Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (trumpet)
Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano)
In search of posthumous legitimacy?
The repertoire for trumpet and piano and the conspicuous gaps therein provides a strong incentive for rediscovering music particularly open to anachronistic re-casting. The often difficult combination (its sonorities normally rendering true chamber music exchanges challenging) inevitably points one in the direction of ‘difficult' works too - works that have been under-advocated in their original settings.
The process of re-imagining such a repertoire through such a medium provides a good vantage point from which to survey the whole gamut of creative, interpretative and editorial ‘manipulations' in which performers and transcribers have to engage. As the archetypal composer-transcriber Ferruccio Busoni made abundantly clear, the lines between these processes are not easily or clearly drawn. Poetic intentions, musical ideas, the setting down of musical ideas on paper, ‘interpreting texts', bringing them to life in sound (i.e. understanding the physicality of particular instruments and acoustics) to be listened to and ‘understood' again - can any of these stages in the life of a musical work be distinctly delimited? Perhaps simply ‘making music' describes it best. By contrast, what is clearly defined is the painting-by-numbers approach, whereby the performer is relegated to being a mere executant of some supposed urtext. On this disc, the very texts (all transcriptions) and the medium (trumpet and piano), have at least made that kind of ‘authenticity' unthinkable.
Re-editing the violin part of Fauré's Second Sonata and the cello part of the slow movement from Saint-Saëns' Second Cello Sonata as a meaningful trumpet obbligato requires a wholesale translation of the string articulations - and by extension some fresh thinking about musical syntax in these works - leading in the case of the Fauré to revealing studies of early sources (more about this below). With Chabrier's piano music we have the legacy of his own playful orchestrations but also a challenge to keep intact much of the tersely idiomatic piano writing, for all its robustness and occasional uncouthness. Thus it seems in the right spirit, for large stretches, simply to super-impose a free part for the trumpet, sparring gamely with the existing piano lines. With the revisited baroque of Hahn's ‘A Chloris' now transported to the salon, delicious ironies abound. But the most dramatic transformation here, Rameau's Suite from ‘Naïs', may have recourse to the ‘gothic' tradition of transcribing baroque works as virtuoso showpieces, but not with total abandon: heeding Rameau's felicitous sense of the picturesque and the delicacies of his voice-leading remains paramount! Hence the insistent demands of the originals assert their primacy, dictating the nature of each transcription.
If there is any tradition for the trumpet and piano in tandem it comes from the plethora of ‘pieces de concours' of the Paris Conservatoire in the early years of the last century, a growth in virtuoso trompettistes in that institution at the time of Fauré's headship and a style of composition which still dominates the audition diet for trumpet players by names which hardly resonate beyond the bell of the instrument: this is repertoire written within the established technical and syntactical clichés of their time, ones which fail to exploit the possibilities of two instruments who have lived and grown for a further century. So we look afresh: the desire to find new ways of expressing and presenting wonderful music lies at the heart of this project.
The existence of a broad French aesthetic over 200 years, a tradition of unrivalled focus and purity of identity from Rameau to late Fauré, is no accident. In surveying this tradition in a project of nouvelles visages, there will always be the question "what if?". In this case, what if the real luminaries of the great French époque - like Saint-Saëns and Fauré - had embraced the potential of the trumpet and piano, as we are now able to exploit the medium, with the knowledge, resources and perspective of the early 21st century? In particular, we think of a delicate and pliable chamber world of working in intimate contexts; most the composers here wrote independently for trumpet and piano but rarely employed the instruments together.
The origins of quintessential musical Frenchness, as far as Chabrier, Franck, Saint-Saëns, Hahn and Fauré are concerned, lie at Rameau's door. The initial attempt to enrich our repertoire starts with a figure who would neither have recognised the chromatic trumpet nor the modern piano. Stronger than the medium is the language: immutable Gallic frisson, sensuous embellishment, unmistakable dialects, and a coloration deeply embedded in a typically French identification with visual imagery which truly links Rameau to Debussy.
Rameau's Suite from ‘Naïs', a pastorale-héroïque (one of many French sub-genres of opera), was commissioned by the Paris Opera in 1748, the year the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle heralded the end of the War of Austrian Succession. The Overture preceding the Prologue is a masterpiece of sparkling Ramellian flair, representing ‘a warlike alarum' as Olympus is stormed by the Titans. Whilst it may also recall pre-Treaty conflict in its sweeping harmonic progressions, ricocheting battle-drawn figures and irresistible energy (Victor Gavenda calls it ‘one of the most viscerally exciting pieces of the eighteenth century'), the remaining movements reflect the cultivation of peace in which the allegorical figure, Flora, repairs the ravaged wastelands of war. Within all this, a reformulated classical theme of Neptune's infatuation with the water-nymph, Naïs, is contrived.
