At a Glance
This evening’s program surveys a
formative period of French musical history, as represented by three composers
who spearheaded the transition from the Romanticism of the late 19th century to
the modernism of the 1920s. Born in 1845, Gabriel Fauré displayed a strong
iconoclastic streak that made him an outlier in France’s notoriously
conservative musical establishment. But by the time Maurice Ravel—his junior by
30 years—enrolled as Fauré’s pupil at the Paris
in 1897, the older composer was well on his way to being
eclipsed by Claude Debussy, whose revolutionary approach to form, harmony, and
sonority began to be widely felt at the turn of the 20th century.
If there was no love lost between Fauré and Debussy—Debussy dismissed Fauré as
a “master of charms,” while Fauré deplored Debussy’s “disastrous” influence on
the younger generation—their attitude toward Ravel was marked by mutual
respect. Indeed, many common threads run throughout the three men’s works.
Echoes of the waltz-like finale of Fauré’s early Piano Quartet in G Minor can
be heard 35 years later in Ravel’s La
valse. The innovative approach to the piano illustrated by Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques owes a debt to
techniques that Fauré had brought to fruition two decades earlier in his
Nocturne in D-flat Major. And the sonatas for cello and violin that Debussy and
Fauré wrote, respectively, during World War I reflect the composers’ unwavering
allegiance to the traditional French virtues of clarity and refinement.