Gabriel Fauré


Op. 103

About this work

Composed in 1910, the Préludes are Fauré at his most old-masterly. They are also exactly contemporary with Debussy's first book of Préludes; where the latter, for all their exquisiteness, are extroverted public statements, Fauré's are a concentrated, inward utterance. The first three Préludes date from January and were performed for the first time by Marguerite Long at a Société Nationale concert on May 17, 1910, before being published by Heugel that year. But over July and into the autumn six more Préludes followed, and it seems that Fauré then intended to work his way through the cycle of major and minor keys -- a plan which fell by the wayside with the resumption of work on his lyric drama, Pénélope. The remaining six were issued separately by Heugel the following year and eventually published together with the initial Préludes in a single collection in 1923. If their piecemeal appearance and small number helped drop them into obscurity, they are comparable, nevertheless, to Chopin's and Debussy's contributions to the genre in point of pith and emotional power.

In D flat, the first prélude looks back to the Verlaine settings of the 1890s wistfully and with tendresse, interrupted by a plangent B section which seems to toll the passing hour, rising to a tense climax soothed by the return of the initial strain and rounded with a coda-like a benediction. Likewise, the restless C sharp triplets of the second prélude are met by a carillon-like admonition. The third prélude seems to recall the dreaming, hesitant interludes of the joyous Third Impromptu for piano, of 1883, in a somber G minor rife with nostalgia. In F, the fourth prélude looks forward and backward; it includes a phrase which turns up again in the Menuet of Masques et bergamasques in 1918, and also harks back to the blithe world of the Verlaine settings. The following D minor outburst takes one by surprise -- anger yielding almost conversationally to resignation. In E flat, the sixth prélude takes the form of a canon at the octave in a severe, obsessive meditation. The anxious flight of the seventh prélude, in A -- composed in early September -- is associated with the final illness of Fauré's father-in-law, the sculptor, Emmanuel Fremiet. The tiny C minor study in repeated notes suggests a wryly sec serenade; the final prélude in E minor -- a mere 33 bars -- calls to mind the meditative compactness of Bach, albeit with an harmonic motility lending its straightforward statement tortuous piquancy. Taken together, the Préludes afford several direct, hence rare, glimpses of Fauré's inner being -- in Wallace Stevens' phrase, "a self returning mostly memory."