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Emmanuel Chabrier: Emmanuel Chabrier (b.Ambert, 18 Jan 1841; d. Paris, 13 Sept 1894).
Emmanuel Chabrier was born in a little town in the Livradois region of Auvergne in Central France. The family had some inherited wealth and his father was a successful barrister, so Emmanuel Chabrier was brought up in an atmosphere of affluence and culture. His father was determined that he should study the law with a view to a career in the civil service but he was also happy that his son, who showed early musical talent, should study music as an intellectual pastime. He went to a local school and had his first piano lessons when he was six. Two of his early music teachers were Spanish which probably started his lifelong interest in the music of Spain culminating in the brilliant Espaha rhapsody of 1883. When Emmanuel Chabrier was sixteen the family moved to Paris where he studied for four years at the Lycee St Louis, eventually obtaining his law degree and entering the Ministry of the Interior as a junior clerk. He was to remain a civil servant for eighteen years but, his work never being particularly arduous, he devoted much spare time to studying music. He had further piano lessons but developed his own composing talents by private study and by laboriously copying the scores of other composers, with a special interest in Wagner whose harmonic example added a piquant element to Emmanuel Chabrier's otherwise elegantly French and occasionally Spanish-tinged scores.
It was an ideal life, that of a comfortably well-off amateur of the arts. He was never under pressure to write and having passed a pleasantly uneventful twenty years in study, the next ten were equally pleasantly occupied with artistic dabblings. He was past thirty when his first work was published and almost forty before he gave up his civil service job to devote himself entirely to music. Both his parents had died when he was twenty-eight.
His interest in the arts was not confined to music where his friends included d'Indy, Faure, Chausson and Duparc, but also embraced literature where he made friends of eminent writers like Verlaine, Mallarme, Zola, Daudetand Richepin, and especially painting. In the world of art he enjoyed the friendship of Renoir and Manet (who died in his arms) and had portraits painted by both these masters as well as by Tissot, Degas and several others. In return Emmanuel Chabrier was a great patron of the arts and by the end of his life had acquired a collection of paintings that included eleven Manets, six Renoirs, two Sisleys, a Cezanne and many others, the piece de resistance being Manet's Un Bar aux Folies-Bergere which he bought for 5,850 francs.
His first musical success, while still a civil servant, was with a charming operetta called L'Etoile which was performed at Les Bouffes-Parisiens in 1877. The score was commissioned by the librettists Leterrier and Vanloo who had been impressed by some of his early piano music. It made his reputation overnight and two years later he wrote another one-act operetta Vne Education Manquee of which Poulenc later said that there was 'not a single page which does not bear the imprint of a master's hand'. The success of this piece helped him to make the decision to take up music as a full-time occupation.
A trip to Bayreuth confirmed his decision and when he came to write his operas Gwendoline (1886) and Le Roi malgre lui (1887) they exhibited their debt to Wagner, although the latter had much of Emmanuel Chabrier's natural French vivacity and good-humour in it. Emmanuel Chabrier's reputation rests on his few orchestral pieces, each a well-considered and expertly-wrought masterpiece full of exhilarating movement and strong melody - Espaha (1883); Joyeuse marche (1888) both originally written for orchestra and his arrangements of piano pieces - Habanera (1885); Suite pastorale (1888) and Bourree fantasque (1891). His piano music always exhibited a strong individuality - some being described by Cesar Franck as 'a musical bridge between our own times and those of Couperin and Rameau'. His few songs are as shapely and delightful as one might expect of such a composer.
The end of the story, contrary to its promise, was not a happy one. After a mere ten years or so of composing Emmanuel Chabrier fell into a state of acute melancholia and, verging on insanity, died at the age of fifty-three in Paris. His handful of fine works will always be remembered. He wrote: 'I want my work to be beautiful throughout... never the same colour, and everywhere variety, shape and, above all, vitality'. This he most certainly achieved.
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