The seven movements in our suite which follows the Overture include a fine processional Entrée majestueuse, a Sarabande of imploring grace and pointed decorum and then a Gavotte danced by Flora's servants, in which a rising motif of new birth instils an abiding Spring-like image of grassy meadows and sweet dew. A pair of cantankerous Rigaudons (a frustrated Neptune not able to sow his wild oats?), an Arcadian Musette with its bagpipe drones, two rustic Tambourins and a decidedly finite Contredanse générale convey the peerless characterisation of France's finest opera composer. How fortuitous to find the pioneering scholar, Cuthbert Girdlestone, write in 1957 that Naïs ‘should be exploited by arrangers and transcribers; the music here is as poignant as when it was new and needs no sense of history to go to the heart'.
Franck famously exclaimed of Chabrier, ‘this music links our own times and those of Couperin and Rameau'. Suite for Trumpet and Piano comprises two movements from ‘Dix Pièces pittoresques', the free-standing Aubade (Dawn serenade) and a solo Feuillet d'album (retaining its solo status) - all drawn from his piano works. The reason for Franck's thrilled exclamation of its pure lineage to the ancien règime lies principally in Chabrier's penchant for the filigree and characterisation of the great French baroque clavecinistes. Probably, in truth, Couperin is a greater influence than Rameau. The parallels are not entirely satisfactory. Chabrier - a one-off dilettante composer who was a civil servant in the day job - was a man of broad cultural interests whose admiration for Wagner galvanised him to continue composing whatever the prospects. A collector of numerous fine Impressionist works, Chabrier was painted by his friend Edouard Manet and held the artist on his deathbed. In 1880, he declared his professional status as a composer and assembled a small oeuvre which was quietly leaving an indelible mark on the younger generation.
If Chabrier's music is essentially undemanding, it is no less skilfully crafted for that. Its surprising harmonic crudities (‘I get my musical rhythm from my Auvergne clogs') paradoxically recall the nostalgic refinement of the Ramellian spirit as much as the joyful faux counterpoint, quick-silver contrasts or sharp contours. The Francophile, Martin Cooper, surprisingly regarded these pieces as ‘a confusion of sentimental nostalgia and almost brutal café-concert atmosphere'. Perhaps the disarming personality evident in Aubade, where one smells the fresh paint in its cornet-like melodies, Poulenc-like in its fleeting events and witty asides, was just not suave enough for Cooper?
Saint-Saëns is often claimed as the avuncular figure of modern French music, whose most famous and important protégé was Fauré. He was a polymath extraordinaire: a prolific man of letters, playwright, musicologist (editor of Durand's complete works of Rameau), administrator, teacher, publicist, botanist, astronomer, historian, philosopher, poet, travel-writer (under a pseudonym), virtuoso pianist, organist (Liszt thought him the finest in the world) and composer. With all this accomplishment, Berlioz pointedly remarked, ‘he knows everything but lacks inexperience'. Indeed, his music suffers from charges of superficiality and a prodigious brilliance which posterity has deemed a double-edged sword. A talent arguably unfulfilled, Saint-Saëns revealingly wrote that the artist ‘has a perfect right to descend to the nethermost depths and enter into the inner secrets of the soul. That right is not a duty'.
The 2nd Cello Sonata, whose finely-contained Romanza is the third movement, was composed in 1905 and through its bold scale and big-hearted melodic profile constitutes a perfect example of Saint-Saëns' strongest suit: an unabashed joy in well-proportioned sweeps of clear, engaging and rational material. The Romanza is a work whose long vocalised lines, with a dramatic and highly articulated middle section, transfer effortlessly to the trumpet, whilst the piano part remains unchanged.
All roads on this disc lead to Fauré's radical Sonata No.2 in E minor, Op.108 (1917), written seven years before his death - an event which serves as a convenient staging post towards the end of that grand period of French music which is encompassed by the long life of his mentor Saint-Saëns. As one of Fauré's late chamber works, it is neither the ‘cul de sac' of an époque nor the charmingly languid autumnal canvas of a declining ear and mind. This is one of several pieces, alongside the cello sonatas and under-valued Piano Trio (Op.120), which challenge such a view. Fauré was not the only composer to suffer a debilitating deafness in later years which brought with it, not unlike Beethoven, a kind of tension between physical struggle and energy (and its concomitant propulsion of taut motif) - a vision of celestial trumpets. No-one put it better than Martin Cooper (French Music, OUP, 1951) when he suggested that ‘Fauré grew less communicative in his music as he grew older. His music becomes increasingly less of a personal effusion as it takes on more and more of the landscape to which he retired... as the last great traditionalist in French music, more human and fruitful than Ravel, more sane though less original than Debussy and more wholly, unequivocally French than either'.
