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Theme and Variations in C Sharp Minor Op.73

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Theme and Variations in C Sharp Minor Op.73

For those who find the Fauréan ’evanescence’ or love of harmonic and rhythmic ambiguity baffling, the Theme and Variations Op.73 (1897) comes as a reassuring, neo-classical surprise. By his own confession Fauré composed his epic theme from bronze rather than quick-silver, kept it within earshot and resolutely retained his home key (except in the serene and exultant epilogue). Yet such qualities and the unapologetic influence of Variations by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, are memorably transformed. In Variation 1 the theme moves beneath a gentle rain of semiquavers, in 2 becomes brilliantly syncopated and in 3 is treated to rapid alterations of duple and triple time. In Variation 4 ardour is lashed into foam by widely spaced ornaments and in 5 the music, turning from semiquavers to quavers, achieves a paradoxical increase in momentum. In the sixth variation the widely spaced registers and slowly evolving elaboration of the theme create a profound stillness, an effect extended in the gentle double and quadruple canon of 7. 8 is a variation on 5 (a true case of wheels within wheels) and 9, the nodal and expressive centre, was once described by Cortot as ’a dark, lifted ecstacy where on that high G sharp, the curve of the melody, the heart sinks down like a star in the evening.’ Variation10 is a scherzo with an impassioned close and 11 an epilogue full of grace and calm where the music is mercifully released from its home key for the first time.

© Bryce Morrison 1987

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