Project Description

Melodies of Gabriel Fauré: A Tribute to the Grand Master of French Art Songs

Venue: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
Date: 27 July, 2017 (Thursday) 8PM

Programme

Three songs on poems by Victor Hugo
La Papillon et la fleur, op.1 no.1
Mai, op.1 no.2
Rêve d’amour, op.5 no.2

Three Songs on poems by Victor Hugo

La papillon et la fleur, op.1 no.1
Mai, op.1 no.2
Rêve d’amour, op.5 no.2

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) began making his immense contribution to French Art song, or mélodie, during his student years at Ecole Niedermeyer (1854-66). A brilliant student, he was awarded several prizes including those for harmony and piano in 1860. Although essentially an institution for the training of choirmasters and organists, the curriculum at Ecole Niedermeyer included a broad range of literature studies as well as the ecclesiastical core. It was here that Fauré developed his knowledge and appreciation of the masterworks of French literature. He wrote songs throughout his life.

Although Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is known internationally for the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he is known in France for his collections of poems, many of which were published in his lifetime.

Fauré set La papillon et la fleur around 1861 and published it in 1865 as Op. 1 No. 1, his first published song. It begins with a light, flighty accompaniment figure which sets off the more static lament of the flower. This rises to a pleading climax towards the end of the verse. The accompaniment figure returns for the second verse which again rises to a high point with the flower’s wish to fly like the butterfly.

Hugo’s Mai combines the feelings of love with descriptions of nature in the early summer. It is thought that Fauré set this in around 1862 and was able to publish it in 1871. A short, gentle arpeggio figure sets the key and mood, as the melodic line describes the early summer flowers. The harmonies become richer at the descriptions of the woods, shadows, and water and continue to underline how these beauties are reflected in the heart.

In Hugo’s Reve d’amour, the lover wants to make a flowery lawn to welcome his love. Fauré set this around 1862, while still a student, but it was not published until 1875. The shifting harmonies of the flowing introduction arrive at the tonic for the entry of the voice. The first two vocal phrases descend, though wider leaps build to the close of the first section. The introductory piano materials return for a central section with darker piano colours. This returns to lead to a more emphatic section showing the lover’s desire to make a nest for his love’s heart. The flowing piano figures bring the song to an end.

Samantha Chong, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Wong, piano

Poème d’un Jour on poems by Charles Grandmougin, op. 21
Recontre
Toujours
Adieu

Poeme d’un jour, on poems by Charles Grandmougin,op.21

Rencontre
Toujours
Adieu

Poet and playwright Charles Grandmougin (1850-1930) lived in Paris and earned the major part of his living making translations of plays and opera libretti. His most famous associations were with Bizet, Massenet and Fauré.

Fauré used three of his early poems to make a kind of mini-cycle on love starting, growing and ending in a single day. Written in 1878, a year after Marianne, daughter of singer Pauline Viardot, broke off her engagement to Fauré, it was published in 1880.

The soft, flowing arpeggios of Rencontre reflect the sweetness of the first meeting and the blossoming of love. The love develops, rising to a climax describing how the lovers cherish without really knowing.

Toujours is linked tonally to the previous song but the mood is active and fiery. The vocal lines vehemently describe the break-up of love, reflected in Fauré’s unsettled harmonies.

Again, linked harmonically to the previous song, Fauré uses a slow chorale-like processional to introduce Adieu. The opening descending line shows the regret that the love has gone like smoke. The chords break into gentle arpeggios at the memories of what might have been, the parting without tears.

Henry Ngan, tenor
Natalia Tokar, piano

Three songs on poems by Paul Verlaine
Clair de lune, op.46 no.2
Prison, op.83 no.1
Mandoline, op.58 no.1

Three Songs on poems by Paul Verlaine

Clair de lune, op.46 no.2
Prison, op.83 no.1
Mandoline, op.58 no.1

The poems of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) have been referred to as ‘decadent’ for their vivid, uncompromising content. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century they became a powerful influence on the group known as the ‘symbolists’, with their more subtle pictorial effects.

Although Fauré had begun to suffer bouts of depression in the late 1880s, he began to gain recognition after 1890, becoming national inspector of conservatoires in 1892 and, in 1896, being appointed chief organist at the Madeleine as well as Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire.

