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Ode à la musique

First line:
Musique adorable
author of text

This ensemble for soprano solo and four-part female chorus must be the most felicitous house-warming gift in history. The lucky dedicatee and the owner of the house (on the Place Laborde) was a certain Jules Griset who was a friend of both Chabrier and the poet. This piece was a curtain-raiser for an operetta by Pauline Viardot on words by her lover, the great Russian author Turgenev. As with Toutes les fleurs the poem was never published separately. Rostand must have regarded it as a pure pièce d’occasion; that he fashioned it especially for this ensemble is proved by his reference to ‘des voix de jeunes femmes’. On this occasion in the winter of 1890 Chabrier must have accompanied the singers in the piano version recorded here. It stands as a testament to the composer’s entire art and his humble devotion to music; as such, the effortless naturalness of the writing completely transcends the pomposity of Rostand’s rather self-conscious fin de siècle text.

The orchestral version of this piece is most sumptuous, scored with that opulence of sound of which this composer is capable (strings, woodwind, horns, trumpets, trombones, and two harps) while somehow never losing his luminous clarity. When Inghelbrecht conducted it in 1913 Debussy was present at the rehearsal. Afterwards the great composer whispered a few words of advice to the conductor, who then played it again. “Was that better?” asked Inghelbrecht. “It was fine the first time,” Debussy replied, “but I love this music so much that I just wanted to hear it again.”

Everything about this piece shows Chabrier at his height and on the threshold of his last great work, Briséïs, which has a similar Attic simplicity and directness. Here is Chabrier too ill to bother with the mask of the joker or buffoon. This is only a relatively short work and yet it is beautifully paced. The entire piece grows from a single cell, the sweep of that very first phrase ‘Musique adorable’, a melody which is announced in the introductory bars, once heard never forgotten. The careful use of repetitions in the text, and the interweaving of chorus and soloist is masterful, as is the management of the harmony in the gradual building of climaxes. When ‘Musique adorable’ appears ‘tutti’ – at its loudest and grandest – the sheer exultation and breadth of emotion generated is remarkable in so short a work.

As we leave Chabrier in this mood of rapture and other-wordliness, I am reminded of one of his last letters, written as if he were addressing music itself, as if he were writing to his muse: ‘Pauvre chère musique, pauvre chère amie; tu me veux donc plus que je sois heureux! Je t’aime pourtant, et je crois bien que j’en crèverai’. (‘My poor dear music, my poor dear friend, so you don’t want me to be happy any more! And yet I love you so much that I think I will burst.’)

The story of the deterioration of the last years makes terrible reading, but fortunately this falls outside the period of the mélodies. Perhaps the last words here should be by Poulenc whose own songs and piano music were profoundly influenced by this composer, and who in 1960 wrote a monograph titled simply Emmanuel Chabrier. He spoke of Chabrier as one who had made tenderness and joy enter into French music (‘celui qui a fait entrer la tendresse et la joie dans la musique française’). And he finishes his little book with the words ‘Cher Chabrier, comme on vous aime’ – ‘Dear Chabrier, how you are loved!’. The rather bold words with which I opened this booklet can now be even more confidently reiterated: ‘There is no one like him, this adorable man, and nothing in French song, indeed in all music, which is quite like his music’. ‘Musique adorable’ indeed.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002


Chabrier: Songs


Track 27 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [6'45] 2CDs

Track-specific metadata for CDA67133/4 disc 2 track 27

Recording date
29 March 2001
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Chabrier: Songs (CDA67133/4)
    Disc 2 Track 27
    Release date: July 2002
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