Today, November 4th, 2014, marks the ninetieth year after Fauré’s death; an appropriate time to write about his contribution to the Nocturne genre. There are thirteen of them, composed throughout his career from 1875 to 1922, from Opus 33 to Opus 119. Quite a span. But I’m going to focus on Op 33 no 3, written in 1883.
Here it is, performed by Alicia de Larrocha –
Gorgeous, isn’t it?! A curvaceous melody in A flat major flows easily above a bass line of outlying octaves and inner chords – it helps to remember that Fauré was an organist, with the added dimension of the bass-line on a pedal-board as part of his musical psyche, even if it was not at his disposal on the piano. Long phrases give way to more impulsive, shorter ones – follow the phrase marks – and we drift momentarily into sharper keys, higher and higher, before settling again on the dominant, and cadencing in A flat major.
The final RH motive at the cadence miraculously becomes almost the entire melodic material of the middle section, starting mid-range in the LH beneath the softly undulating RH, which then takes over above an impassioned accompaniment. Back to the melody in the LH – and listen to those ever-increasingly adventurous modulations – where are we going … at last we finally return home triumphantly to the key of A flat.
Once again we hear material from the opening, but the accompaniment is now in triplets rather than chords, occasionally in a gentle, rhythmic tug-of war against the melody’s quavers.
And then the coda. As before, Fauré takes us gradually into the piano’s stratosphere, but just listen to those harmonies; adding a G flat pulls us nostalgically to the subdominant side, briefly combining both motives before the solo RH ascends even further – and a magical, pianissimo modulation to F Major…
Ah, we’re home safely. A flat Major, and a last, lingering farewell to a snatch of melody. Lovely.