An element of time-travel is surely intended here – that much-honoured pastime for French composers of evoking the music of earlier times in a spirit of pastiche. It is in the same spirit of exploration that Chabrier composed his opera Le Roi malgré lui. He remains in the tonic key for long stretches (31 bars without a change of bass chord) with resolute lack of embarrassment. In another musician’s hands such a piece might have sounded dull, but this composer’s zest for life, and his infectious response to antique dance rhythms, shines through. Chabrier’s España is rightly famous because of his rhythmic exuberance, but this composer did not need Spanish music to engage his gift for rhythmic vitality. The common ground between Ronde gauloise and España is surely folk music. This subject was neither fashionable nor much studied at the time (it was Canteloube who was to become famous through his arrangements of folk songs from the Auvergne) but it is surely one of the important sources of Chabrier’s musical personality. It was Chabrier himself who wrote ‘Je rhythme ma musique avec mes sabots d’auvergnat’ – ‘I give rhythm to my music with the sound of my Auvergnat clogs’.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002