This English translation of Jean-Michel Nectoux's edition of the complete correspondence of Saint-Saëns and Fauré is most welcome. Fauré became Saint-Saëns's pupil at the École Niedermeyer in 1861, and the friendship between the two composers lasted from then until Saint-Saëns's death in 1921, a period of sixty years. As J. Barrie Jones says in his Translator's Introduction (p. viii), 'the lifelong friendship between Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré, both in length and intimacy, is unparalleled among composers of any period'. Although the older composer found Fauré's later works, with a few exceptions such as the Twelfth Barcarolle (1915), largely unintelligible, he never lost his regard for his former pupil. Fauré for his part revered and respected Saint-Saëns, while being aware of his shortcomings. In an article which appeared in the Revue musicale for 1 February 1922 and which is given as an appendix to this [End Page 141] volume, he suggested that, rather than as the greatest French musician of his time, Saint-Saëns should be described as 'the most complete musician that we have ever possessed. His knowledge that knew no bounds, his prodigious technique, his clear-sighted and shrewd powers of perception, his conscientiousness, the variety and astonishing number of his works, do they not justify this accolade which makes him a man to be reckoned with for all time?' (p. 136). Fauré did, however, admit, in this same article, that Saint-Saëns's music did sometimes possess a certain coolness: 'Certainly . . . the thought appears at times to have dwelt in those areas of serenity . . . where violence, where paroxysms, are unknown, where side by side reign dignity, wit, charm, smiling tenderness. This atmosphere evokes feelings that one might perhaps describe as merely ordinary feelings. These will, however, have been sufficient to inspire in him those numerous pages that are at the same time both delightful and long-lasting' (p. 137).
Although this is the first complete English edition of the Saint-Saëns-Fauré correspondence, thirty-one of the 138 letters have been available in English for some time: twenty-three were published in the same translator's earlier collection, Gabriel Fauré: A Life in Letters (London, 1989), while eleven were published in Nectoux's important collection, Gabriel Fauré: His Life through his Letters, translated by J. A. Underwood (London, 1984). Three letters appear in both collections.
A comparison of Jones's translations with those of Underwood in Nectoux's earlier compilation is instructive. Here is Saint-Saëns's letter to Fauré of 16 October 1915 in Jones's translation (Letter 108, p. 107):
My dear friend
Here is the same letter in Underwood's version (Nectoux (1984), Letter 173, p. 298):
My dear friend
To me the second translation flows better and is in more natural, colloquial English, while the first rather obviously betrays its French origins. The first is possibly slightly closer to the original French, but the second conveys more of the warmth of the writer's feelings. In cases where I have checked the translation against the original, I have usually found that Jones keeps pretty close to the French; occasionally more freedom might have been allowable in order to arrive at a more idiomatic and colloquial English version. Particular points of translation are listed at the end of this review.
Nectoux's introduction discusses at considerable length Saint-Saëns's attitude to Fauré's music. While he was a great champion of the earlier works, including the First Violin Sonata, the Second Nocturne, and the Second Valse-Caprice, there were already problems with La Bonne Chanson (1894): 'Fauré has become absolutely mad', he said, though he was later to revise his opinion in the song-cycle's favour. It was with such works as the late song-cycle Le Jardin clos (1914), which Saint...