning of the Piano Quintet No.2, written in 1921 during his "Indian summer", features the kind of long-breathed melodies with plunging sighs that we find so often in Elgar but that can be traced straight back to Schumann. First, think of the slow movement of Schumann's Symphony No.2.

Then try the Fauré quintet...
Now, here’s the beginning of Elgar’s string quartet, written just three years earlier in 1918 – a very different piece, but it is nevertheless fascinating to hear the two composers back to back, which doesn’t happen very often. You can detect some of the same kinds of gestures and the underlying harmonic instability that both are evoking, as if the ground under their feet is no longer so solid.


If you want to explore the other artistic relationship here in more depth - that between the music of Schumann and Fauré - do try to come to the Aspect Foundation's concert at the 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2QA,  on Thursday. This intriguing organisation - which puts on lecture-recitals with knobs on, featuring top-quality artists - has an evening devoted to the idea of 'Schumann and Fauré: Kindred Spirits', starring our violinist colleague Philippe Graffin, pianist Alasdair Beatson, violist David Adams and cellist David Waterman. More info & booking here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


I just came across the site of, which here posts 14 rare bits of footage of some early 20th-century composers and conductors of note (Saint-Saëns and Shostakovich among them). While recordings exist of Fauré playing his own music, I've never before seen actual film of my beloved Monsieur Gabriel, aka The Archangel, and got quite choked up on viewing this.

He slightly resembles an elderly, nervous and rather unwell Charlie Chaplin. In fact this was 1913, 11 years before his death; he would have been about 68. One can't help suspecting he was in the process of smoking himself into his grave. But look at those twinkly eyes.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ooh, I've got a mystery Valentine!

JDCMB has received a mystery Valentine!

Well, a mystery to you. When/if I think of a suitable return message, you'll probably guess correctly...

Mademoiselle Jane Huré, to whom Gabriel Fauré dedicated his Chanson d’Amour in 1882, has surely by now earned a right of reply. It would go something like this: 

“Let me get this straight. You love my eyes.  And my forehead. You’ve mentioned each of those three times. Does that mean you actually love me - it's far from obvious! You call my voice strange, but you seem to like that too, right?. And there's this as yet undecided area you like... somewhere between my feet... and my hair? Plus you say you want to kiss me on the lips?  And you've got some wishes, rising up towards me? Hm. I’d better see those..."

 My mystery correspondent has also, helpfully, included a link to the Fauré sheet music.

Monday, June 03, 2013

JD & Friends on R3

Listen out for our broadcast today on BBC Radio 3's In Tune! David Le Page, Viv McLean and I will be performing some extracts from our 'Hungarian Dances' concert ahead of Ulverston on Saturday, the St James Theatre Studio next Tuesday and the Musical Museum, Kew Bridge, on 8 September (and more later).

St James Theatre Studio, 11 June, 8pm
Ulverston, 8 June, 11am (yes, a sort of palindrome on 11 and 8...)

And if you missed the Composer of the Week on Faure last week, it's on iPlayer all of this week to podcast:

You wouldn't believe how much organising is involved in even a single concert... Normal JDCMB service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fauré is Composer of the Week

This week BBC Radio 3 is re-airing the series of Composer of the Week programmes on Gabriel Fauré with which I was involved a few years ago as commentator. I spent a few wet yet wonderful days trotting around Paris with presenter Donald Macleod and our producer; we visited the great man's old haunts such as the Niedermeyer School, the Madeleine, the Polignac Foundation (in the former home of Winaretta Singer, the Princesse de Polignac) and, er, the Gare St-Lazare.

We also visited his grave and found someone had left a white rose on it: a Fauré-esque flower if ever there was one.

You can catch up online at the website:
And my biography of cher Monsieur Gabriel is still kicking about too.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday roundup from a very busy week

I've been burning the candle at both ends, to coin a phrase. It beats the hell out of sitting alone at home watching repeats of Midsomer Murders - something I have resolved never to do again.

Last Saturday, Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House. You wake up, the sun is shining, you're free, it's opening night at Covent Garden, Jonas is singing and you're not there? Unthinkable! I scooped a return and drank long and deep of the genius of Verdi. It was almost impossible to imagine a finer cast. Sometimes when Kaufmann is on stage, the rest can fade to insignificance, but here his peers matched him moment for moment.

