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.
If you are old enough, you may remember Laurel and Hardy, two slapstick comedians from the 1920s, whose short movies I saw in the 1970s on TV, all black and white, no spoken words, occasionally subtitled – just as funny and just as sad as Charlie Chaplin. I loved Laurel and Hardy when I was a child, and when I recently listened to the opening bars of Alexis de Castillon’s Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major (Op. 4) I had to think of the piano music that accompanied the short movies. It made me feel nostalgic for the simplicity of the jokes, the straightforwardness of the arrangement and the unobtrusive piano music that conferred a sense of tragedy, of comedy or simply heightened the tension.
Harmony, gentleness – the piano. Tension, agitation – the violin. In 1868 Alexis de Castillon has written his Sonata for Violin and Piano in C major (Op. 6), fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The first movement attempts to join two disparate moods by force, for the music is very forceful, at least at the beginning. Half way through the movement the mood changes, a certain melancholy, expressed by the violin, sets in, the piano voice moves to the background and adds a dramatic touch. Continue reading!
A young French aristocrat. A cavalry officer. And a resounding name: Viscount Marie-Alexis de Castillon de Saint-Victor. And above all a man deeply in love with music and fully devoted to the promotion of this wonderful art. Alexis de Castillon, as he is commonly known, was born in 1838. At the age of 11, parallel to his school studies, he started to take piano lessons. He also learned to play the organ in his hometown Chartres. Following a family tradition he continued his studies at the prestigious military academy of Saint-Cyr.