Ernest Chausson: CDs & DVDs: Best CDs & DVDs of Ernest Chausson

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Ernest Chausson: CDs & DVDs - The Best CDs & DVDs of Ernest Chausson




Ernest Chausson: Overview


Ernest Chausson: Ernest Chausson (b. Paris, 20 Jan 1855; d. Limay, 10 June 1899).



Ernest Chausson was the son of a building contractor who made a fortune in Baron Haussmann's rebuilding of central Paris. Two previous children of his parents had not survived infancy and Ernest was brought up with extreme solicitude and educated by a private tutor rather than allowed to take his chance at a school. He naturally grew up a quiet, considerate and, as he put it, melancholy child. The relative solitude of my upbringing and the reading of a few morbid books ... made me sad without quite knowing why.' To please his parents he took a degree in Law at the University of Paris in 1877; but he had no need to earn his living and could follow his own bent. This seemed at first to be towards either literature or painting and it was probably a visit to Munich in 1879 to hear Wagner's music that finally decided him in favour of music. He entered the Paris Conservatoire as a pupil of Massenet for composition and Cesar Franck for the organ, but within a few months he withdrew from the Conservatoire and enrolled as a private pupil of Franck's. By this time (the autumn of 1880) he had already paid a second visit to Germany and heard Tristan for the first time. The so-called 'bande a Franck' was already almost complete, except for the young Belgian Lekeu, and included Vincent d'lndy, Henri Duparc, Pierre de Breville, Guy Ropartz and Charles Bordes.



In 1881 Ernest Chausson competed unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome, but a trio written the same year was performed in 1882 and a year later the symphonic poem Viviane. This was dedicated to Mademoiselle Jeanne Escudier whom Ernest Chausson married the same year. She was to prove an excellent wife to him and mother to their five children, an elegant hostess and an excellent companion on the many expeditions abroad which agreeably diversified their life together. In Paris their house in the Boulevard de Courcelles soon became a regular meeting-place for painters and writers as well as musicians. Among the guests were Manet, Degas, Renoir and Rodin; Mallarme, Henri de Regnier and Gide; Franck, of course, but also Chabrier, Faure, Koechlin and Satie, Ysaye, Thibaud and Cortot. It was a mutual friend, Raymond Bonheur, who introduced the young Debussy, and he and Ernest Chausson took an immediate liking to each other. Ernest Chausson was already at work on Le Roi Arthus, the opera which he did not live to see performed, and Debussy was similarly engaged on his Pelleas et Melisande. Ernest Chausson himself, after his early settings of Leconte de Lisle {Nanny and Le Colibri), and Theophile Gautier (Les Papillons) was at this time busy, like Debussy, with texts by Maurice Maeterlinck, which were to appear in the volume of Serres chaudes. Maurice Bouchor's Poeme de l' amour et de la mer, finished in 1892, was an ambitious combination of narrative and lyric, cyclic in form and with an orchestral accompaniment which shows Ernest Chausson less at home with the orchestra than in his Symphony in B flat. This was the chief and most characteristic fruit of his three years study with Franck, lively and genuinely symphonic in character but showing something of the stiffness and obedience to (Franckist) convention in its form, which is cyclic. The agonies through which he went in writing this work, and particularly the finale (which is the least satisfactory movement) are described in the correspondance with his brother-in-law Henri Lerolle.



Ernest Chausson's discontent with his own music is well expressed in his correspondence with Debussy, who spent much of the summer of 1893 staying with the Ernest Chaussons at Luzancy, where they had rented a house. The close and frank-speaking friendship between the two, further cemented by Ernest Chausson's characteristic generosity towards a younger colleague often hard pressed for money, was continued during the autumn. Debussy criticises Ernest Chausson for his preoccupation with the inner parts of his music, 'something into which we have been led by R. Wagner, so that we think too much of the frame before making certain of the picture'. Other, less friendly disposed critics have spoken of the 'endlessly elegiac atmosphere' of Ernest Chausson's music; and this is a valid criticism. The narrowness of emotional range may be explained partly by the too careful upbringing of a sensitive, naturally introspective boy, and the thick textures by the instinct of a man well aware that he might be dismissed as a rich amateur to show his professional ability in complexities not always suited to the simple lyrical nature of his musical ideas. Like all Franck's pupils Ernest Chausson also suffered from the standard of 'high seriousness' set by the master and his powerful successor d'lndy, acknowledged as chief of a musical party determined to raise the standard of French music and to compel the public to abandon their hitherto exclusive interest in opera and to interest themselves in symphonic and chamber music. In fact Ernest Chausson as a composer was in many ways the victim of his own high-mindedness, and he was chagrined to find that as a musical innovator he was left far behind by his younger colleague and friend. The relationship between him and Debussy as artists has been well compared to that of Verlaine and Rimbaud, in every other way totally dissimilar characters.



In his work on Le Roi Arthus Ernest Chausson was repeatedly haunted by 'the red spectre of Wagner' or 'that frightful Wagner who is blocking all my paths'. He even shared Wagner's interest in Schopenhauer, a writer calculated to increase Ernest Chausson's innate tendency to melancholy and self-distrust. This in its turn was emphasised by the contrast with the easiness of his external existence.



Good heavens [he wrote] I know only too well that I am what people call fortunate, almost frightfully so. And doubtless I should be too much so, were it not for this wretched, uneasy and violent brain of mine.



He finally completed Le Roi A rthus at Fiesole on Christmas Day 1895 and in the following year his Maeterlinck settings, Serres chaudes and Quelques danses for piano in July. But by far the most important composition of 1896, written in the comparatively short space of time between April and August, was his Poeme for violin and orchestra. In October of the same year he was in Spain, where he met Granados and Ysaye, an old friend who gave the first private performance of Poeme. Albeniz he already knew, and it was he who persuaded Breitkopf to publish Poeme, which Ysaye played at Nancy in December 1896 and in Paris on the 4th April 1897. When the visiting Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra included his symphony in the programme of their guest-concert in Paris in May 1897 Ernest Chausson felt that he had at last established himself as a serious composer.



His increased self-confidence issued in two works, both of which had their first performance in 1898, a piano quartet and a tone-poem Soir de fete. These and three songs, including Chanson perpetuelle with orchestral accompaniment, were Ernest Chausson's last compositions. Felix Mottl in Karlsruhe expressed a lively interest in Le Roi A rthus and prospects in Brussels were even brighter. In fact it was there, at the Theatre de la Monnaie, that Le Roi Arthus was eventually given its first performance, on the 30th November 1903. But it was too late for Ernest Chausson, who was killed in a bicycling accident in 1899 while spending his summer holiday at his house at Limay, near Mantes. His fear of Wagner's overriding influence in the music of Le Roi Arthus proved justified in the event; and Ernest Chausson's masterpiece, in which his warm imagination, his idealism and the real nobility of his musical mind are most clearly revealed, remains the Poeme which Ysaye played for the first time in London exactly a week after the composer's death.



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