French Salon Piece 'Barcarolle' by André Messager
'Barcarolle' for solo cello, string orchestra, and harp by André Messager, edited by Christopher Hogwood (Edition HH, £15.95)
André Messager (1853–1929)—French composer, conductor, and administrator—was a pupil of Fauré and Saint-Saëns, and became music director of the Covent Garden Opera. He was a man of the highest erudition, giving many first performances in England and France of operas by Mozart, Rameau, Wagner, and Debussy. He wrote over 45 works for the stage including the highly popular operettas Les p’tites Michu and Véronique.
However, Messager wrote very little purely instrumental music, and, until this publication, nothing for cello. It is itself an arrangement of a work for violin and piano (which he did not orchestrate)—the manuscript was only recently discovered in the United States.
Messager’s Barcarolle is a charming salon piece, similar in length, form, difficulty, and style to the famous Sicilienne by Messager’s teacher Fauré. It reverses the key structure of the Sicilienne, which is in A–B–A form with the outer sections in a minor key and the central section in the major. The writing is lyrical throughout and the solo part lies gracefully under the hand of even a moderately skilled cellist.
Hogwood has done a scrupulous job of editing—the manuscript of this cello version contained almost no expression or dynamic markings in the solo part, so he carefully compared it to the published violin version and made emendations. The points of discrepancy are listed at the end of the score. This level of scrutiny and scholarship, standard for the masterpieces of the past, is rare for a work by a lesser-known composer. So cellists now have a first-class introduction to music by a composer few, if any, would have known. And, as Hogwood has pointed out, there’s no reason the violin version couldn’t be done with orchestra as well, so it’s a double benefit.
The fancy edition includes a page of facsimile manuscript and a wood-block portrait of the composer. Both an orchestral score and the original violin/piano version are provided, with parts for both cello and violin. The piece is more suitable for a recital setting; certainly orchestral performances of such a short piece will be rare, so it’s good to have the piano part available, even though not actually sanctioned by the composer.
All in all, a most welcome new genre piece, redolent of warm Parisian evenings.