This appears to be the one performance that the scheduled soprano, Anja Harteros, was able in the end to do, and the first time I've managed to hear her live. Her voice has an almost uncanny beauty along with extraordinary range of expression: the deepest levels enhanced by taut, dramatic diction, the uppermost soaring with rare 100-carat sheen. She's the perfect stage partner for Kaufmann, matching his sensitivity to nuance and blending with his multifaceted colourations, the final duet daringly hushed. Mariusz Kwiecien's double-edged charm and rich-flowing baritone, as Rodrigo, might otherwise have stolen the show, while Ferruccio Furlanetto's magnificently tortured and heartbreaking Philip II threatened to do likewise, with the type of voice and interpretation that brings every twist of phrase and fortune into close-up. Eric Halfvorsen's Grand Inquisitor rose to the challenge of one of Verdi's nastiest and truest personalities. In the pit, Tony Pappano and the orchestra plunged through the four-and-a-half hour span with passion undimmed; and the chorus was absolutely on fire for the auto da fe, a scene in which the confluence of symbol and drama could scarcely be finer.

Carlos is, after all, a German romantic hero - by Schiller - in all but moniker, a soul whose obsession with Elisabeth after one scant encounter in the forest can match that of Goethe's Werther for Charlotte. Flanders is Elisabeth; the burning heretics are the heart of Carlos, who burns inwardly for breaking the taboo of aching for his stepmother. Freud might have enjoyed that final moment of farewell when he addresses Elisabeth as 'mother'. What happened to Carlos's real mother anyway? We are not told.

Lianna Haroutounian has since stepped into Harteros's shoes, making her ROH debut; and the churlish anonymi grumbling on the ROH comments boxes that the house should have had a "name" as second cast may want to think again. Fiona Maddocks's review today declares: "Haroutounian seemed to pull forth ever-increasing vocal powers until you thought her heart, or yours, would burst."

On Tuesday we had the first run-through at home of the Hungarian Dances concert with the new team for the Ulverston and the St James Theatre June performances. David Le Page (violin) and Anthony Hewitt (piano) used to be duo partners in their teens, but hadn't met in 23 years...yet it was as if they'd last seen each other yesterday. And the intensity of their musical response to the story took me completely by surprise. It felt as these concerts probably should: we may be a reader and two musicians, but their engagement with the drama and the emotions in the narrative bounced different angles into the music, while their impassioned interpretations made me see new and darker corners in my own text. It was as if we all made music together, essentially. I'm hugely grateful to them and excited about sharing a stage with them. Ulverston is on 8 June, the St James Theatre Studio in central London is on 11 June, and booking is open.

On Wednesday, to St John's Smith Square to hear Angelo Villani in recital. Angelo, you remember, is the Italian-Australian pianist we talked to a little while back when he started to make his comeback after 20 years away from the concert platform due to a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He performs in white gloves. And there's something of the white gloves about his musicianship too, in the best sense: while some complained that the programme he chose consisted more of the slow and soft than the barnstorming so many people seem to expect of concert pianists these days, that was actually the point.

Whether in the freely-calibrated rubato of the Chopin Nocturnes Op.9, two of the Liszt Petrarch Sonnets and the Ballade No.2, or the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, adapted from Wagner by various hands including Von Bulow, Liszt and Villani himself, his exceptional and microscopic sensitivity, the way he immerses us in sonority, allows us to soak up the edges of vibration as if letting subtle-coloured dye infiltrate and diffuse through our inner worlds. It's unusual and it may not be for everyone, but this is fine-art pianism and it is good to know that it hasn't been entirely lost in the outside welter of the (largely positive but often noisy) Lang Lang Effect.

There's a wonderful story about Daniel Guilet, the founding violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio, as a young lad meeting Fauré in the foyer of the Paris Conservatoire. Monsieur le Directeur, as Fauré was then, said to Daniel: where are you going in such a hurry? "My violin lesson, sir." Ahh, said Fauré. You'll go to your lesson and you'll learn to play fast and loud. But to play slow and soft: that is really difficult.

On Thursday, my mates from the Culturekicks blog took me to the trendiest gig in town: The Knife, at the Roundhouse. I'll be writing about it more fully for them, but in brief, the experience was a polar opposite from Angelo's concert (=ear protectors) and in other ways just like the Proms, because if you're my height you can't see much. Music: Nordic Noir without the murders. More about it soon.

The great thing is that in this extraordinary world, and especially in this matchless city of ours, there's room for everything: music of different eras, angles, twists, turns, scale, substance and aspect. Try to do it all, if and when you have the chance. Because each experience feeds the next.

