Concertstück for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 40
(b. Paris, 8 August 1857 – Monte Carlo, 13 April 1944)
Concertstück for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 40
Because information about this composer is often inaccurately presented, a brief biography to situate her career is in order before discussing the Concertstück. Born in Paris on 8 August 1857, Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade had musical parents of some affluence. Her mother, a pianist and singer, was probably her first teacher. In the early 1860s the family bought land in a village close to Paris, Le Vésinet, where one of their neighbours was Georges Bizet. He is purported to have recognized Cécile’s unusual musical gifts as she was already producing compositions before the age of ten. Bizet urged her father to provide her with the finest music teachers.
He refused to allow his daughter to attend the Conservatoire, but he did arrange for her to study privately with the pianist, Félix Le Couppey (1811-1887) of the Conservatoire and to have lessons in counterpoint, harmony, and fugue with Augustin Savard (1841-1881). Her violin teacher was Martin Marsick (1848-1924) and she later studied composition with Benjamin Godard (1849-1895).
The first opera that she attended was Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots on 14 December 1868. At some point in the late 1860s she played for Liszt who found her approach similar to that of Chopin. In fact her first published works in 1869 were Deux Mazurkas for piano, obviously influenced by Chopin. She was in the audience at the disastrous premiere of Bizet’s Carmen on 3 March 1875. Later she wrote an essay on Bizet to detail his pain at the rejection by the music establishment. It was in 1875 that the first reviews of her performances at salons as a solo pianist and collaborator begin to appear. At the residence of Le Couppey she gave a recital consisting solely of her own piano pieces and songs on 25 April 1878.
At the Salle Érard in Paris on 8 February 1880, she appeared as pianist in a whole program devoted to her compositions. These included in addition to piano solos and mélodies her Piano Trio No. 1, that was published a year later by Durand. In 1881 her Suite d’orchestre, Op. 20, appeared on a program of the Société Nationale de Musique. The following year she conducted at her parents’ residence in Paris, a private performance of her opera comique, La Sévillance, that drew numerous plaudits from the critics in attendance. Excerpts did appear on subsequent public performances along with her orchestral Suite and orchestrations of previously existing piano pieces, all of which obtained positive reports.
Her Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 34, was first performed on 4 February 1886 at the Salle Erard. After its publication it quickly became a staple for ensembles of France, Belgium, and Switzerland. On the 16 March 1888 her ballet Callirhoë had its première in Marseille, and went on to have frequent performances for the next two decades. A four-movement orchestral suite from the score also appeared regularly on programs. Once the piano arrangement appeared in print, certain selections became her best-known works such as Pas des Echarpes (“Scarf Dance”) and Pas des Amphores.
At a concert in Anwers (Antwerp) on 18 April 1888, Chaminade was the pianist in the première of Concertstück for piano and orchestra. On that occasion the orchestra of the Cercle Catholique Société de Musique, conducted by Joseph Moreal, also gave the first performance of her dramatic symphony, Les Amazones, with choir and vocal soloists. At the Lamoureux concerts in Paris on 20 January 1869, Chaminade performed the Concertstück to great acclaim. She would later state that her performing career took off after this event. Louise Steiger to whom Chaminade would dedicate the published version gave two performances in 1889, one in Angers at the
14th Concert Populaire and the other in Salle Pleyel, Paris with Edouard Colonne conducting the orchestra. Chaminade gave another performance at Salle Erard, Paris on 30 January 1890, and then with Amina Goodwin, the two-piano version at St. James’s Hall, in London, England on 23 June 1892. Meanwhile, Louis Livon performed it in Marseille in 1892.
Chaminade conducted the orchestra while Willy Rehberg played the piano in a performance at Geneva on 19
February 1894, and on 16 March 1894 in Reims she played the piano in a performance with the Société Philharmonique. The first North American presentation occurred in Chicago with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra and Hans von Schiller at the piano. On her North American tour in 1908 Chaminade played the Concertstück twice with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Carl Pohlig. Meanwhile, other performances had taken place and continued to do so, particularly in the two-piano version and occasionally with orchestra.
In the decade of the 1880s Chaminade wrote her large-scale works, but subsequently almost exclusively as a composer turned her attention to the creation of piano pieces and more melodies. Along with her much more active performing career, this switch in her production came about because of difficult financial circumstances following the death of her father in 1887. Also the publication of salon-type repertoire was more lucrative and indeed demanded by publishers. Her only larger scale later work was the Concertino for flute and orchestra, Op.
