About this work
To his publisher Julien Hamelle on June 24, 1880, Fauré wrote, "I was very sorry you could not be at Saint-Saëns' on Monday. My cello piece was excellently received, which greatly encourages me to go on and do the whole sonata." As he entered the decade, Fauré's music became more subtle, allusive, and inward, leaving the style of broadly conceived melodic eloquence -- in which this single movement is couched -- more or less behind. Indeed, the exquisite Ballade, which may be said to have inaugurated this new phase, dates from the year before. This single movement for cello and piano was given its official premiere at the Société Nationale concert of December 15, 1883, by cellist Jules Loëb, to whom it is dedicated. Titled Élégie, it was published by Hamelle the same year. Fauré made an orchestral version of the piece in about 1897, which Hamelle eventually published in 1901. Curiously, as if the Élégie represented unfinished business, the great Andante of the Cello Sonata No. 2 of 1921 is cut from the same cloth.
The simple grandeur of its ABA layout, in which the most telling melody is allowed to sing without complication, no doubt accounts for the Élégie's phenomenal appeal. Over steady, dirge-like chords, the cello dramatically embarks upon an expansive lament that quietens as it unfolds in tones of somber oration. Then, accompanied by the cello, the piano essays an effusive song -- as of joy recalled in grief -- taken up by the cello to culminate in a sudden vehement (and rather unconvincing) cadenza before the funereal opening returns, shadowed by the central section's plaint, to sing itself into nothingness.
The Élégie's immediate popularity prompted Hamelle to press Fauré for similar surefire pieces, to which is owed such things as Papillon for cello and piano (1884), the Romance for cello and piano (1894), the Fantaisie for flute and piano (1898), and so on. If Fauré's reputation with a larger public largely rests upon these often heard small numbers, to the detriment of his richer, elusive later works, it is worth noting that he never lost the common touch -- the ability to speak directly and with compelling charm to the least sophisticated.
Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator