Fauré – Masques et Bergamasques Suite, Op. 112

by Max Derrickson

Gabriel Fauré   (b in Pamiers, Ariège, Midi-Pyrénées, France, May 12, 1845; d in Paris, November 4, 1924)

Masques et Bergamasques Suite, Op. 11
1. Overture: Allegro molto vivo
2. Menuet: Tempo di menuetto – Allegro moderato
3. Gavotte: Allegro vivo
4. Pastorale: Andantino tranquillo
There are few composers who can match the sheer loveliness of Fauré’s music.  Whether he was writing a melancholic or a sprightly piece, beauty for Fauré was always paramount – his compositions nearly always achieved a perfect balance between melody and harmony, with a remarkable beauty.  It was Fauré’s unique musical voice, perhaps more than any other French composer in the second half of the 19th Century, that seems most “French”: witty, urbane, and breathtakingly gorgeous.  Masques et Bergamasques, written near the end of Fauré’s long career, illustrates this wonderfully.


It was 1918 when Prince Albert of Monaco commissioned Fauré to write a short, dramatic piece for the Monte Carlo Theater.  Fauré had recently retired from directing the Paris Conservatoire, was 73, and was battling the worsening of a curious form of deafness – a malady that warped pitches.  Rather than compose an “event” piece for the occasion,  [. . .]


The curious title is taken from Verlaine’s dreamy Clair de lune from his own collection (Fêtes galantes) of 1869.  “Votre âme est un paysage choisi/Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques, /Jouant du luth et dansant, et quasi/Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantastiques! …”  (Your soul is a chosen landscape charmed by masquers and revellers playing the lute and dancing, and almost sad beneath their fanciful disguises!).  The 1918 program for the Monte Carlo set was stated as: “…The characters Harlequin, Gilles and Colombine, whose task is usually to amuse the aristocratic audience, take their turn at being spectators at a ‘Fêtes galantes’ on theisland ofCythera.  The lords and ladies, who as a rule applaud their efforts, now unwittingly provide them with entertainment by their coquettish behavior.”


Fauré’s music to this “entertainment,” then, is a kind of hidden camera on the aristocrats’ reveling.  The music strives, as Verlaine attempted in his Decadent poems, to portray a deeper pathos underneath the polished veneer of exquisite melodies that drive the festivities.  The Overture from Fauré’s 1902 work begins in a sprint, full of vigor and lightheartedness.  [. . .]