Composer Emmanuelle Chabrier – under the heading "Desuete Names"

Today in our traditional "Desuete Names" column features Alexis-Emmanuel Chabrier, French Romantic composer best known for his Rhapsody for Orchestra "Spain" and “Joyful March”. Emmanuel Chabrier is called the greatest forgotten French composer. Indeed, his works are rarely performed and his name is known only to a few.

Emmanuel Chabrier was born into a petit bourgeois family on January 18, 1841 in Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, central France. From the age of six he began studying music, and his first compositions for piano date back to 1859. After the family moved to Clermont-Ferrand in 1852, Chabrier took music lessons from the Polish émigré violinist Alexander Tarnowsky on the sidelines of his studies at the Lycée, and after moving to Paris in 1856 he entered the Saint-Louis Lycée. At his parents’ suit, the young man received a law degree. In 1861-1880 he served in the Ministry of the Interior.

From a young age, Chabrier was interested not only in music, but also in painting, poetry and theatre. Sociable and witty, he quickly became close to the leading musicians of the capital, he was noticed in artistic circles. Composers Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Gabriel Fauré, poet Paul Verlaine, playwright Edmond Rostand were among his friends. Years of amity linked Emmanuel with Édouard Manet. He was one of the first to buy works by the painter.

Recognition came to Chabrier came quite late, in 1877. It was then that his operetta "L'étoile" was staged at the Theatre des Bouffes Parisiens in Paris, which at the time was directed by the unrivalled master of the genre, Jacques Offenbach. However, after only 40 performances, the play was removed from the playbill and faded into oblivion and almost 100 years! The public could enjoy it again only in the 1980s, thanks to the renowned conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, whose production at the Opéra de Lyon was a real cultural event. From 1879 Chabrier devoted himself entirely to musical activity. In 1881 he was tutor of the chorus of the "Concerts Ch. Lamoureux", in 1884-1885 chorus master of the theatre "Chateau d'Eau". His first and primary mission was to learn excerpts from “Tristan und Isolde” by Richard Wagner for the forthcoming concert performance of the opera. The impression made by this masterpiece on the French musician very strong. Chabrier became one of Wagner's most ardent admirers. But nowadays, looking at the scores of Chabrier and listening to the few works that were recorded, people pay more attention to their originality, their individuality and national character than to Wagnerian influence. This fully applies to the piano cycle "Picturesque Pieces", which he wrote for his 40th birthday, and to the romances, the first of which appeared in 1883, and of course to "Spain", which was first performed at the same time. "Spain" is a tone picture richly saturated with movement and life, sparkling with colors, dazzling in its sonority. In this work one could hear the most bizarre combinations of sounds: the rolling explosions of trombones accompanied by the jerky strumming of harps, the interweaving of harmonies, either excessively rich or deliberately incomplete, chords of the most unrestricted combinations; rhythms, either deliberately primitive or break beaten.

Being challenging and eccentrical musician, Chabrier opposed canonized rules in musical creativity and fetishizing stylistic methods; he advocated the diverse embodiment of life in music. Many of his works display his quick wittedness and deep lyricism, creativity and clarity of mind.

The last decade of Chabrier‘s life was an unusually fulfilling one. He composed the piano pieces "Habanera" and "Fantastic Bourrée”; the beautiful, with keen melodic touch "Ode in Honour of Music" for soprano, women's chorus and orchestra; the cantata "Sulamith", and romances. But it was musical theatre that most attracted Chabrier. The most significant work in his heritage, the opera “Gwendoline”, did not immediately make its way to the Parisian stage. Staged for the first time in Brussels in 1886, it was then performed in a number of German cities, which further increased the author's reputation as a deep-rooted Wagnerist and distrust of him in his homeland. And the Paris premiere did not help to restore justice. The next opera, “The King of Necessity”, had a happier fate. It was in the public eye at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, immediately winning the hearts of the public. But the theatre building was damaged in the fire and performances ceased. The musical drama “Briseide”, on which the composer was working, being already gravely ill, remained unfinished. Only the first act survived, in which the composer appeared as a subtle lyricist, a connoisseur of life and psychology.

With the works of Chabrier, French music began to resound with motifs of gaiety, еpatage and sparkling wit. His innovative style and particularly daring concinnous style of composing paved the way for such authors of the next generation as Ravel and Erik Satie, and influenced the aesthetics of the "Les Six" (a creative community of French composers that was formed after the 1st World War and existed in the 1920s). However, Chabrier was not only a master of buffoonery. When his wife Alice began to lose her sight, he wrote a marvellous play “Lamento”, where he tried to convey the effect of lost vision, the narrowing of light.

One of the most popular works by Chabrier was “The Joyful March”. Claude Debussy wrote that it was "a masterpiece of high fantasy". The march shines with vivid rhythm, cheerful orchestration and dynamic shading. Nowadays, It is often performed at ceremonies in France.
Chabrier died in Paris after a serious illness at the age of fifty-three.

Rhapsody for Orchestra "Spain" by Emmanuel Chabrier, performed by the Lamoureux Concert Association Orchestra conducted by Albert Louis Wolff, is poster in the museum Phonotheque.

* The bourrée is a dance of French origin and the words and music that accompany it. The bourrée resembles the gavotte in that it is in double time and often has a dactylic rhythm. However, it is somewhat quicker, and its phrase starts with a quarter-bar anacrusis or "pick-up", whereas a gavotte has a half-bar anacrusis.