107, written for the Paris Conservatoire. As 20th century compositional styles flourished for which Chaminade had little sympathy, her reputation became that of a salon composer through the popularity of these works among the general public and by members of the numerous Chaminade Clubs that formed in North America. Indeed, Chaminade fell into the shadows even before her death at Monte Carlo on 13 April 1944,
In France of the 1870s there were two compositional camps. Because of the strong influence of Wagner on composers such as d’Indy, that camp had the title of “Petit Bayreuth” while its opposition, the Société nationale de musique, was founded by Saint-Saens and Bussine in 1871. Chaminade had more in common with the latter, but was not immune to the influences of Wagner as can be heard in the opening theme of the Concertstück with its Germanic title. Its opening upward perfect fourth heard over an open fifth violin tremolo recalls the initial theme of Wagner’s Der fliegende Höllander.
In all, Chaminade has four themes in this one-movement composition. The orchestra presents the first theme, bars 1-10, in the key of C sharp minor and then the more lyrical second theme featuring an upward opening fifth, bars 11-18, introduced by the cellos and bassoons in the key of A major. The soloist enters with a transitional passage featuring Lisztian-like passage work for alternating hands, then presents the first theme in the left hand while the right hand has broken chords and tremolos. For the second presentation of the second theme in E major, bars 64-91, the violins introduce it while the pianist plays ascending scales with frequent grace notes. The resultant texture expresses exotic Janissary influences that Chaminade builds on later by using natural minor scales and the Turkish percussion instruments of the orchestra, triangle, cymbals, and bass drum.
At a slower tempo, the orchestra introduces the third theme in A major, bars 92-117, and the piano soon picks up this lyrical idea that also features prominent usage of the perfect fourth interval. Gradually returning to the opening animated tempo, the piano introduces the fourth theme, bars 118-133, that is in the key of D flat major, the enharmonic tonic major of the opening key area. Unlike the other themes, it features a falling sixth interval.
In the presentation of these four themes, Chaminade does not build on a motive of one theme, but instead often contrapuntally combines gestures from two different themes. That technique is pursued more intensely in the opening of the development. The second theme has in this version lowered sevenths (bars 140-47) giving it a more oriental quality. A long passage, bars 163-232, ensues in the key of G sharp minor. This essentially new thematic material does contain from time to time important intervals of the previous themes and makes prominent use of staccatos and grace notes with brilliant passages from the piano. The third theme reappears in bars 233-248 in the key of E major presented as a piano solo. A brilliant transitional passage follows leading to the recapitulation.
Only the orchestra states the first theme in the key of F minor, and then the piano reappears with its scale runs and grace notes while the orchestra presents the second theme in E major. Brilliant scales from the piano lead to the orchestral presentation of the third theme in the key of D flat major with the pianist providing tremolo-like accompaniment. A large build-up leads to the piano’s thick texture using certain decorated motives from the fourth theme also in D flat major. The orchestra then pronounces that theme while the pianist provides brilliant passages around it.
The coda of bars 337-395 remains in D flat major and uses the material that first appeared at bar 163. The piano part is more varied and complex with interesting cross-rhythms and frequent alternating hand patterns of virtuosic passages.
For her works involving orchestra, Chaminade often received praise for her orchestration and colourful usage of various sections such as the winds and percussion. According to some sources she received some guidance for the orchestration of the Concertstück from her brother-in-law, Moritz Moszkowski. Harmonically Chaminade used the chromaticism of the romantic period, but at times used ambiguity with non-functional progressions and by adding seconds and sixths to chords, verging at times upon polytonality. For example, look at bars 122-125 where the diminished seventh is not resolved.
In the Concertstück Chaminade shows a command of pianistic techniques, frequently using gestures that cover over five octaves of the keyboard in various types of scalar and arpeggio passages. With the usage of two main tempos, Allegro and Allegro moderato, she requires the pianist to express different moods. The Allegro sections should sparkle with wit and capriciousness, while the more song-like melodies for which she was famous occur in the Allegro moderato that can also have more dramatic and powerful outbursts.
Elaine Keilor, 2014
For performance material please contact Enoch, Paris. Reprint of a copy from the Vera Oeri-Bibliothek der Musik Akademie