Faure’s music seems to my uneducated ears to be the missing link between composers like Chopin and Liszt and composers like Debussy and Satie. That’s really the best way I can size it up: this music often possesses the technical demands of Chopin, Debussy or Liszt, but it also often possesses the sense of momentness, for lack of a better word, of Debussy and Satie. It’s pretty great stuff, even if it isn’t quite of the calibre of those folks.
The one knock against this particular collection I would say is the idiosyncratic sequencing. All the pieces of particular types are thrown together – which makes some sense, I guess – so that we travel through Faure’s career multiple times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but if you’re not paying attention you can be taken a little off guard sometimes.
Nocturne No 1 in E♭ minor, Op 33/1 (c.1875)
The first nocturne is a spacious, quiet thing that builds and builds in both pace and intensity before seemingly plateauing only to build even more. It’s stirring stuff.
Nocturne No 2 in B major, Op 33/2 (c.1880)
The second nocturne begins with beautiful movement that seemingly falls away to a far more vigorous and dramatic movement, only to seemingly meld the two tempi. It’s pretty great.
Nocturne No 3 in A♭ major, Op 33/3 (c.1882)
The third nocturne begins quite conventionally, to my ears, recalling almost another era. But it soon gets more languid and a little more dreamy. But it’s probably my least favourite of the first three.
Nocturne No 4 in E♭ major, Op 36 (c.1884)
The fourth nocturne starts beautifully. It’s one of those pieces that manages to both sound fairly classical but also leans towards impressionism in its dreamy quality. I really like this.
Nocturne No 5 in B♭ major, Op 37 (c.1884)
The fifth nocturne is even dreamier and impressionistic than the fourth. It’s the kind of piece which really anticipates what was about to happen in piano music, while still sounding familiar enough to audiences to not sound as radical as that later music would be.
Nocturne No 6 in D♭ major, Op 63 (1894)
A fair amount of time had passed since the 5th nocturne and you can hear it in the pace of this one – it’s slow and dreamy and almost hesitant or halting in comparison to his earlier pieces. It’s wonderful.
Nocturne No 7 in C♯ minor, Op 74 (1898)
The 7th nocturne’s first notes are further apart and slower than any nocturne before, but the volume picks up almost instantly, only to fade away again. But the next movement is considerably more up tempo, though once again there’s that swooning feeling.
Nocturne No 8 in D♭ major, Op 84/8 (1902)
The 8th Nocturne begins considerably more up tempo than his last few (at least more up tempo than their beginnings). It’s a more impressive work of playing, for sure, but I’m not sure it moves me quite as much as the earlier nocturnes. It’s also really short.
Nocturne No 9 in B minor, Op 97 (1908)
Much more impressionistic than the 8th, the 9th is the kind of piece I associate with the music of the era, drifting in terms of volume and (apparent) tempo, conjuring feelings and memories rather than awing with prowess. (Though I bet it’s hard to play!)
Nocturne No 10 in E minor, Op 99 (1908)
Much more strident to start than the 9th, the 10th still has qualities that create impressions rather than awe. As it progresses, there’s almost a sound of confusion in the notes, as if the pianist isn’t sure which notes to play. That’s really cool.
Nocturne No 11 in F♯ minor, Op 104/1 (1913)
The 11th has that impressionistic hesitancy that I like so much, and a compelling melody, but lacks a certain something I can’t put my finger on compared to the nocturnes preceding it. I still like it, I just don’t like it quite as much as the 9th and 10th.
Nocturne No 12 in E minor, Op 107 (1915)
The 12th embraces (obvious) virtuosity so much more than Faure’s other nocturnes of the 20th century. The others are probably hard to play but this one sounds hard to play. It’s pretty out of step with the others which is probably why I find it so refreshing. It’s kind of unabashedly Romantic, to my ears, but I’m not sure I find fault with that at the moment.
Nocturne No 13 in B minor, Op 119 (1921)
The final nocturne begins softly, like many of his nocturnes before turning into a classic late Romantic/early Impressionist swooning crescendo about 90 seconds in. It does this push and pull. I like it, but I get the distinct feeling I’ve heard something like it before.