Last but not least, yesterday I went to a school reunion and saw friends I haven't seen since our A levels, more years ago than I'd like to admit, and they hadn't changed a bit. Time's a funny old thing. Just as an opera that is well over 100 years old can feel as fresh and relevant in terms of drama and emotional impact as an electro-post-pop band, the passing decades simply disappear when people's energies connect, reconnect and blossom. Yes, this was quite a week...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fauré programme to download

My 'Building a Library' on the Fauré Cello Sonata No.2 is now available to download from Radio 3's website (I suspect this is UK only). You can find it here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

JD on R3 talking FAURÉ tomorrow


On Saturday morning - ie, tomorrow - I'm on BBC Radio 3's CD Review, discussing various recordings of Fauré's miraculously beautiful Cello Sonata No.2. Start time is about 9.30am. A bit more info here:

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Musical inspiration from CERN's Large Hadron Collider

Fascinating correlation this morning between an article in The Guardian about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and a script that I'm trying to finish exploring different interpretations of a notoriously elusive piece by Fauré: the Cello Sonata No.2, which dates from his 'Indian Summer' of 1921. 

The Higgs boson, says the article, is just the beginning. The Collider will be used in future to explore the substance of dark matter and the existence of other dimensions, which apparently should be detectable through the wave-like movement of particles and the way they respond to gravitational force. 
"The rules of quantum mechanics say that particles behave like waves, and as the LHC ramps up to higher energies the wavelengths of the particles it collides become ever shorter. When the wavelengths of the particles are small enough to match the size of the extra dimensions, they would suddenly feel gravity much more strongly.
"What you'd expect is that as you reach the right energy, you suddenly see inside the extra dimensions, and gravity becomes big and strong instead of feeble and weak," says [Andy] Parker [professor of high energy physics at Cambridge University]. The sudden extra pull of gravity would cause particles to scatter far more inside the machine, giving scientists a clear signal that extra dimensions were real.
Extra dimensions may separate us from realms of space we are completely oblivious to. "There could be a whole universe full of galaxies and stars and civilisations and newspapers that we didn't know about," says Parker. "That would be a big deal."
More here.

It was a mention earlier in the article of "looking for signs of the missing energy and momentum" that reminded me of Fauré's Cello Sonata No.2. The metronome marks mean that this piece is supposed to go like the clappers, but the fascinating paradox of it is that some recordings that meet the markings sound like they're trying to finish the Xmas shopping at 11.59pm on 24 December, while some that are slower simply let themselves fly. Finding the reasons for missing energy and momentum is key to detecting which performers know best how to bring this late-flowering of Fauréan genius to life.

And it's the way the performers uncover the work's hidden depths that makes all the difference. From some, you'd scarcely know they were there. Fauré can be like playing 'pass the parcel' - he wraps up his emotional kernel in many layers, and hides it, but you know it's there somewhere, and you need to find it, and if you don't find it then the piece won't work - but if you do find it, the worst thing to do is splash it all over the place. He's hidden it for a reason. If you make it too obvious, the energy dissipates and the music loses its gravity, in every sense. Whereas if you let the gravity become big and strong as you reach the right energy level, then maybe you can see inside the extra dimensions - and my goodness, there's a galaxy in there of feelings that you never suspected could lurk within the bounds of a rather short piece for two instruments. It's chock-full of stars. (Not sure about the newspapers, though.)

Here is the piece played by Maurice Gendron and Jean Francaix, just for argument's sake. To find out my further conclusions, and my final top choice, tune in to BBC Radio 3's CD Review 'Building a Library' in a couple of weeks' time (I'll put out an alert once I've double-checked the date).

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Faure plays Faure

Ah, Monsieur Gabriel! It's the anniversary of his death, today - he left the world on 4 November 1924, aged 79. In 1913 he made this Welte Mignon recording of his own Pavane.

I have always had severe doubts about 'reproducing pianos', but the fact remains that it's all we have and it may tell us something valuable about his playing, even if not everything we would like to know. The rigour of his basic rhythm, for instance; the driving force of the harmony in the left hand; the layering of the voicing; and one instance in which it sounds suspiciously as if he's making the musical most of a slip of a finger. Pianists, take note!

His own words about the merits of the Welte-Mignon system are worth a read, too (they're on this film).

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest post for NORMBLOG about Turgenev and Fauré

Warmest thanks to the one and only Norman Geras for inviting me to contribute to the 'Writer's Choice' series on his site, Normblog. I've paid a return visit to Ivan Turgenev, his links with Gabriel Fauré and the masterpiece novella First Love. It's here.

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.