Chabrier – España

by Max Derrickson

Emmanuel Chabrier
(b Ambert, France, January 18, 1841; Paris, September 13, 1894)



When one considers that Chabrier only truly began to compose at the age of 40, after finally leaving a State legal clerk’s position, and his lack of any substantial formal musical study, the works that he created in 13 short years are extraordinarily original achievements, especially his exquisite España.  French composer Maurice Ravel said that all contemporary French music stemmed from Chabrier’s work.  Whether or not this is true, España is certainly Chabrier’s best loved masterpiece and has been treasured ever since its premiere in 1883.  Chabrier himself promised that at its first performance, España would make the audience leap up from their seats and embrace one another.  [. . .]

Emmanuel Chabrier seems to have come and gone out of French music history, remembered only by one seminal masterpiece, his España, of 1883.  But in fact, he was a fine opera composer, a revered pianist with exceptional works to his credit (including 10 Pièces pittoresques of 1881), and he played a major role in French culture with his music and influence on other composers, and in the literary and art world as well.  Many a writer, including Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé, were in his company at salons, and in the art world Chabrier was one of the first to champion Impressionism, owning magnificent pieces by Monet and Manet before the rest of the world recognized their merit.  His music did not often succeed in the concert hall, with the exception of his first orchestral work, España.  He wrote España after touring Spain with his wife and it is this piece that launched the tremendous interest in Spanish music in France (Ravel, Debussy and others) and Spain (Granados, Albeniz, de Falla).

[. . .]  For color, listen for percussion instruments [. . .], the wonderful trombone solos (set up by the French horns all through the piece), the almost orchestral concerto of sounds [. . .]