A note on this performance of Fauré's Sonata
From within the sinews of Fauré's compelling, elliptical and innovative late world arises a novel practical solution for performing this work. Beyond metaphor, the trumpet would almost certainly have been far from Fauré's mind in any chamber music context (though perhaps not necessarily as Stravinsky, Saint-Saëns, Martinu and D'Indy had all written significant chamber works with prominent trumpet parts by 1919) and yet Op.108 is relatively unidiomatic as a violin sonata. Instead, it draws on a keenly-worked conceit of littered clarion calls, neatly apportioned double-tongued passages, and bright-belled and luminescent lyricism, as well as playing on the trumpet's natural association with rhythmic momentum (literally, moto perpetuo) and quixotic deviation of accent.
The first movement, especially, derives its searching energy and searing questions from an almost isorhythmic idea of a recurring ostinato and wrong-footed syncopations - evident from the outset - which draw heavily on the power of dance to send both piano and violin/trumpet into a kind of high-octane orbital ricochet. Yet the movement retains a steady tempo throughout, certainly within the traditional empowerment of a composer through his indications and markings, and a conventionality of phrasing.
Articulation becomes a key issue in attempting a viable transcription from violin to trumpet. The piano part - on paper - remains largely the same, although there are some occasional ‘trade offs' to give the lungs and lips some recovery time. Fauré's own autograph materials, however, become an inspiration for trying to identify the composer's fundamental phraseology whilst adopting editorial markings which most encapsulate the ‘trumpet-iness' of the sonata. There are three sources which inform decisions in this respect: Fauré's own autograph score which he presented to Durand's for publication in 1917. Secondly, the accompanying violin part (for the first movement only) and lastly the engraving sent to Durand for publication. The three are not consistent. It seems as if Fauré treated the autograph as a kind of neutral, even abstract, ‘opening gambit' for the printed engraving, since it has few of the expression marks which eventually made the Durand edition. In this regard, those which are listed gain priority in the editorial realm. They consist mainly of dynamic markings rather than phrasing indications, which are minimal. Occasionally, a marking will appear in the autograph which was subsequently excised (the only really crucial one is ‘Sempre forte' at Rehearsal no.2 in the first movement which never appeared in Durand and which seems so right at that moment!).
The autograph violin part contains some fascinating expression marks which appear to have been annotated by Fauré as a kind of personal realisation of how the music sounded in his head; for a deaf composer who no longer performed, these markings urgently communicate his own interpretative vision. They can be summed up as conveying an extended melodic span or sweep but one which inhabits clearly articulated inner phrasing. For instance, one can detect expanded phrase markings at key oments and reduced slurs at more transient points in the score. This source seems to carry the kind of evolution ‘on the breath' which suits the trumpet's capacity to shade the vocalised lines and move easily to the sudden and spasmodic figuration beloved by Fauré.
Regarding the engraving sent to Durand for publication, one can only imagine who influenced the additions at first proof stage (which doesn't survive). Fauré would have taken it upon himself to create another layer of expressive markings (as he ‘heard' the piece performed again in his mind) alongside, one assumes, recommendations from the performers, Lucien Capet and Alfred Cortot. These include a rationalisation of the accents from the violin part autograph. As usual in publications, there are some accidental discrepancies - some akin to quasi-‘ficta' - between Durand's publication and the autograph, many of which we have corrected. One concludes that Fauré's fickle attention to his expressive markings is caused by a kind of vacillating temperament: he knew how he wanted it to sound but changed his mind on the means of how to communicate it to his performers. If there is a general instinct at work in this performance, it is that the initial view is the purest. Certainly, Fauré editors (those at least who are concerned with the most important musical issues) have a task on their hands if they merely adopt an inflexible ‘letzter hand' policy.
In a similar light, French music scholar and pianist, Roy Howat, points out that interesting alternative readings can be found in some erased sections in the autograph score. The first significant changes occur at Rehearsal no.8 (Bars 177-183) though the changes three bars before Rehearsal no.10 (Bars 203-205) reveal Fauré's vacillation in deciding an appropriate piano register. The barely-decipherable original allows one to maintain the textural and linear integrity of the part-writing. However, through experimentation, it is clear that this option works less well with a trumpet and the printed version prevails here where projection of the solo ‘violin' is not an issue. We have also, for a trumpet and piano edition, used Fauré's original cadential material from the first movement to add the required finality which roulades of bowing offer but which cannot be adequately achieved with similar figuration on the trumpet.
It is rewarding, therefore, to imagine that Fauré has assisted us - 85 years on, in his autograph score and part - in discovering a reading which favours both a new instrumental protagonist and provides a much-needed and substantial sonata for trumpet and piano.
© Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Recorded at St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol, in July 2006
Post-production by Julia Thomas at Finesplice
Project management by Caroline Dooley
Design and cover photography by John Haxby
‘A Chloris' is performed by kind permission of Heugel et Cie