Hailed as a “hero” (Los Angeles Times), a “smashing” performer (The Washington Post), “a pianist who breaks the mold” (International Piano) and “who stands out from the typical trends and artifices [...]
Mathieu,Trio & Quintette; Chausson, Concert
They spoke about it
Music is an enchanting and powerful mistress. Her lovers are many, and she always rewards those who serve and love her well. It is their path to immortality.
(André Mathieu, June 18, 1953)
The Ritz Carlton Hotel, December 7, 1950. More than 15 years after his first recital, which would change André Mathieu’s life forever, the “Canadian Mozart” was performing again. The packed program included his sonata for violin, Quatre Mélodies sur des textes de Verlaine (sung by Jean-Paul Jeannotte), a piano reduction of his Quatrième Concerto, and the premier of his piano trio. For the critics in attendance, the performance left no doubt; at the age of 21, Mathieu had become a composer in full control of his craft. “What is surprising and inwardly delightful in Mathieu’s compositional style is that he never substitutes music with mathematics, doesn’t employ the current decadent system, and never wallows in insolent melodies or impenetrable rhythms,” wrote Eugène Lapierre in Le Devoir on December 11, 1950. “He can be bold, but we are always listening to music. […] Furthermore, his music is essentially symphonic… it is all about clarity—clarity of rhythm, clarity of harmony, simple and supple melodies with a surprising breadth. This probably stems from his own virtuosity as a performer, since he always seems to be swept up by a need for motion and timbre, the sure sign of a natural composer.”
André Mathieu: Trio
Comprised of two movements that are at once complementary and contrasting, the piano trio opens with a dreamlike and radiant Andante that is firmly anchored in the 20th century. The piano carries on a tender, almost loving, dialogue with its partners, at times yielding to the violin and at others supporting trills in the cello, in a sparkling tableau. A second Andante serves as a transition to the virtuosic and flamboyant Allegro con fuoco, revealing a Mathieu at the height of his powers.
The work was performed again on March 17, 1952 at the Cercle Universitaire during what would be the last “Soirée Mathieu” organized by the composer’s father, Rodolphe. “The work is an important one and, compared with the other Mathieu works on the program, points to the emergence of a powerful musical personality,” noted Jean Vallerand, a respected music critic at Le Devoir. “[…] With this piano trio, we find ourselves in a different musical landscape, a land of gales and earthquakes. And I believe that Mathieu’s instincts work best in this land. […] The trio reveals a free and solitary Mathieu, a Mathieu who has yielded to a spiritual experience in his art, one that is presented with unbridled rawness and sincerity. With this work, the composer has entered the pantheon of great composers. The piece does not merely repeat what those before him have said, it says what only Mathieu can say, and he expresses it in a language whose syntax is the very image of the work’s spiritual substance.”
André Mathieu: Quintette
Mathieu’s last masterwork was his piano quintet. Although it was completed on May 12, 1953, it was not premiered until May 28, 1956 on Radio-Canada’s radio program Présences by the Montréal Quartet and the composer himself. The work is spangled with remarkable technical difficulties. In the tradition of the great French schools, he employs contrasts, even within sections, that oscillate between powerful drama and an almost naïve charm. “Many people think they are receiving a gift when they get the chance to listen to a piece of music. What they don’t realize is that the composer, by offering his work to the public, is merely issuing them a temporary passport to a magnificent realm where he is king. Music is a paradise where the flowers are always in bloom,” wrote Mathieu in Le progrès on March 10, 1954.
Ernest Chausson: Concert
Just over a half-century earlier, in 1899, Ernest Chausson’s creativity was tragically snuffed out at its height by a bicycle accident at the age of 44. His music—passionate, exceptionally poetic, at times bubbly and at others undulant, favoring intense chromaticisms (like Mathieu), fervent and filled with an almost erotic charge—nonetheless never strayed outside of its given framework. Although a devoted disciple of César Franck, he would surely have agreed with artist Georges Braque’s maxim: “I like the rule that balances emotion. I like emotion that balances the rule.”
Aware very early on of the need to free himself from the stifling influence of Wagner, Chausson favored a more classical mode of expression, one that stemmed from the old masters Couperin and Rameau. He reintegrated French terms into his tempo indications (décidé, animé, calme, un peu retenu) along with the old forms themselves. Rather than calling his Opus 21 a sextet, he instead chose the title Concert, a popular term in the 18th century. In any case, the work is more akin to a concerto for piano and violin, with the two solo parts projected against the background of a string quartet. Above all, he wished to prove to his contemporaries, especially those he called “les théâtreux,” that a piece of chamber music could be as intense as opera. As Paul Dukas summarized in 1903: “The gradual conquest of Ernest Chausson over his personality, of which each work marked another step, conferred upon his art the definitive originality of a harmonious balance between the serene expression of his own peaceful life and the painful accents aroused in him by a world he wished was more happy and magnificent.”
A dense and virtuosic work, representative of Chausson’s writing, Concert was premiered in Brussels in 1892 by Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (its dedicatee), the members of the Ysaÿe Quartet, and pianist Auguste Pierret. The visibly spellbound audience received it triumphantly. The first movement is based on a three-note motif, first presented in the piano, from which springs the main material. Abandoning the classical development, which reinterprets the principle ideas, Chausson instead weaves the themes into a sumptuous damask. The graceful and subtle “Sicilienne” that follows features the solo violin in two finely wrought themes. The “Grave” remains one of Chausson’s most moving works, the two solo instruments occasionally conversing alone, their phrases intertwining with a sinuous rapport. Although the “Finale” employs a gigue rhythm, the movement’s driving energy is more akin to a toccata. Resisting the pull of a perpetuum mobile, Chausson sets another dense, lyrical melody in the piano part, a striking contrast to the effervescence that otherwise imbues the movement.