A French Diversion

Spanish music in its earliest days was influenced – like the rest of Europe – by Italian models and styles, but we have already seen in these postings how in the late 1800’s and 1900’s Spanish composers were stimulated by those French composers, who in music were as adventurous as their compatriots were in art. As I have said, it was a two-way process, as we shall see later.

I was interested to see some recent CD reviews of an opera by Ernest Chausson(1855-1899) who was mentioned last time as a teacher and friend of Albeniz. Even more surprising was its subject – King Arthur. Le Roi Arthus occupied the last decade of his life and with support and advice from Debussy. He wrote his own libretto, with the emphasis apparently on the love trio rather than the knights around their table . ‘An enchanting rediscovery ‘ says one review. (Leon Botstein conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, there are well known soloists, and the ref. is Telarc CD 80645 – 3 discs ).

But how come this common theme? There was his friend Albeniz struggling away with the triology which was never completed, with only ‘Merlin’ ever performed and then by an amateur group.

Was Chaussen showing how it could all be done in one luxuriant and somewhat Wagnerian flourish? Though he was only 15 when ‘Merlin’ had its one and only staging, was were the two men influenced by the legend given prominence by Sir Thomas Mallory’ medieval romance and the many fictions that followed it? I have no answer, but the coincidence as you see, interests me.

Chaussen , a lawyer by profession, is today remembered mostly by his songs. He wrote only four symphonic works and I once had an L.P. of his Symphony in B flat major – lush and happily formless music which was good to hear on a bad day. Back to the Spaniards next time!


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