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Edouard Lalo: Edouard Lalo (b. Lille, 27 Jan 1823; d. Paris, 22 April 1892).
Although Edouard Lalo is usually remembered for the wrong reason, for his Symphonie espagnole rather than for his operatic masterpiece, Le Roid d' Ys, there is this to be said in its favour: it reminds us that the composer was prominent among those who helped restore orchestral music to its rightful place in the Paris of the 1870s and 1880s.
A year younger than Cesar Franck, and like him a provincial who found fame in Paris, Edouard Lalo was born in Lille in 1823. (His family was by origin Spanish though long domiciled in France.) Trained as a string player at the local Conservatoire, the young musician defied his soldier father by embarking for Paris where he joined Habeneck's violin class at the Conservatoire and studied composition privately. At first he made no particular impression and apart from producing some songs and chamber music (for which there was little market anyway), he made his living as an instrumentalist and teacher and, as a member of the Armigaud-Jacquard String Quartet, acquired an excellent knowledge of the classical chamber music repertory. By nature retiring and contemplative his career might have remained in the doldrums but for his marriage in 1865 to a singer, Mile de Maligny, who encouraged him to write for the stage. His first attempts were discouraging. His opera Fiesque, based on Schiller, only won third prize in a government-sponsored competition. The director of the Theatre Lyrique procrastinated and then the outbreak of Franco-Prussian war made its production impossible. The set-back was however only temporary, for Saint-Saens' recently founded Societe Nationale de Musique provided an outlet for new French orchestral music.
Inspired by the great Spanish violinist Sarasate, who launched both works, Edouard Lalo introduced his Concerto in F in 1874 followed by his Symphonie espagnole in 1875. They made his name. Meanwhile, he was engaged upon another opera, Le Roi d' Ys, based on a Breton legend, extracts from which were heard at the Colonne Concerts in 1876. Two years later the opera was complete, but is production was postponed and he was asked instead to write a ballet for the Opera - to be ready in four months. The time was short, the task outside his experience. The effort of composing Namouna brought on nervous prostration and the scoring had to be finished by Gounod. Despite the vociferous enthusiasm of the young avant-garde composers the combination of a hostile claque and a hostile press ensured its failure. It was said to be 'symphonic' and 'Wagnerian', reproaches no longer valid when suites from it were successfully performed in the concert hall.
Apart from the Norwegian Rhapsody and the 'Russian' Violin Concerto, the next major work was his admirable G minor Symphony (1887) in which German procedures were crossed with the piquant distinctiveness of his melodies and scoring. When eventually Le Roi d' Ys was staged at the Opera in 1888, it confounded its ill-wishers by becoming a best seller. It proved that Wagner's musical methods could be exploited without recourse to his literary-philosophical preoccupations. Edouard Lalo had a taste for the picturesque and the exotic but his real claim to fame was his ability to synthesise the best of the French and German traditions.
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