A Last Coffee in Paris before I Leave

Un autre au revoir. © Charles Thibo

You will perhaps recall a post about Camille de Saint-Saëns’ Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viol and Cello in E Major and the tender melancholy that befalls me whenever I am leaving Paris by train. Crossing the Gare de l’Est, having one last coffee at the brasserie, buying one last book at the bookstore, hurrying to the platform, announced at the last possible moment – no matter how long I have stayed in Paris, it always feels like I leave too early.

Some time ago, an unforseen stop-over in Paris made me relive that experience again. For once I was ahead of the schedule and while I sipped that last coffee in Paris, I listened to Alexis de Castillon’s Piano Trio No. 2 in D Minor (op. 17b) as performed by Jacques Parrenin, Georges Schwartz and Monique Mercier, a wonderfully melancholic piece, a very appropriate fare-well to a city that I have fallen love with over 20 years ago, a time when I indulged hanging around at the in the Jardin de Luxembourg and writing lousy heart-breaking poetry.

De Castillon wrote this lovely piece in 1872-73. It has four movements and the composer scored it for violin, cello and piano. De Castillon must have known it, it was a fare-well piece for him. The year he wrote the piece he had returned from Pau to Paris. Upon his demobilization after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, his health had become very poor and he had spent some time in the south of France to regain strength. However, soon after his return in March 1873 to Paris, he died of pneumonia.

In a biographical note Joël-Marie Fauquet writes that de Castillon’s conception of music was aligned on the German tradition: Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn – those were his reference points. Schumann was another influence, especially for the chamber music that he wrote. You may find some of this Romantic language in the trio, even though de Castillon had a rather original way to structure this piece. The classic sonata structure seems far, far away.

The composer dedicated the trio to the conductor and violinist Charles Lamoureux; howeverit would be published only ten years after de Castillon’s death. Just like de Castillon, Lamoureux was a champion of the German school and promoted Richard Wagner’s operas in France, a perilous endeavour especially after the Franco-Prussian War and the French defeat. When he gave the first French performance of Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, a street demonstration in front of the concert hall was staged and the conductor denounced as unpatriotic.

Neither de Castillon nor Lamoureux were to be impressed by the lack of public sympathy or understanding. During the late half of the 19th century, French music had much less to offer in terms of innovation. Composers who pushed the envelope, like César Franck and Vincent d’Indy, were themselves mesmerized and inspired by the stunning success of the ars germanica.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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