Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Editing Fauré: A Fresh Look at la Bonne Chanson

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Editing Fauré: A Fresh Look at la Bonne Chanson

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes "strike-through" in the original text omitted.)


FOR THE PAST CENTURY both the reputation and performance of Gabriel Fauré's music have suffered in ways that can be imputed (more so than with Debussy or Ravel, for example) to a lack of reliable editions; error strewn pages and frequent ambiguities of notation have long left performers confused and hesitant. It is remarkable that there is still no unified scholarly edition of Fauré's hundred-plus songs, which form a cornerstone of the French performing repertoire.1 Exacerbating this (and partly a result of it), a performing tradition has long been ingrained, at least in some quarters, of playing and singing Fauré's music in an understated, mannered, or even flabbily romanticized fashion, far from the composer's wishes; every report of Fauré's own playing, and his instructions to singers and instrumentalists with whom he worked, suggest that he wanted his music performed with vigor and dramatic and rhythmic cogency.

The preparation of a new critical edition of Fauré's songs offers a fascinating opportunity to explore and challenge textual problems and performing traditions in this rich body of music. Initial research quickly made it clear that the songs would demand an unusually nuanced editorial approach, as much practical as scholarly. The early songs, for example (particularly the twenty of the traditional Hamelle "First Collection"), exist in a daunting multiplicity of sources; of their surviving manuscripts, none served for engraving (many antedate publication by a decade or more), while different editions and transpositions offer a baffling array of variant readings, including obvious refinements in later versions that often lie cheek by jowl with uncorrected old errors, new misprints, or accidental reversions to early readings. A few of the later revisions even seem of debatable value, sometimes suggesting compromise in the face of inadequate performance. The only way to test the viability of all these alternative readings has been through working with performers-singing students, accompanists, teachers, and professionals-to discover what works and what doesn't, how different readings interact, why Fauré might have made the various changes he did, and the qualities that different readings bring to a song.

Although the process has been a complex one, it is a delight to see and hear songs, some of which had grown stale through a century of chaotic editions and sometimes misguided or sloppy performing habits, become fresh and newly focused as innumerable details of pitch, dynamics, articulation, text setting, and tempo are clarified. In the early songs, the most exciting discoveries have involved syllabification, a couple of variant manuscript endings and ritornellos, and a complete manuscript version of the song long known as "Rêve d'amour" (but which Fauré simply called "S'il est un charmant gazon"), with a livelier piano texture and a cheekily curtailed ending that lend the whole song a new sense of wit and sparkle, far from the soggy sentimentality in which it has often been mired.2 This exploration of manuscript and printed sources, sometimes involving editions of the same song published up to a few decades apart, has also revealed much about Fauré's compositional processes and musical thinking. Most importantly, these comparisons have highlighted a particular fluidity of conception intrinsic to his songs, even within a process of gradual refinement. For most of Fauré's songs, a single "definitive" version simply does not exist.

Nowhere is this fluidity more important than in Fauré's magnificent song cycle La bonne chanson (1892- 94), which exists in two independent versions-the original setting (for voice and piano) and Fauré's 1898 transcription for voice and chamber ensemble (string quartet, contrabass, and piano). This article explores the fascinating array of manuscript sources for La bonne chanson-preand postpublication; chamber and pianovocal-as the basis for the forthcoming new critical edition of the piano-vocal score. …

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