Benjamin Godard (1849 -1895)
Etudes melodiques, Op 149 / Cahier 2
Etudes rythmiques, Op. 149 / Cahier 3
Etudes de concert, Op. 149 / Cahier 4
The French composer Benjamin Godard won some distinction as a violist, but it was as a composer, chiefly of salon music, that he won a very considerable reputation. Born in Paris in 1849, he studied there at the Conservatoire, with composition lessons from Henri Reber, a pupil of Anton Reicha and Le Sueur and successor of Onslow at the Institut. He was unsuccessful in his attempts at the Prix de Rome, but won immediate success in 1878 with his dramatic symphony Le Tasse (Tasso), a work for soloists, chorus and orchestra that was rewarded with the Prix de la Ville de Paris. Other choral works that followed include the ode Diane and a Symphonie legendaire. Aseries of orchestral symphonies include the Symphonie gothique, Symphonie orientale and the unpublished Symphonie descriptive. He had a champion in the conductor Pasdeloup and in 1882 conducted a festival of his own music at the Cirque d"ete. His operas were less successful, starting in the early 18805 with the grand opera Les Guelfes, a work not performed until seven years after the composer?s death. The first of his operas to be performed was Pedro de Zalamea, with a libretto by Luden Detroyat and Armand Silvestre after Calder6n de la Barca. This was first staged at the Theatre Royal in Antwerp in 1884. The opera Jocelyn, with a libretto based on Lamartine, was staged at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1888, but provided only one memorable episode in the Berceuse, which is still, in various arrangements, part of popwar repertoire. Later operas were equally unsuccessful, although his final work of this kind, La vivandiere, an opera-comique left unfinished at his death in 1895, seemed more congenial.
Godard"s piano music varies from the relatively trivial to the much more substantial. His later studies, the Etudes, Opus 149, fal1 into the second category, although they have the expected immediate charm. The second volume, a set of six Etudes melodiques opens with Causerie intime (Intimate Conversation), in which the upper register is in intimate converse with the lower, rather in the manner of Mendelssohn"s well known Song without Words on the same subject. Here the textures are, of course, more e1aborate, while she general1y has more to say than he has. There fol1ows the Chanson de mai (May Song), bright and cheerful in its melody, and a Nocturne italien, with a melody of characteristic Italian contour over a lilting accompaniment. A new mood is established in the central section, before the return of the opening material. Obsession is haunted by a repeated turn of phrase and leads to Barcarolle-crepusculaire (Twilight Boating-Song), in which the characteristic rhythm of the accompaniment sets the mood of gentle melancholy suggested by the melody. The volume ends with a Gavotte parisienne of overtly cheerful gaiety.
The third volume of Opus 149 studies, the Etudes rythmiques, serves another purpose, as a musical exercise in various rhythms. The collection starts with an Andante molto moderato of marked dotted and triple rhythms. The second study i marked Moderato, opens chordally, before the contrasting rhythms of melody and accompaniment. The Quasi adagio opens with rising figuration, before the melody, with its more elaborate rhythmic patterns. The fourth of the set, an Allegro scherzando, provides a contrast, with chordal patterns that suggest the influence of Schumann, a composer for whom Godard had great admiration. The last two studies, Allegro moderato and Con moto ma non troppo offer excitement and movement, particularly in the second with its energetic dance-rhythms.
The Etudes de concert of the fourth volume provide music that is technically more demanding in some respects. The first study, marked Allegretto allows a melody of great charm to emerge from among scintillating arpeggios in music that has the element of display necessary to the genre. The second study, again marked Allegretto, provides a contrast of figuration, with its waltz lilt. The following Allegro moderato opens in grandiose style, providing an element of concert drama, equalled by the brilliant figuration of the following Allurement. The fifth study, Vivace, again provides a shimmering accompaniment to the melody that emerges, while the sixth, Animato e con fuoco, opens emphatically, with a contrapuntal texture, which continues forcefully and energetically in music that provides an impressive conclusion to the set.