I remember running various posts on my JDCMB site asking why Fauré is like a bus? Because there's nothing for ages, then a whopping great rush arrives en masse. The same is true tonight: the TV schedules aren't noted for their focus on mildly famous French composers of the 19th-20th centuries, but all of a sudden a meaty, in-depth half-hour of BBC4's Sacred Music programme, fronted by Simon Russell Beale, is devoted to Gabriel Fauré, especially his Requiem. The music is performed by The Sixteen with Harry Christophers and various Fauré biographers are interviewed, including muggins.
I hold forth in it about the effect on Fauré of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Just supposing that Marianne Viardot breaking off their engagement in 1877 was not the cause of Fauré's depressions, dizzy spells etc, but the result of them? That's what scared her away from him; there's not much sign of them in his days at school or in Rennes; so what happened? The war happened; he was a soldier in militia; but in the 1870s, nobody had heard of post-traumatic stress. I've written an article about this which is in today's Independent, here.
The film is on tonight at 7.30pm. It's directed by Fran Kemp and is absolutely terrific; Fauré is handled with sensitivity and understanding, and the second half is all about Poulenc, a very different marmite de poisson — whose case is excellently and affectionately made by Jeremy Sams and friends, and whose sacred music is by no means well-known enough.
Back to Fauré: for Friday Historical here is Samson Francois (1924-1970) playing his Nocturne No.2. Gorgeous tone, poise and 'nobility', a certain virile charm and none of the silly sentimentality that too often gets into performances of Fauré's piano music. This wonderful pianist — captured here before he went tragically off the rails — really gets him.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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