On This Day – January 20

Today we look at a composer whose life was cut short, leaving only 39 opuses, but leaving 39 works of great quality. Ernest Chausson, born on this day in 1855.

Born in Paris to a prosperous bourgeois family, Chausson studied law to please his father, even though he had no interest in the law. He frequented the Paris salons and met celebrities such as Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon and Vincent d’Indy. In October 1879, at the age of 25, he began attending the composition classes of Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire. He had already composed some pieces for piano, and songs, but the earliest manuscripts that survive are those corrected by Massenet.

In 1882 and 1883, Chausson made the pilgimage to Bayreuth to attend the operas of Wagner. In 1882 he saw the premiere of Parsifal with d’Indy, and in 1883 he went with his spouse Jeanne Escudier. From 1886 until his death, Chausson was the secretary of the Société Nationale de Musique. He received many of the Paris artistic elite in his salon, including composers Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy and Isaac Albéniz, as well as poets, novelists and playwrights.

At the age of 44, Chausson died in a freak accident. While riding downhill on his estate, it appears he lost control of his bicycle, running straight into a brick wall and dying instantly.

Chausson’s compositions are deeply original, though reflecting technical influences of Franck and Wagner, and stylistic traces of Massenet and Brahms. He completed one opera, Le roi arthus, a symphony in B flat, the dramatic mélodie, Poème de l’amour et de la mer, and perhaps his most famous piece, Poème for Violin and Orchestra.

We’re going to here this Poème, performed by the Russian Violinist David Oistrakh

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