The French connection II

Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) was a fervent admirer of Wagner ( as his vast music-dramas appeared, music lovers as well as composers argued about his work, as years later they were due to do over the new 12 note system propagated by Schoenberg, Berg and others). One of Chabrier’s works was actually called ‘Wagnerian Gwendoline’! Chabrier was a conductor and composer who mostly earned his living as a civil servant. His colourful and beautifully orchestrated music is said to have influenced Ravel. He visited Spain between 1882 and 1883 and, fascinated by the many Spanish rhythms and songs he heard, incorporated some of them in his most popular and still frequently played work. Appropriately he called the orchestral rhapsody, ‘Espana’!

Ravel and Debussy are sometimes linked together, but their music sounds and feels very different. Ravel’s compositions, though impressionistic in style, are more classically based; some might say even clinically so. There is a bright sheen and wonderful rhythmical shape to his music (he has long been a favourite of mine), and yet to my ears there is a shy beauty that cannot be hidden from the more obvious sensuousness of much of his work.

He published his Rhapsodie espagnole in 1918, five years after Turina finished studying with Lalo. I don’t know where Ravel’s inspiration for this work came from, but the fact that he was born in the French part of the Basque country may have made the artistic link between the two countries who share a boarder, even stronger.

I’ve been reflecting on the inter-relation of Spanish and French classical music. There is an opulent sophistication about those Franco Spanish compositions.
They seem to be blissfully unaware of any problems that might be associated with the style they have borrowed. Were the Parisians of the nineteenth and early twentieth century just very good at imitation and innovation, whereas their more tentative neighbours were still finding out how to trust their inheritance and move on from it? Perhaps not.

Anyway, they composed some wonderful ‘Iberian’ music. But with Turina, Albeniz, Granados, de Falla, and Rodrigo; well, you get the real thing!