Fantaisie contrapuntique sur un Cramignon Liègeois
(b. Heusy near Verviers, 20 January 1870 — d. Angers, 21 January 1894)
Fantaisie contrapuntique sur un Cramignon Liégeois
The Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu died in 1894 one day after his twenty-fourth birthday, having composed a remarkable body of music for piano, for orchestra, for voice, and some fine chamber music. He was driven by an intense emotional inner life, and he was obsessed, ironically, with the transience of life and with death itself. He found himself exploring the darker corners of his soul in one piece after another.
He played the violin and the piano and was early drawn to the music of Beethoven, especially to the slow movements of Beethoven‘s late period. He was also fascinated by Beethoven‘s use of fugue in his late works. His harmonic language was based on that of Wagner and Chausson, and he attended the Bayreuth Festival in 1890. He studied with César Franck for a year before the latter‘s death. The influence of Franck is clearly heard in Lekeu‘s Violin Sonata, dedicated to the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaye, perhaps his finest work, with a haunting slow movement. Another fine piece is the Adagio for Strings of 1891.
Lekeu found it hard to write fast music; much of it is slow or very slow, often marked „doloroso“. At the same time he could be witty and sociable, a side of his character perfectly illustrated by the Fantaisie contrapuntique sur un Cramignon Liégeois. (The cramignon is a dance popular in the region of Liége). Dated 16 March 1890 it was composed for the „Cercle Musical d‘Amateurs“ of his home town Verviers. Lekeu was at that time living in Paris, but he kept in touch with his Belgian friends for whom this was as much an amusement as a serious study in counterpoint. He described the work, which he devised with his friend the cellist Alfred Massau, in a letter to his mother: „At Massau‘s next concert there will be played a work by ‚voss t‘éfant‘ [‚your child‘]. This little piece is a joke dreamed up by Massau and me. It starts with a violin and a cello coming alone on stage and taking their places. They wait a while for the others and play a ‚cramignon‘ tune while they are waiting. A viola comes in, sits down and takes his turn with the tune. It‘s a little fugue worked out without interruption while all the rest of the strings come in one by one. Then an oboe arrives. He tries to take up the theme but some bizarre chords twice silence him. Meanwhile a clarinet has come in and he plays a very calm melody expresssing the joy one feels when making music with friends. This melody is heard as a short adagio; a bassoon and a horn join in the entertainment, getting louder. Finally the violins spell out the clarinet‘s theme while the double basses and the bassoon reprise the cramignon which was the original fugue subject (as in the [overture to] Die Meistersinger). You see, dear mother, one can make jokes in music just as you can in literature.“
The early death of such a composer, whose music could be both witty and profound, is greatly to be regretted.
Hugh Macdonald, 2017
For performance material please contact Salabert, Paris
Deutsches Vorwort lesen > HERE