- Symphonie en fa, op. 20; Pavane, op. 50; Caligula, op. 52 by Gabriel Fauré
While Fauré may not spring immediately to mind as a writer of symphonies—other works of his, such as the violin sonatas, piano trios, songs, and the ever-present Requiem probably more easily find a place there—he in fact composed two, neither of which survives complete. And of his incidental music for the stage, his scores for Caligula and Shylock, both commissioned to accompany dramatic stage pieces at the Odéon theater in Paris in the late 1880s, have lost out in popularity to that for Pelléas et Mélisande, premiered in London in 1898. This leaves the Pavane, op. 50, as probably the best known among the compositions contained in this new volume of Fauré’s complete works, the first of three devoted to his “Œuvres symphoniques et concertantes.” Although not specifically mentioned on its title page, the volume also contains a separate version of the op. 20 symphony arranged for organ and orchestra, plus the surviving first violin part of Fauré’s other symphony, op. 40, in D minor (all the other performance parts for this symphony, along with the full score, are lost). Mostly composed in 1884, opus 40 received its first performance at the Théâtre du Châtelet in March of the following year, a couple of months short of its composer’s fortieth birthday. The influential French music journal Le ménestrel accorded it only a lukewarm review, praising some parts and criticizing others.
The source situation with regard to the opus 20 symphony is slightly complex. For the orchestral version there survive an autograph full score and a copyist’s set of parts, each of them containing only two movements—an opening Allegro, and a Gavotte that later found its way into Fauré’s suite Masques et bergamasques. (Material from the D-minor symphony was also reused later, for instance in the slow movement of Fauré’s Second Violin Sonata, op. 108, and in the op. 109 Sonata for Cello.) His arrangement of the op. 20 symphony for organ and orchestra also includes an Andante in B-flat major, creating a three-movement structure that was first presented in piano-duet form at a concert in February 1873. The first orchestral performance, given in Paris under Edouard Colonne in May of the following year, comprised these three movements plus a finale that is no longer extant. Editor Robin Tait speculates that Fauré may have destroyed it following the symphony’s unenthusiastic reception at Colonne’s concerts, or that perhaps his wife did so later.
The Gavotte from the F-major symphony began life at the end of the 1860s as a piano piece. If it is a little surprising to find such a movement, which one might more [End Page 807] readily associate with the eighteenth century, in a symphony from the second half of the nineteenth, a similar sense of surprise could be applied to Fauré’s use of the designation of “pavane,” which if anything is redolent of an even earlier time. Nonetheless, it was a form that brought popular success both to Fauré, who composed his Pavane in 1887, and to his pupil Maurice Ravel, whose Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899) earned the young composer some much-needed attention, and some surely even-more-needed cash, at a crucial point in his career. Fauré’s Pavane was originally conceived for orchestra alone, but quickly turned into a work with chorus, to words by Robert de Montes quieu. Unfortunately, while the version without chorus is reproduced in the...