As a preamble to his performance in Gabriel Fauré’s “Piano Quartet in C minor, op. 15” pianist Alexander Aylward, MCAS ’17, painted a vivid image of the dawn—symbolic of the many critical moments in the world as it turned to the 20th century. Just as dawn installed a circadian rhythm into the consciousness of primordial man, this dawn, as the turn of the century, installed a different kind of mental scaffolding into the mind of modern man. Finding a more abstract and complex beauty, breaking from the constraints of an ordered nature, Aylward explained these concepts before attesting to them musically moments later.
“It is the very fabric of time that begins to disappear in this dawn,” he said.
The Turn of the Century France: Chamber Music and Chansons performance in Gasson 100 saw singers and instrumentalists alike bring French works from the turn of the 20th century a just amount of reverence through compelling performances and renditions. The important musical contributions of this age certainly lent themselves markedly to the overall sense of progress and enrichment within France and around the world.
The night began with six soulful renditions of poems in their original French. For many of the singers, this was their first performance using the language, but, as director and part-time faculty member in the music department, Lindsay Albert was keen on noting, their abilities were more than enough to tackle the intricate syllabic and articulative challenges demanded by French poetry.
Julianne Mason, MCAS ’17, performed Claude Debussy’s “L’âme evaporée et souffrant” (The evanescent and suffering soul), which saw sharp articulations, powerful articulations at the end of verses and smooth, flowing transitions to the next. This gave the song a sense of billowing and expansion on the latter half of phrases and throughout the piece as a whole.
Giving the only baritone performance of the evening, Andrew Hammond, MCAS ’18, sang a portion of “Lydia” by Fauré. Adopting a swelling nature at the end of several verse brought an intelligibility to the ardor of Fauré’s words, whether one comprehends the language or not. The final stanza slows, bringing this idea of painful yet enticing love to a bittersweet end: Mon âme en baisers m’est ravie! / O Lydia, rends-moi la vie / Que je puisse mourir toujours! (Your kisses ravish my soul! / O Lydia, give me back my life / That I may die again and again!”)
One particularly compelling performance came from the singing of French surrealist and poet Louis Aragon’s ‘C.’ Sarah Niermann, MCAS ’19, brought immediate attention to the piece through a rousing high note at the start of the final verse of the first stanza. Niermann’s powerful voice, along with Albert on piano, created a stunning piece in its entirety. The piano progression, particularly around the transition between stanzas embellished these spaces, and seemed to lift Niermann back into frâme as she began the next verse—only to fall elegantly back into the supporting role.
Other performances by Kylie Fletcher, MCAS ’18, Catherine Backer, MCAS ’19, and Phoebe Lyons, MCAS ’19, added countless other elements to attest to the variety and nuances contained in French poetry and song.
The night concluded with a multi-progression taste of Fauré’s “Piano Quartet” with pianist Aylward, violinist Annie Kim, MCAS ’18, violist, Haesoo Yoon, MCAS ’17, and cellist Monica Grady, MCAS ’17.
Opening within an already degraded tempo and rhythm, disorder reigned in sound and spirit. As order and structure gradually took root, the form of the piece becâme clearer. The four movements saw the piece progress from a state of dreaminess to a rousing from sleep. The piece surges to a regal level of power. The technical skill on part of all the instrumentalists was astounding as each exercised a mastery over their respective instruments.
The night was a testament to the dawn of a new world, complete with a cultural shift leading to some of the most prolific pieces of French artistry. Though the event highlighted on the contributions of the French, one can be sure that the reach of such high forms of art expands exponentially outward from Europe to the far corners of our world.
Featured Images by Kyle Bowman / Heights Staff