Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120
About the WorkOne of the first thoughts that come to mind with the mention of Fauré's name is gentleness. He was the first of four distinguished composers to provide music for—or based on—Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande, and the one whose personal style would have appeared most suited to such an assignment. His well beloved Requiem is a gentle work, so focused on its consolatory aim that it contains no “Sequence,” no reference to the Dies irae or fears or threats of retribution for human failings. Yet Fauré was no babe in the words: he was not burdened with real or feigned naïveté, but knew how to take care of himself in the real world. As director of the Paris Conservatoire he set out to rid that institution of its pedagogic deadwood, and in so doing found himself compared with both Ulysses and Robespierre. But in his music and his life he consciously embraced the concept of gentleness, and had as little patience for intrigue as for incompetence. Chief among his celebrated pupils was Maurice Ravel, whose music he championed and who, like several of the others, formed a virtually filial attachment with him.
In his chamber music, which spanned virtually the entirety of his creative life, from First Violin Sonata of 1876 to the String Quartet of his final year, Fauré displayed a gift for lyric expressiveness that could reach dramatic intensity on his own terms. He composed two each of violin sonatas, cello sonatas, piano quartets and piano quintets, and, just before the String Quartet, the single Piano Trio that opens this afternoon's program. By the time Fauré composed this work—the slow movement at Annecy-le-Vieux in the summer of 1922, the two outer ones in Paris the following spring—he was in failing health and had become deaf. There is nothing in either the Trio or the subsequent String Quartet, however, that resembles self-pity or even resignation, let alone a consciously valedictory gesture. In all three movements, this splendid work simply reveals his characteristic qualities refined to the point of radiant perfection, in both its lyric sections and its more vigorous ones.
The final movement of the Trio does include two somewhat surprising features. One is the demonstrative energy that has provoked th rare use of the term “violence” in describing music by this composer. The other is an apparent citation of Canio's famous aria in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. As that was an opera for which Fauré expressed unreserved disgust in the strongest terms, it might be thought that he parodied the tune here as Bartók was to do some forty years later in burlesquing a Shostakovich motif in his own Concerto for Orchestra—but in this case the simple truth, according to Fauré himself, was that he simply hadn't noticed the resemblance.