Emmanuel Chabrier – Trois Valses romantiques (1883/1898)
(b. Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, 18 January 1841 — d. Paris, 13 September 1894)
Orchestrated by Felix Mottl
France produced some important composers in the 19th century. Names like Saint-Saens, Franck, Gounod and many more come to mind. Emmanuel Chabrier is the forgotten personality of French music. And certainly he was the most individual. He himself wrote in a letter to his music publisher Costellat in 1886: “My first concern is to do what I like; I try above all to give free rein to my individuality; my second is not to be a damned bore”. With his passion for poetry and painting as much as for music, he could count Verlaine, Manet (whose painting he was one of the first to buy), Fauré, Duparc and Chausson among his friends.
Emmanuel Chabrier was born on 18 January 1841 in Ambert in Auvergne. A region that, according to him, “only produces ruffians or witty people…I made my choice”. The only child of Jean Chabrier, a lawyer, and Evelina Durozay, he showed an early aptitude for music and took piano lessons at the age of six. However, he had to follow the family’s urging and study law, while devoting all his free time to his musical training. According to his own statements, he always remained an autodidact. At the age of twenty, following his father’s wishes, he joined the Ministry of the Interior. A civil servant by day, an artist by night, he frequented the clubs and salons of Paris. Due to the many jobs within the ministry during the Franco-Prussian War, he had little desire to compose, and it was not until 1873 that he wrote an Impromptu for piano dedicated to Manet’s wife. In the same year, Chabrier married Alice Dejean. This happy union produced two sons. Alice soon had eye problems and gradually lost her sight. It was during this time, in 1874, that Chabrier wrote Lamento, a relatively short symphonic piece. His first major success came in 1877 with the success of his operetta L’Etoile. In 1880, after 18 years, he finally resigned from his post at the Ministry of the Interior to devote himself entirely to music. The decisive factor in this decision was a stay in Munich, where he became acquainted with Wagner’s music (especially Tristan und Isolde), which deeply impressed him and many other French composers. In Paris, he then belonged to the group “Les Wagnériens”. Two years later, Chabrier and his wife visited Spain, a four-month stay that was to have a decisive influence on the composer’s life and from which came his best-known orchestral work: España. Wagner’s influence on his compositions diminished. He commented “I write my own, my most unique music”. However, he only wrote a few more compositions; a nervous breakdown caused him to stop composing completely. He died of paralysis, aged 53 after a long illness, in Paris in 1894.
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