Edouard Lalo
(b. Lille, 27 January 1823; d. Paris, 22 April 1892)

Scherzo for orchestra (1885) from Piano Trio no. 3, op. 26 (1880)


In 1889 the French nation gathered together to celebrate the first centennial of the Great Revolution in the form of a gigantic World's Fair. It was one of the most successful in history: more than 30 million visitors convened on the fair grounds, which covered almost a square mile on the Champ-de-Mars. Here they could view displays from 61,722 exhibitors and gape in awe at that newly built wonder of modern engineering, the Eiffel Tower. The entire fair was awash in music: a gamelan from Java delighted the young Debussy, operas were transmitted by the newly invented telephone, Arab music from Algiers filled makeshift coffee-houses, and Parisian musicians could marvel at the dynamism of Russia's "Mighty Handful." But French culture was given pride of place; and one of the works officially selected to represent modern French music, performed out of doors beneath the spreading legs of the Eiffel Tower, was Edouard Lalo's Scherzo for orchestra.
            For Lalo it had been a long and arduous journey. A chamber musician (violin and cello) who championed the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann, Lalo had been an early member of the Sociéte Nationale de Musique, an organization whose avowed purpose was to instill the spirit and formal rigors of German instrumental Opusmusik into the contemporary French goût. Indeed, two of his principal publishers were German: Bote & Bock in Berlin and Schott in Mainz. In 1862 he could even write to Ferdinand Hiller that Germany was "ma vraie patrie musicale." Accordingly, recognition in Paris of the Second Empire, with its fascination for opera and ballet, was long in coming. Only in the 1870s, when Lalo had reached the age of fifty, did he begin to attract attention with a series of concertante works for the great violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate: the Violin Concerto (1873), the Symphonie espagnole (1874), and the Fantaisie norvégienne (1878). Their success was instantaneous, as was their impact on French musicians, especially Chabrier and later Debussy, Dukas, and Roussel. In 1878 he was belatedly awarded the Prix Chartier from the Institut de France, a long-overdue sign of official recognition. Now he could advance on the theatrical projects that had long lay dormant within him: Namouna (1881-2), a ballet that contains his best purely orchestral music, and his masterpiece, the opera Le Roi d'Ys (1875-88), which after a decade of rejection was finally performed at the Paris Opéra in 1888 and has remained in the repertoires of the world's opera houses ever since.
            At the beginning of his new-found fame, in 1880, Lalo returned to his first love, chamber music, and composed his Piano Trio No. 3 in A minor, op. 26, the last and greatest of his piano trios. The scherzo movement immediately caught the ears of his contemporaries with its deft use of pizzicato, its sharp contrasts of fortissimo and pianissimo, and its persistent ostinato rhythm, a simple cadential formula varied with rare ingenuity at its many recurrences. The Third Trio was immediately published by Durand (1880) and has remained a favorite among chamber musicians, even appearing in a version for piano four-hands from the same publisher in 1912.
            The scherzo movement immediately took on a life of its own, and requests were soon heard to recast it for orchestra. Lalo was quick to respond. In 1881-2, while immersed in his labors on Namouna, he had suffered a severe case of hemiplegia and was left semi-paralyzed, and he now felt capable only of reworking, completing, and refining his earlier material. The orchestral version of the Scherzo was ready by 1885 when it was published in full score by Durand in Paris. It revealed a lightness of touch and a delicacy of instrumentation that have recommended it to students of orchestration ever since. Perhaps one can do no better than to quote Lalo's early biographer, Georges Servières (1925):
            "The composer has added the seasoning of a nuanced instrumentation in which the trumpets assume the melodic role that Lalo so willingly assigns them. The opening idea of the Trio is launched by pizzicati in the violas and cellos, with syncopated responses from the violins, while the sustained notes of the woodwind - flutes and clarinets - maintain the chords of the piano part with the sonorities of an organ. [...] This little symphonic piece should be presented to apprentice composers as an example of how to elegantly orchestrate a work originally conceived as chamber music."

Bradford Robinson, 2005

For performance material please contact the publisher Durand, Paris.