Having sung the “Cantique de Jean Racine” approximately three hundred times, the first time as one of four-dozen high school students (oh how irreverently we belted out “Verrrrbegaaaaaaal ohhhhhh tray-ohhhhht,”*), I worked assertively to put quite a bit of distance between myself and Monsiuer Fauré. I incorrectly assumed that the Cantique was all he had written, and had also conflated that piece’s unappealing pulverization with any other piece he might have written.
Mais, ça n’étais pas juste! Exhibit A: his second piano quintet. This piece was written in 1921, three years before Fauré’s death. A music reviewer at its Paris premier wrote that, “We had expected a beautiful work, but not one as beautiful as this.” Normally I abhor chamber music; its small size makes me feel both bored and claustrophobic, like I’m on a field trip to see a small town’s old, dusty geological museum. But the emotional range of this piece is so expansive that it feels like standing on a rooftop. It’s classical music, alright, but it’s also firmly modern. To put this music in context, this was written about the same time as the irresistible “Doctor Jazz” (see last week’s Termagant Tuesday post), and they both have a playful attitude towards the regulations of melody, harmony, and rhythm that had confined music before. The first bars of the first movement are so compelling, you just have to find out what happens next. The third movement (14:54) is heartbreakingly lovely and delicate. I’m sorry I ever doubted Fauré.
*A.k.a, “Verbe égal au Très-Haut.”