Thème et variations in C♯ minor, Op 73 (1895)
This is one of Faure’s longest works for piano, featuring 12 versions of a theme, a very common Romantic practice. (Perhaps common even in the Classical era – I don’t really know.) The theme itself feels almost martial to me but, as Copland alluded to in his assessment, with an air of tragedy.
The variations are kind of what you would expect – different tempos and approaches, some of which are pretty captivating others less so. I suspect this is a demonstration piece, basically, saying “I can do this too.”
Ballade in F♯ major, Op 19 (1877)
This ballad is one of Faure’s longest works for solo piano. It is fairly impressionistic from the era. I also believe it departs from the traditional form (though I wouldn’t know!) because it was actually a bunch of different pieces, rewritten into one piece. I like it a fair amount but I’m not sure it makes as positive impression on me as some of his later pieces.
9 Préludes, Op 103 (1910)
For some reason these preludes are apparently not very well known. That seems kind of crazy to me as they run the gamut of Faure’s abilities: from that faux hesitancy that I (and I suspect many others) find appealing about the genre, which gives impressionistic music so much of its sensory illusion in the slower moments, to dizzying displays of virtuosity that don’t sound obvious in the faster moments – i.e. the pianist shows off but in unexpected ways, some of which appear to strain against tonality at times. Really neat stuff.
Barcarolle No 1 in A minor, Op 26 (1880)
This is a pleasant piece that is apparently quite traditional in its style early on but gets more complicated. Not knowing the form, I can’t speak to that. It does sound quite traditional to my ears, but it’s pleasant.
Barcarolle No 2 in G major, Op 41 (1885)
Maybe it’s just the style of these, but this one also sounds pretty traditional to me, though it’s certainly more ambitious than the first piece in the series. (What I hear as “traditional” is apparently just “Italian.”) Until about 80 seconds it, it doesn’t really grab me and feels very unlike Faure. But after that point it sounds much more in his wheelhouse, which I find much more appealing.
Barcarolle No 3 in G♭ major, Op 42 (1885)
The third barcarole is the first one that immediately feels like Faure to me. I don’t know if that’s fair, but that’s what I hear. I like it more just about instantly, as it has more of the things I like about Faure’s piano music than the first two. (I.e. it reminds me of one of his nocturnes, just a titch.)
Barcarolle No 4 in A♭ major, Op 44 (1886)
This one is quite pretty, which makes sense why it is more famous than the others. It does feel a little less substantial but it’s so catchy that I think I can overlook that. It’s pretty High Romantic to my ears.
Barcarolle No 5 in F♯ minor, Op 66 (1894)
This is the first really standout piece in the series – seemingly very difficult to play while also varying subtly enough to make things pretty interesting.
Barcarolle No 6 in E♭ major, Op 70 (1896)
Though still containing plenty of traditional elements, this one feels to me closer in feel to the nocturnes, which I generally greatly prefer. I quite like it.
Barcarolle No 7 in D minor, Op 90 (1905)
This one sounds like a classic Faure piece to my ears, containing a lot of his trademarks (as far as I can tell) and generally sounding utterly unlike his early works in this genre.
Barcarolle No 8 in D♭ major, Op 96 (1906)
One of Faure’s more radical takes on the genre to my ears. (Not that I would know anything about that!) It’s a piece that reminds you he can do complicated and weird in addition to moody and dreamy.
Barcarolle No 9 in A minor, Op 101 (1909)
This is perhaps the most impressionistic of his barcaroles to date. That’s a good thing for me, since I generally like his impressionistic work better than his more traditional pieces. It’s still pretty damn traditional compared to the younger (real) impressionists but it’s pretty and it is also pretty dynamic, despite its start.
Barcarolle No 10 in A minor, Op 104/2 (1913)
This one goes from quiet and (seemingly) slow to loud and (seemingly) fast pretty quickly, only to undulate in the middle. It is not my favourite.
