Hyperion Records

Ronde gauloise
Chabrier uses this strange little poem (it suggests a Gallic version of the young miller’s enthusiasm in Die schöne Müllerin) exactly as if it was an opera text, and so it is – a set-piece that would have done very well (backed up by dancers) as an interlude in many an opera of the time. Once again we hear Chabrier’s fondness for the folksy drone of the bourdon. And this piece really does insist on those open-fifth basses – it is a veritable stomp in 2/4 of which any Apache warrior might be proud, but in fact it is a bourrée from the Auvergne composed by one of that region’s favourite sons. The right-hand figurations suggest oboes and bassoons, or older and more rustic instruments.

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

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