Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chausson - Concerto For Piano, Violin and String Quartet

What identifies the genre of a classical music piece is not always dependent on the number of performers. For example, concertos for solo piano exist that were written by Bach and Alkan, compositions that were called 'concertos' on account of their style of composition, a style that attempts to portray an accompaniment and a more florid solo part all with the same instrument, sometimes at the same time.

So while the number of instruments for the Concerto For Piano, Violin and String Quartet is six, Chausson didn't call it a sextet, but a concerto. And rightly so, for the piano and solo violin parts are written in a different style than the string quartet.  Their parts are more solo in nature while the quartet is more accompaniment in nature. A small thing perhaps, and perhaps splitting hairs, but Chausson was nothing if not a meticulous composer. He felt the distinction was important enough to name his piece the way he did, and it does give the listener a heads up to the originality and quality of the music about to be heard.

Ernest Chausson was born into a comfortable middle class family in France and studied music with the French  opera composer Jules Massenet. He was influenced by Massenet in his early compositions and by Cesar Franck in his later ones. He was not a prolific composer, leaving only 39 opus numbered compositions. Writing was long and painful for him, but the quality  of his compositions was always high.  He  was killed instantly at the age of 44 in 1899 after he struck a brick wall while riding his bicycle.

The concerto is in 4 movements:
I. Décidé  - The tempo designation of the first movement can be translated from the French as decide, make a choice.  The movement begins with a three note motive stated by the piano alone,  D,A,E. This small germ of an idea is the core of the entire composition.  Motives are built from these three tones in differing textures in the first movement. The movement grows like an exotic plant around the roots of the three tones.
II. Sicilienne - Based on the first movement's theme, this is Chausson's variation on an Italian dance form.
III. Grave -  A solemn and serious movement.
IV.Très animé  - A very lively and animated movement that is in stark contrast to the preceding one.

Chausson was an original. He managed to live long enough to give the world a handful of masterpieces. He is a composer that will probably never be mainstream or performed as much as other composers that lived longer and composed more pieces, but what we do have are gems to be treasured and enjoyed.


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