An Unlikely Ally


The Frenchman Gabriel Faure was inclined to write refined, soft-spoken music. In 1908 one of his staunchest supporters was a composer of outgoing, often dissonant pieces — the Spaniard Isaac Albeniz. Faure was born on May 12th, 1845. He was 15 years Albeniz’ senior, but Albeniz had been a dazzling child prodigy and a freewheeling world traveler by the age of 12.

At age 63, Faure was still having trouble getting recognition. In 1908 Albeniz introduced Faure into musical circles in Barcelona. The next year Faure was invited to conduct his Requiem, Shylock, and Caligula as well as his Ballade for Piano and Orchestra. According to the pianist, Marguerite Long, during one rehearsal of the Ballade Faure was conducting badly. He was eagerly awaiting a telegram telling him whether or not he had been elected to membership in an important musical organization — the Institut.

“All through the rehearsal Faure kept looking at me,” Marguite Long recalled, “not because of anything in the Ballade but out of desperation to know the result of the election. [In that huge auditorium holding seven thousand people I kept my eyes glued to the door. The rehearsal finished at midnight and still there was no word, so Faure went off to find out what he could. At the post office we discovered there was a postal strike and nothing was getting through. Then, around dawn, just as we were all getting some much-needed sleep, Faure banged on the door, waving the telegram. He’d been elected!”

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There had been some resistance to Faure’s election to the Instutut, and it’s likely that Albeniz used some of his powers of persuasion to Faure’s advantage. By the time of the election, though, Albeniz was seriously ill. He was staying in Paris, and Faure and Paul Dukas went to see him often. On one occasion he paid Faure the ultimate compliment when he asked Marguerite Long, as a last favor, to play one of his favorite piano pieces, the Second Valse-Caprice by Gabriel Faure.