Written in 1921, three years before fauré’s death, the tragic despair of the Thirteenth Nocturne
shares its depth of feeling with few other works in the piano repertoire. Certainly nothing like this was written by Debussy or Ravel, and only in the last pages of Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart or Bach can parallels be found to its austere heartbreak. The work can be regarded as autobiographical. For the last few years of his life the composer suffered from a distressing hearing defect which caused him to hear distortion in the higher frequencies of the sound spectrum. Knowing this, the chains of suspensions which open this last Nocturne take on an added significance. (One is reminded of the last movement of Smetana’s Quartet ‘From my life’ where the piercing high E of the violin symbolizes the sound he heard in his head; he suffered from tinnitus.) The piece as a whole is filled with a feeling of regret and valediction, with a vehement and angry middle section rising to a climax of the greatest fury. Because one knows and loves Fauré for his understating of such feelings, the unmistakable note of despair which this reveals is all the more affecting. It ends on a note of utter resignation, the music of a man on the threshold of death. This music does not reveal its secrets easily and at first may appear arid and academic. But the essence of Fauré is in it, and not until one has entered its tragic world can one truly be said to understand him.
from notes by Ted Perry © 1999