Claire de lune was set by Fauré in 1887 and published the following year. Described as a ‘Minuet,’ the extended piano introduction has a flowing treble over a syncopated bass. This syncopation reflecting how moonlight masks reality. Becoming more flowing, the song describes the dreams of the birds in the trees and water jets falling on the smooth marble.

Prison, with its description of lost freedom and youth, was set by Fauré in 1894 and published in 1896. Soft, repeated minor chords give a solemn mood. The vocal phrases reflect this with the long notes followed by quicker, parlando notes. The higher notes cry out to God, and the final soft phrases lament the loss.

Mandoline, No 1 from ‘Cinq melodies de Venise’, op 58 was written in 1891 and published later the same year. A light plucking-style introduction imitates the mandolin and the voice enters with a sweet ascending phrase. Developing, this becomes an elaborate cantilena. Tirsis, Amyntas, Clitandre and Damis join in the decorated phrases to Fauré’s smooth chromatic harmonies. The mandolin brings the serenade to a close.

Vocalise-étude
For vocal students of Paris Conservatoire

Vocalise-étude

For vocal students of Paris Conservatoire

In 1905, Fauré was appointed Director of the Paris Conservatoire and, for the ten years beginning in 1906, wrote many of the sight-reading tests. The one being performed this evening dates from 1907 and was published the same year. It was for the singers, to be sung supported by a piano accompaniment.

Marked Adagio molto tranquillo, the voice is to enter after a single bar of introduction. The vocal line begins with most of an ascending E minor scale but missing out the 6th to leap to the octave. It does include the 6th in the ensuing descending phrase. Gradually becoming more complex with wider leaps and rhythmic syncopations, the piano also becomes more active. Rhythms become again more complex, including sextuplets, wider intervals and even demisemiquavers (thirtysecond notes) some with chromatic alterations. The music returns to the tonic but in the major mode and finishes with a leap of a minor tenth.

Jessica Ng, soprano
Alexander Wong, piano

La Bonne Chanson on poems by Paul Verlaine, op.61
Une sainte en son auréole
Puisque l’aube grandit
La lune blanche luit dans les bois
J’allais par des chemins perfides
J’ai presque peur, en vérité
Avant que tu ne t’en ailles
Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d’été
N’estce par?
L’hiver a ces

La Bonne Chanson on poems by Paul Verlaine, op.61

Une sainte en son auréole
Puisque l’aube grandit
La lune blanche luit dans les bois
J’allais par des chemins perfides
J’ai presque peur, en vérité
Avant que tu ne t’en ailles
Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d’été
N’estce par?
L’hiver a cessé

Verlaine wrote Le Bonne Chanson, a set of twenty one poems in 1870. They were a gift to Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville whom he later married.

Fauré selected nine of the poems, not in Verlaine’s order, but retained the overall title. Many of the songs were written in the summers of 1892 and 1893 when Fauré was a guest of Sigismond Bardac and his wife, the singer, Emma Bardac who sang through much of the new material as Faure composed it. The set was published in 1894.

Une sainte en son auréole has a quiet, imitative opening reflecting the ecclesiastical nature of the poem. The music develops to become an almost ecstatic hymn of praise for the name of St Mathilde.

The opening of Puisque l’aube grandit, with its light, rolling arpeggios reveal the dawn and the rising sun. A subtle key change shows the lover being guided by soft eyes. The calmer mood of the final sections reflects the desire for no other paradise.

The simple piano accompaniment of La lune blanche luit dans les bois leads to the simple arched vocal phrase. Reflections on the water bring subtle changes in harmony, and a climax point in the piano allows the voice to present the exquisite moment with utmost delicacy.

The repeated harmonies introducing J’allais par des chemins perfidse set a mood of uncertainty. The harmonies shift but the return of the major tonalities underline the eventual happiness of being reunited.

In J’ai presque peur, en vérité, soft off-beat chords show the slight apprehension as the opening descending vocal line describes a fear of the feelings aroused. The soft throbbing pulse continues with the uncertainties of love but are resolved in the major tonalities of the final section with the declaration ‘Je t’aime’ (‘I love you’).

Avant que tu ne t’en ailles begins with slow, suspended treble chords with the soft parlando vocal line describing the slowly disappearing morning star. The sudden activity and key-change shows a thousand quails singing in the fields, and after a quiet reflection, the nightingales. An ecstatic love song culminates in the gold of the rising sun.

