Emmanuel Chabrier's C major Impromptu was written in 1873 and dedicated to Mme Edouard Manet.

Paula Bär-Giese - pianist


Emmanuel Chabrier was born in 1841 in the Auvergne region of France in the small town of Ambert, the son of a lawyer and his wife, a woman of some refinement. His first music lessons in Ambert were from Spanish musicians, Carlists who had settled there after the defeat of their cause in 1839. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Clermont-Ferrand, where he attended the Lycée Blaise Pascal, and five years later the family moved again, this time to Paris, where the boy was able to complete his formal education, in preparation for a career as a civil servant. From 1861 until his resignation in 1880 he worked as an official of the Ministry of the Interior, following the intentions of his father for him, but in Clermont-Ferrand and in Paris he had been able to continue his musical studies, violin, piano and composition. His lack of formal Conservatoire training and of the obligatory Prix de Rome, while presenting little obstacle to his work as a composer, did some harm to the general perception of his abilities by the musical establishment, to which he seemed always something of an amateur.

After early piano compositions and songs Chabrier's friendship with Verlaine led to the composition of two operettas, Fisch- Ton-Kan, with its punning title, and Vaucochard et fils ler, neither of which, it seems, were completed. Verlaine recorded their relationship in a poem, where he recalls Chabrier's regular visits to his mother's house, where Votre génie improvisait au piano (Your genius used to improvise at the piano). His friends in Paris included painters, writers and musicians, and he was a discriminating collector of paintings, leaving, at his death in 1894, a substantial collection of works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Cézanne and others. His writer friends included Daudet, Mallarmé, Zola and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, while contemporary musicians in his circle included Chausson, Fauré, Vincent d'Indy and Duparc, Saint-Saëns, Massenet and Messager. His parents died in 1869 and in 1873 he married, his first two orchestral compositions following in the years immediately after marriage. His larger musical ambitions had centred, from 1867, on an opera, Jean Hunyade, but this was abandoned. Theatrical success came with the operetta L'étoile in 1877, followed two years later by Une éducation manquée. It was at this point in his civil service career that Chabrier, after eighteen years at the Ministry of the Interior, chose to resign and to commit himself solely to music. Shortly before this he had visited Munich with his friends Vincent d'Indy and Henri Duparc and had heard for the first time Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, an experience that moved him very deeply.

In his final years, Chabrier was strained by financial problems caused by the collapse of his bankers, suffered from failing health brought on by the terminal stage of syphilis, and depression about the neglect of his stage works in France. The death of his beloved "Nanine" in January 1891 greatly affected him.

He died in Paris at the age of 53. 

Chabrier is remembered for his dazzling harmonic colors and his command of orchestral composition. The piano pieces he wrote show much originality and beauty. 

The conservatoire of music, dance and drama in Clermont Ferrand is named after Chabrier.

Autour du piano, oil on canvas 1885 by Henri Fantin-Latour; Chabrier at the piano, Adolphe Julien, Arthur Boisseau, Camille Benoît, Edmond Maitre, Antoine Lascoux, Vincent d'Indy and Amédée Pigeon grouped around.

Autour du piano, oil on canvas 1885 by Henri Fantin-Latour; Chabrier at the piano, Adolphe Julien, Arthur Boisseau, Camille Benoît, Edmond Maitre, Antoine Lascoux, Vincent d'Indy and Amédée Pigeon grouped around.