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James William Sobaskie - Gabriel Faure: A Guide to Research (review) - Notes 57:3 Notes 57.3 (2001) 612-613

Book Review

Gabriel Fauré:
A Guide to Research

Gabriel Fauré: A Guide to Research. By Edward R. Phillips. (Composer Resource Manuals, 49.) New York: Garland Publishing, 2000. [xv, 429 p. ISBN 0-8240-7023-9. $95.]

Some myths, including a few surrounding Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), die hard.

For instance, one still occasionally finds Fauré characterized as a "salon composer," a "miniaturist," or an artist of the "second rank." Yet anyone familiar with his chamber music, La bonne chanson, or Pénélope recognizes the absurdity of such labels and knows that Fauré takes no back seat to any contemporary. And while one rarely reads anymore that Fauré's music is "too French to travel," suggestions persist that it is only for a select few, or that it is reactionary, or even that it is fundamentally ambiguous. Close examination of his oeuvre, however, reveals that Fauré's distinctive style departs from the romantic and Germanic traditions, featuring a language based on the principle of allusion and the play of expectation. Finally, claims of Fauré's "neglect" still come from well-meaning admirers, although this rhetorical ploy now does more to undermine Fauré's image than to improve it. Before Jean-Michel Nectoux's Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), there may have been truth to this notion, but today it seems more appropriate to speak of willful ignorance than neglect. Recent essay collections, like Regarding Fauré, edited by Tom Gordon (Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach, 1999), certainly offer proof of a flourishing interest in the composer, as do increasing numbers of performances and recordings. Evidence for all of these assertions now may be more readily accessed, thanks to a new resource manual by Edward Phillips.

Gabriel Fauré: A Guide to Research surveys the available documents pertaining to the composer. Musicians casually acquainted with Fauré will be struck by the range of material it encompasses, Fauré scholars will be surprised by the number of items they never knew existed, and all will be astonished by the amount of research this book represents. Its content is organized into five chapters, plus five appendixes and an author index.

Chapter 1 recites basic facts of Fauré's life and reviews some of the myths that have hindered his reputation. Chapter 2, entitled "Works," begins with a tabular list of his compositions, grouped by genre and ordered by opus number; also included here are compositions without opus number and transcriptions by Fauré, as well as didactic, miscellaneous, and doubtful pieces. Each title entry includes dates of composition and publication, as well as information on the original publisher and on primary sources. Following this list are the first of 1,148 bibliographic entries, including references to Fauré's editions of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Robert Schumann, his music criticism, written responses to enquêtes, interviews, prefaces contributed to works by others, and personal correspondence. Particularly helpful are the extensive and insightful endnotes concluding this and subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3 offers a systematic description of the extant primary sources of Fauré's music--manuscripts, sketches, partial autographs, and annotated proofs--now held in libraries around the world. These sources are listed by location (ordered by country, city, library, and collection) and identified by call number and title. Phillips's descriptions of the manuscripts are extremely detailed, including information on paper, staves, foliation, binding, pagination, ink, [End Page 612] orthography, signature, dating, corrections, significant markings, and unusual features. Interspersed are bibliographic entries for general commentaries and formal studies dealing with these primary sources.

Chapter 4, "Bibliography," provides individual references to monographs, articles, dissertations, newspaper accounts, and other writings that address the life and works of Fauré. These are organized into thirty-one separate categories (e.g., "Monographs," "Fauré and the Conservatoire," "Technical Discussions," "Orchestral Works," etc.). In addition, there are sections devoted to exhibition catalogs, discographies, miscellaneous articles, and "oddities." Readers will appreciate Phillips's pithy annotations, which often communicate the spirit as well as the substance of each item and occasionally reveal errors of fact.

Finally, chapter 5, "Afterword: Directions for Research," briefly examines the state of Fauré scholarship today. Those hoping for a generous set of specific suggestions here will be disappointed, but valuable hints appear throughout the text. For instance, Phillips's statement at the start of chapter 3 --"The scholarly literature on Fauré includes very few studies of the primary sources for his music" (p. 55)--certainly represents an invitation!

To complete the book, appendix A identifies a number of dossiers d'œuvre held in Parisian libraries, appendix B lists contents of a newsletter (Association des amis de Gabriel Fauré [published 1964-79]) and a journal (Etudes fauréennes [published 1980- 84]), and appendix C does the same for collections of essays and special issues of periodicals devoted to the composer. Appendix D presents a checklist of master's theses, and appendix E offers a list of useful recordings of Fauré's music.

Phillips's overview of the literature on Fauré is comprehensive, and there appear to be no major bibliographic omissions. Indeed, the only references I miss are some that might serve to highlight misconceptions about Fauré, like Emile Lelouch's "Le langage impressioniste de Fauré dans son Requiem" and Marie-Claire Beltrando-Patier's "L'impressionisme dans les mélodies de Gabriel Fauré" (Revue internationale de musique française 5 [1981]: 73-74 and 75-80 respectively). To these might be added Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca's A History of Western Music (5th ed. [New York: W. W. Norton, 1996], 678-80). In this widely used undergraduate textbook, Fauré's style is described largely through negation ("His harmony thus lacks the usual pull of the tonic"), old myths are perpetuated ("His music is not remarkable for color--he was not skilled at orchestration"), and personal biases intrude ("Except for a few songs, his works have never become widely popular, and many foreigners, even musicians, cannot understand why he is so highly regarded in France"). Surely Fauré deserves better--and the need for Gabriel Fauré: A Guide to Research is amply evident!

Garland merits praise for its support of this worthy project and for the great care exercised in its production. The hardbound book, graced with a photograph of the composer, is easy to use and meant to last. The proofreading overlooked only a few minor errors (e.g., "Brietkopf" instead of "Breitkopf" on p. 20 and "distant" instead of "distance" on p. 251), thus complementing the author's own thoroughness. Clearly, the guide was a labor of love.

With his Gabriel Fauré: A Guide to Research, Edward Phillips has done all Fauré scholars a supreme service. This book belongs anywhere French music is nurtured.

University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point

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