Ernest Chausson’s Poème
Notes by TŌN percussionist Petra Elek
Ernest Chausson was a distinguished French composer of the late 19th century. His interest in music was obvious from a young age, however, because of his father’s influence, he pursued law as a career and became a lawyer in Paris in 1877. Soon after, he had a change of heart and fully dedicated himself to his true passion: music. He enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire in 1879, where he briefly studied with Jules Massenet and César Franck. Chausson and his wife hosted an active salon, which allowed young composers and professional musicians—amongst others the young Claude Debussy and Isaac Albeniz—to gather and share their music. He is best known for his chamber music compositions and large-scale orchestral works. His career and life tragically ended at the age of 44, when he lost control riding his bike and crashed into a wall.
Poème for solo violin and orchestra, written in 1896, was Chausson’s only instrumental concerto. It was originally meant to be a symphonic poem, however, the violin gradually evolved into receiving a more significant role, or in other words from the composer, “a piece in very free form with many passages where the violin plays alone.” The work is based on The Song of Triumphant Love, a novella by the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev in which two young men (Fabio and Muzio) fall in love with the same woman (Valeria). Chausson used the story as inspiration and created an emotional composition mixed with Italian drama with French impressions. The characteristics of the piece portray Chausson’s melancholic personality, full of self-doubt, as he constantly struggled with being a productive composer.