Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique
Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique Op. 15 (Three Pieces in the Pathetic Style) is a three-movement suite for piano composed by the French composer, Charles-Valentin Alkan, published in 1837. The suite also bears the title Souvenirs (Memories). The 3 movements are Aime-moi (Love Me), Le vent (The Wind), and Morte (Death).
Aime-moi (Love me), in A♭ minor, features repeated chords, tremolos, and arpeggios. The first theme is similar of that to Chopin's style. Between the beginning of the piece and the climax, the subdivision of the beat gradually increases. At first, the beat is based on quavers. It then goes into triplets, or three notes per beat, and then semiquavers, or four notes per beat, and then five, and then six, and then seven, and then finally eight where the movement climaxes emotionally (and academically, because there is no more increase in the subdivisions of the beat after this moment). After this climax, the main theme recapitulates, but is soon succeeded by a more intense melody in octaves along with triplet semiquavers in the left hand (this shows how Alkan kept the amount of intensity/anxiety in the music directly proportionate with the amount of subdivision of the beat). The music then relaxes into a seemingly carefree free flow of semiquavers alternating by groups of two in the right and left hands. As it nears the end, it flows into the high register and a small falling and rising arpeggio seems to conclude the piece. However, Alkan adds one more tiny mysterious and almost magical flourish before finally ending the movement in A♭ major, the parallel major of the original key signature.
Le vent (the Wind) is in B minor. The piece is in three sections, roughly in ABA' form. The outer sections contain chromatic scales throughout, like the impromptu, and the middle section contrasts with arpeggios accompanying the melody instead of chromatic scales. These chromatic scales include a 2 page transition, completely composed of dual chromatic scales sweeping the span of most of the keyboard. The first theme clearly represents the wind, with sad extended chords superimposed by languid chromatics. The second theme is in D major (the relative key to B minor), and features sweeps for the left hand while the right performs the melody in octaves (quoting the Allegretto of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony) with tremolos played within. Then the first theme returns fiercely with tremolos instead of chords for the left hand. Surprisingly, after chilling chromatic scales deep in the bass register, the piece ends with one final light ascending chromatic scale and a B major chord.
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji wrote of this piece in 1932 that it was
familiar ... — too familiar one is tempted to say, for most people think of Alkan, indeed only know him, as the composer of ‘Le Vent’, as they know only the Sibelius of the ‘Valse Triste’ or ‘Finlandia’; the great master of ‘Le festin d'Ésope’ and the Fourth Symphony respectively being completely a terra incognita.
Morte (Death), in E♭ minor, quotes the Gregorian chant of Dies Irae. The piece is the longest of the three, and features difficult, dense chord passages, sixths, trills, tremolos and repeated notes. In part of the piece, there is a constant tolling of a B♭ in a very similar way as Ravel's "Le Gibet" from Gaspard de la nuit, composed over 70 years later. Near the end, there is a very passionate and intense buildup that leads to quick short chords similar to the final part of Chopin's Ballade No. 4 in F minor right before the coda. The piece ends by quoting the "Aime-moi" theme, some chromatic scales very similar to those in "Le vent" and finally concludes very abruptly with a long trill and two short 16th note chords.
Sorabji considered this
the most remarkable number of the set ... a moving and tragic elegy or dirge ... full of astonishing hardiesses, both technical, pianistic and harmonic, and its ending is as weirdly uncanny as it is original and daring.
The pieces received a virulent review from Robert Schumann, who wrote:
It has a considerable flavour of Sue and Sand. One is startled by such false, unnatural art ... We always make allowances for erring talent ... but when nothing is to be found but black on black, we turn away in discouragement
Franz Liszt, to whom this set was dedicated, received them much more warmly than Schumann did, saying that they were "read and re-read many a time since the day when they brought me such great joy. These are compositions which could not be more distinguished and, all friendly prejudice aside, are likely to excite the deep interest of musicians."
Recordings of the Trois morceaux have been made by Robert Rivard, Marc-André Hamelin, Yui Morishita, and Vincenzo Maltempo. A recording of 'Le vent' from a piano roll made by Harold Bauer also exists.
- Sorabji (1932), p. 214
- Sorabji (1932), pp. 214-5
- Robert Schumann, tr. F. Ritter, Essays and Criticisms (Second Series), London n.d. , p. 317
- William Alexander Eddie, Charles-Valentin Alkan - His Life and His Music, Ashgate Publishing, London 2007, p. 43
- William Alexander Eddie, Charles-Valentin Alkan - His Life and His Music, Ashgate Publishing, London 2007, p. 174
- Discography Archived 2012-06-16 at the Wayback Machine. of the Alkan Society website.
- W. A. Eddie, Charles-Valentin Alkan - His Life and His Music, London, 2007.
- R. Smith, Alkan, the Man, the Music, London, 2000.
- K. Sorabji, Around Music, London, 1932.