Gabriel Fauré: Élégie

Context

Composed in 1880, Gabriel Fauré’s Élégie for solo cello was first performed in 1883. Originally composed for cello and piano, Fauré also orchestrated the work for cello and orchestra. At first, Fauré was looking into writing a cello sonata and it was in his method to pen the slow movement first. This was premiered under the guise of the sonata at the salon of Camille Saint-Saëns in 1880. Fauré never completed the sonata, and so in 1883 he had this one movement published under the new title of Élégie. 

For the premiere as Élégie, Fauré played the piano with cellist Jules Loeb, to whom the piece is dedicated. The piece was instantly a hit with conductor Édouard Colonne asking Fauré for a version for cello and orchestra. This version premiered in April 1901, with Fauré conducting and Pablo Casals playing the cello. It has been said that Élégie was “one of the last manifestations of French musical Romanticism. From now on Fauré’s music was to be more introverted and discreet.”

 

The Music

Set in C minor, the sombre opening is composed of a very long and drawn out cello melody. The pulsating chords from the accompaniment keeps the music moving along, whilst also giving the cello room to grow the melody. The added use of vibrato adds to the emotional edge of this piece, which is one of the reasons it has remained such a popular work for cellists. 

The intense middle sections begins with an intrusive and forceful. This complete change in character only adds to the intensity of the piece. The piano and cello exchange powerful themes before returning to the material from the opening section. Unlike the opening, however, now the dynamics are much louder and more fully-developed. The sombre mood soon returns and the opening theme is repeated once more. This time the accompaniment is a bit busier, now using material from the central section. Élégie concludes calmly and very quietly. 

 

Final Thoughts

The famous elegiac theme from Gabriel Fauré’s Élégie remains one of the composer’s most-loved works. Full of emotion, anguish and power, Élégie is a raw and powerful piece for solo cello. 

 

Happy Reading!

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