Gabriel Fauré was born in Pamiers, Ariège,
Midi-Pyrénées, in the south of France, the fifth son
and youngest of six children of Toussaint-Honoré Fauré
(1810–85) and Marie-Antoinette-Hélène Lalène-Laprade
As a young man Fauré had been very cheerful; a friend
wrote of his "youthful, even somewhat child-like,
mirth." From his thirties he suffered bouts of
depression, which he described as "spleen", possibly
first caused by his broken engagement and his lack of
success as a composer.
After receiving La Croix de Guerre as a young man for
army service in the Franco-Prussian War, Fauré returned
to Paris in 1871 to be assistant organist and
accompanist to the choir at Saint-Sulpice, then later
at the Madeleine Church - again following in Saint
Saëns footsteps. Following a series of
misunderstandings, the fraught and fragile engagement
to his beloved Marianne Viardot was broken and he
married Marie Fremiet. This was a rather unhappy
marriage, as it transpired, but he remained married to
Marie for the rest of his life in spite of his
relationships with other women.
The Nocturne No. 4 is generally considered superior to
the first three and among the finest Fauré produced.
Published in 1885 along with the Fifth, it more or less
follows the same tripartite form he used in the earlier
nocturnes, a model used by Chopin: a lyrical, subdued
main theme frames a more animated middle section -- in
this case, a quite ecstatic and powerful one. Of
course, Fauré got the most out of this relatively
simple form, and in the end often rivaled Chopin in
this genre. The main theme here has a wistful, slightly
sentimental quality, but never turns saccharine, in
large part because Fauré's harmonies are always
imaginative, though they may often sound simple. The
composer often forged them from the main theme, and
thus deftly imparted contrapuntal aspects to the music.
The middle section begins tranquilly and in a subdued,
mysterious manner, but gradually builds tension and
reaches a ravishingly beautiful climax, after which the
main theme is reprised. The piece concludes with a
lovely coda, brilliantly fashioned from the previous
materials. This lovely and quite profound piece
typically lasts seven or eight minutes.
Although this piece was originally written for Piano, I
Transcribed it for Concert (Pedal) Harp.