Fauré continues the sun connection with the rippling opening to Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d’été. The mood is optimistic and joyful, propelled by the descriptions of the sun and sky and the feelings of love. The final section is slower, depicting the fall of evening and the smiles of the stars.

In N’estce par?, the slow opening notes pick up rhythm to introduce the simple opening vocal phrase. A slower triplet figure accompanies the hearts isolated in love, but grows in passion as the nightingale sings. The opening figures return to show the desire for their love to be without complication.

L’hiver a cessé closes Fauré’s cycle with quiet imitated rhythmic fragments which develop into quite an elaborate introductory section. The voice emphatically announces that winter has ended, the sun dances in the clear sky, and the air is full of joy. Continuous triplets accompany the return of the summer and autumn, with the final, almost improvisory section, praising this fantasy and reason.

Isaac Droscha, baritone
Natalia Tokar, piano

Two songs on poems by Theophile Gautier
Les Matelots, op.2 no.2
Tristesse, op.6 no.2

Two songs on poems by Theophile Gautier

Les Matelots, op.2 no.2
Tristesse, op.6 no.2

Theophile Gautier (1811-1872) was a poet, novelist, and literary critic. As a committed exponent of Romanticism, he was member of several literary groups. He wrote continuously on the arts and built his reputation eventually becoming Librarian to Princess Mathilde Bonaparte. Fauré’s settings date from the early 1870s.

Les Matelots opens with undulating arpeggio figures to introduce the sailors singing of the deep blue waves as they set off on their voyages. The moving harmonies reflect their quest for discovery and the feeling that they went with the blessings of God.

The gentle lilt of the opening of Tristesse is amplified by the undulating phrases of the vocal entry. This builds to the phrase describing the sadness of the heart. The remaining verses develop this theme, coloured by Faure’s original harmonies.

Two songs on poems by Leconte de Lisle
Lydia, op.4 no.2
Nell, op.18 no.1

Two songs on poems by Leconte de Lisle

Lydia, op.4 no.2
Nell, op.18 no.1

Charles-Marie-Renee Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894) was born on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion. He became the leader of a group of poets called ‘Parnassians’. His works were published from 1852.

Fauré returned to Paris from his organist position at Rennes in 1870. Nell was written a year later, after his break-up with Marianne Viardot. Fauré was appointed organist at Saint Suplice in Paris from 1871 and met several prominent musicians. He was one of the founders of the Société Nationale de Musique.

Simple, repeated major chords comprise the introduction to Lydia as the voice enters with the simplest of melodies. The mood of adulation continues as the accompaniment continues its childlike support. The final piano phrase takes simple figures into the high register before coming to rest.

Nell begins with a soft, rippling accompaniment where the rising vocal phrase describes the rose in the sun. The feelings rise as the line develops with the heart pleading for love.

Henry Ngan, tenor
Natalia Tokar, piano

Three songs on poems by Sully Prudhomme
Au bord de l’eau, op.8 no.1
Les Berceaux, op.23 no.1
Ici-bas, op.8, no.3

Three songs on poems by Sully Prudhomme

Au bord de l’eau, op.8 no.1
Les berceaux, op.23 no.1
Ici-bas, op.8 no.3

Sully Prudhomme (1839-1907) a poet and essayist, is most famous for his later poems and essays for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901. Fauré set some of his earlier poems in the 1870s. Fauré had, by this time, become choirmaster at the Madeleine, one of the most prominent churches in Paris.

In Au bord de l’eau, the slow, repeated chords show the lovers sitting as the water gently flows by. The phrases rise as the smoke rises from a distant cottage. The pensive mood continues, dreaming, loving without a care.

Rolling figures in the piano open Les berceaux as the great vessels sway, not noticing the rocking of the cradles at home. The harmonies change at the departure of the adventurous sailors. The boats depart, though the pull of the ever distant cradles remains.

Ici-bas begins with the thoughtful accompaniment rising from the depths of the piano. The falling phrases of the singer show the lilacs dying below. But the vocal line becomes more expressive with the descriptions of everlasting summer and love. The opening piano phrase again rises from the depths to finish quietly.

Song on a poem by Romain Bussine
Après un rêve, op.7 no.10

Song on a poem by Romaine Bussine

Après un rêve, op.7 no.10

Romain Bussine (1830-1899) was a Parisian poet, baritone and voice teacher who translated these verses from the original Italian. Fauré set the French translations in the late 1870s.

