October 11, 2014 7:30 PM
October 12, 2014 3:00 PM
Central Performing Arts Center
Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, Op 80
Mort de Mélisande
Gabriel Urbain Fauré (1845 –1924) is noted today for his chamber works and songs rather than any major symphonic works. Fauré abhorred orchestration, and he foisted off this laborious work to his colleagues or assistants. It is significant that his most popular symphonic score is the one he himself did orchestrate, Pelléas et MélisandeSuite, Op 80. He was an organist of some prestige in Paris for nearly forty years, yet he never wrote a work for that instrument; he preferred the piano for its more subtle intonations. A strong advocate of French music, he, nevertheless, traveled with his life-long friend Camille Saint-Saëns to the various venues of western Europe to take in the operatic spectacles celebrating the music of Richard Wagner.
Fauré was a frequent visitor to London where he joined in the activities surrounding the many musical events that took place - the festivals and premieres that made London a music center second only to Vienna. The friendships he made among the English social and music elite lasted until his death. In 1908, he attended the premiere of Edward Elgar's First Symphony. Following the performance, he dined with the English composer and friends. Elgar was quite impressed with Fauré and later wrote of their meeting that Fauré was "a real gentleman - the highest kind of Frenchman and I admired him greatly." Elgar tried without success to stage a London performance of Fauré's Requiem; fifty years passed after its Paris premiere before the Requiem was performed in England.
It was through his English associations that Fauré came to compose the incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande. He wrote the music to accompany Maurice Maeterlinck's play of the same name. Maeterlinck's play was first performed in Paris in 1893, but, as a result of its popularity, it was soon translated into English for performances in London. Fauré was not the first choice of actress Mrs Patrick Campbell (Beatrice Stella Cornwallis-West) who was underwriting the production to score the drama. She sought out Claude Debussy to compose the music, but he refused for a good reason; he himself was in the latter stages of writing an opera based on the same Maeterlinck drama. Maeterlinck was a Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist who preferred to write in French, and Mrs Campbell was adamant that French music by a French composer should accompany her production. Fauré, without much ado, accepted the commission and composed the score quickly in May, 1898. Charles Koechlin, a former student, orchestrated seventeen cues for the premiere performance.
The premiere of the play and the music took place that same year; both were popular and critical successes. Fauré, seeking to capitalize on the appeal of his music, selected three pieces from the complete score to form an orchestral suite: Prélude, Fileuse and Mort de Mélisande. He did the orchestrations himself. A few years later, he took a Sicilienne from an unfinished score La bourgeois gentilhomme and added it to the Suite. Even later, he added another selection Mélisande’s Song to form a five movement suite.
The second and most popular four movement Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, Op 80, is the version on tonight's program.
Program Notes © William H Driver and Clinton Symphony Orchestra Association