Barcarolle No 11 in G minor, Op 105 (1913)
This indeed sounds like like Faure to my ears, at least the opening does. Someone called this “austere” and I can’t really get behind that once the piece really gets going. It’s pleasant, though.
Barcarolle No 12 in E♭ major, Op 106bis (1915)
This is very traditional-sounding to my ears. Not my favourite.
Barcarolle No 13 in C major, Op 116 (1921)
The final barcarole is quite pleasant listening but I’m not sure it does enough to really grab me given the year.
Impromptu No 1 in E♭ major, Op 25 (1881)
This is a rumbling thing which impresses with its dynamism before it turns into something a little more graceful.
Impromptu No 2 in F minor, Op 31 (1883)
This is a jaunty piece which sounds very traditional to my ears – competing perhaps with the other showy Romantic piano pieces of the day. Not really my thing, though the playing is impressive. I do prefer the second movement.
Impromptu No 3 in A♭ major, Op 34 (1883)
A much more compelling piece than the second impromptu, this sounds both more like Faure to my ears and also has more of what I like in piano music in general, especially when it slows down and sounds almost proto impressionistic.
Impromptu No 4 in D♭ major, Op 91 (1906)
There’s a huge gap between this one and the third and it is recognizable pretty much immediately. It almost sounds like a different composer at times. This one is much more in line with my idea of Faure than his earlier pieces in this genre and I like it considerably more than them.
Impromptu No 5 in F♯ minor, Op 102 (1909)
This is a brief piece which shows off the pianist’s ability. I don’t know if it does more than that.
Impromptu in D♭ major, Op 86 bis (1904/13)
This is a harp piece adapted by someone else for the piano. It’s interesting that it’s considered canonical enough for a collection. It’s pretty and makes me want to hear the original harp piece.
Valse-caprice No 1 in A major, Op 30 (1882)
This is one of Faure’s most traditional sounding pieces, perhaps only because it is a waltz. It does display considerable virtuosity, though, which livens it up.
Valse-caprice No 2 in D♭ major, Op 38 (1884)
The beginning of this waltz feels considerably more in line with Faure’s style near the end of the century until it bursts into waltz-ness maybe 20-somethign seconds in. I still like it more than the first one.
Valse-caprice No 3 in G♭ major, Op 59 (1887–93)
This is more like it – a waltz that sounds like Faure. (It’s no wonder he worked on it so long!) This is so much better than the first two.
Valse-caprice No 4 in A♭ major, Op 62 (1893–94)
I’m not sure the waltz ever fit Faure so it makes sense that this was the last one. But on both the third one and this piece he really makes it his own, sounding little like previous waltzes I’m aware of. I still prefer his other piano pieces, but I appreciate what he’s doing here and it really sounds like him, rather than some waltz composer.
8 Pièces brèves, Op 84 (1902)
This is a collection of really short pieces that Faure had written over his career and never intended to publish but apparently when the publisher insisted, Faure insisted they go together. They are literally all over the place and were packaged with the 8th Nocturne. I didn’t write individual reviews for them as most of them are under 2 and a half minutes.
Mazurka in B♭ major, Op 32 (1883)
I don’t know enough about mazurkas to know whether or not this is a typical one, but what I do know is that this sounds decidedly not like a work by Faure until it slows down about 40 seconds in, and even then it feels like he is forcing his style into something it is not necessarily suited for.
Romances sans paroles, Op 17 (1863?/1880)
Some people have dismissed these pieces as juvenilia and it is easy to see why. Though there are maybe hints of Faure’s later style, it’s sort of hard to hear in these pieces.
Dolly Suite, Op. 56 (1896)
This is a series of piece for two pianos written over a number of years. It’s very pleasant but kind of simple at times. I guess it was meant to be performed by an adult with a child. It’s nice enough.
Souvenirs de Bayreuth (1888) – co-written by Andre Messager
I barely know Wagner at all, so this parody is mostly lost on me but at least one of the themes is familiar and is pretty funny.