Après un rêve opens with gentle repeated minor chords which set off the rising phrase as the voice enters. The lyrical triplets giving subtle syncopations against the continuing repeated chords. The vocal line remains lyrical, describing the dream just past, but rises to a climax with the realisation that the dream cannot return.

Samantha Chong, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Wong, piano

Four songs on poems by Armand Silvestre
Automne, op.18 no.3
Notre amour, op.23 no.2
Chanson d’amour, op.27 no.1
Fleur jetée, op.39 no.2

Four songs on poems by Armand Silvestre

Automne, op.18 no.3
Notre amour, op.23 no.2
Chanson d’amour op.27 no.1
Fleur jetée, op.39 no.2

Armand Silvestre (1837-1901) studied at the Ecole Polytechnique and entered the department of finance where he had a successful career. He was regarded as a fine poet, being accepted as a member of the ‘Parnassians’, an influential group of Parisian poets founded by Leconte de Lisle. Silvestre’s works were published during 1870-1900. Fauré’s settings date from the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Automne opens with warm, undulating triplets accompanying stronger figures deep in the piano. The vocal lines are melancholy and echo the bass phrases in the piano. These become softer with memories of the sun and roses but rise to a climax remembering the tears that have been forgotten over twenty years.

Notre amour opens with light piano arpeggios underlining the lightness of love. Similar figures describe the charm of love, and the sacredness of love, and grow to a climax with the descriptions of eternal love.

A simple broken-chord introduction leads to the first declaration in Chanson d’amour, love for the eyes and the brow. The declarations continue as Fauré explores more distant keys. A flowing piano interlude leads to a more cantabile declaration of love for the voice, reserving the most colourful harmonies for the declaration of love for everything.

Fleur jetée opens emphatically with rapid, repeated notes leading to the vocal entreaty for the folly of love to be taken away. The piano repetitions become lighter but with poignant harmonies and show the discarded flower perishing, like love. The mood becomes more emphatic with the entreaty to the wind to dry love like it dries the flower.

Jessica Ng, soprano
Alexander Wong, piano

Three vocal duets
Puisqu’ici-bas toute âme, op.10 no.1, for soprano and tenor
Pleurs d’or, op.72, for mezzo-soprano and baritone
Tarantelle, op.10 no.2, for soprano and mezzo-soprano

Three vocal duets

Puisqu’ici bas, for soprano and tenor, op.10 no.1
Pleure d’or, for mezzo-soprano and baritone, op.72
Tarantelle for soprano and mezzo soprano, op.10 no.2

Originally a duet from his student years, Fauré revised Puisqu’ici bas in 1873 and published it in the 1879 as a pair with Tarantelle. Pleure d’or is a much later work, written in 1896 and published simultaneously the same year in London and Paris.

The rolling arpeggio figures of Puisqu’ici bas lead to the first voice’s statement of the gifts of love. The second voice answers in a similar vein and, after another alternation, the voices join in sweet harmony. The second verse has a similar structure describing the caresses of the songs of love.

In Pleure d’or, gentle, suspended off-beat treble notes in the piano fall like tears. The voices in turn sing of the tears of the flowers. The melody changes with the tears of the heart and develops into a warm, sustained duet. This rises to a climax as the tears of ecstasy are lost in the night, the flowers, the eyes.

Brisk, stabbing chords introduce the opening phrase of Tarantelle, given particular emphasis with both singers singing in unison. The vivid descriptions of the moonlight and the pairs of dancers are all set against the rapid Sicilian rhythm. The final section turns to the major key and the florid coloratura lines whirl to the almost breathless conclusion.

Vocal Quartet
Madrigal, op.35, for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone

Vocal Quartet

Madrigal, for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone, Op. 35

The original poem by Armand Silvestre is in the manner of a Renaissance Dialogue describing how the genders respond to the misunderstandings and of love.  Fauré set it in 1883 and published it the following year with a dedication to his pupil and fellow composer André Messager (1853-1929).  Fauré’s opening has the male and female voices answer each other, though they are gradually integrated as the piece progresses. There are some intense moments, but the voices and piano maintain a mood of regret, but with Fauré’s characteristic warmth.

Jessica Ng, soprano
Samantha Chong, mezzo-soprano
Henry Ngan, tenor
Isaac Droscha, baritone
Natalia Tokar, piano
Alexander Wong, piano

Artists

Programme Notes

Please refer to notes embedded in “Programme” section.