FAURÉ Gabriel, La Bonne Chanson

La bonne chanson was the most ambitious of Fauré’s settings of Verlaine’s poetry. The first eight songs were completed in 1893 but the ninth was only added in February 1894. A true cycle, La bonne chanson has several recurring themes which bring musical unity to the whole structure. According to the Fauré scholar Jean-Michel Nectoux, the result is ‘far more than just a volume of songs. It reaches the proportions almost of a vocal symphony.’ The inspiration for the work was the singer Emma Bardac, with whom Fauré became infatuated in the early 1890s. She gave Fauré advice about revisions while he was working on the songs, and sang them in private at her home in Bougival, with the composer at the piano. La bonne chanson was first given in a concert by the tenor Maurice Bagès on 25 April 1894. Bagès also gave the first London performance on 1 April 1898 (at Frank Schuster’s home in Old Queen Street) and it was for this occasion that Fauré made the version for piano and string quintet (though he later wondered if this arrangement was ‘unnecessary’, it has a tone colour all its own, quite distinct from the solo piano version). Reactions to the new cycle were mixed: Marcel Proust was enchanted by it, writing that ‘I adore this collection’, but he noted that Debussy (who later married Emma Bardac) thought it was ‘too complicated.’ History has come down firmly on Proust’s side: La bonne chanson is recognised as one of Fauré’s greatest achievements, combining sophisticated musical design with lyrical inspiration.  

 

© Nigel Simeone

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