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Nocturne No.3 in A Flat Major Op.33 No.3

Gabriel Fauré Nocturnes

Nowhere is the complex nature of Fauré’s art better exemplified than in the great series of 13 Nocturnes. They span almost the whole of his creative life, the first dating from 1875 when he was 30, the last from 1921 when he was 76. Whilst the appellation ‘Nocturne’ is neutral rather than evocative, it is quite clear that ‘Nocturne’ was chosen for piano pieces of the greatest emotional weight and depth, ranging from the poised equilibrium of No.4 to the great struggle of No.13, from the long lines of No.7 to the terse and eprigrammatic No.9, from the uninterruptedly radiant flow of No.3 to the inarticulateness of No.10, from serenity of No.6 to the anguish and torment of No.12.

The emotional range is projected in an equivalent variety of place forms and through and ever-growing arsenal of composition techniques. The first 5 Nocturnes belong to the first great flowering of Fauré’s genius as a piano composer. Though as suggested earlier the piano writing owes less to Chopin than is generally supposed, The ABA ‘calm – agitated – calm’, scheme is typically Chopinesque. Another quintessential Fauréan feature again derived from Chopin is that there are no introductions but all-important codas towards which everything leads – summations, fulfilments, resolutions or qualifications.

Fauré wrote regretfully of the ‘similarity’ of his music; "It seems that I repeat myself constantly and that I cannot find a noticeably different approach from that already expressed", and yet listening to the 6th Nocturne which is separated from the 5th by 10 years on is award of an enormous development. Apart from the much richer, subtler, harmony there is, already, a mixture of sensuous lyrical appeal and something approaching the sparer, more angular manner of his later works. The piece juxtaposes various independent blocks of material which, however seem to dove-tail so logically and inevitably. Though quite un-analysable, it remains one of Fauré’s perfect works.

The 7th Nocturne is also multi-sectional but what is very striking is the way that each section, even the opening, starts from something unresolved. Although there are no long tunes, just evolving melodic cells. This is the longest, most ‘developed’ of the Nocturnes, surely because, while everything appears eventually to be resolved in on of Fauré’s most miraculous codas, we sense for the first time the difficulty of saying anything categorically.

©Paul Crossley


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