I’ve written about cats before in this space. At one time there were two cats in my house, Tara & Scarlett. They had been born feral but rescued, fixed and raised for years in our home.
Then one day Tara somehow ran through an open door. I had hoped to see her again when I wrote about her leaving, first in context with the hopeful season of Advent, and then in trying to make sense of her life. But I’ve given up on any hope of seeing her again.
And two became one. Scarlett was our sole feline for the years since, contented, chubby, well-fed and yes, actually becoming enormous. And she got sick, so that she had to be euthanized today.
As I drove home today, having heard the doctor’s verdict through the phone & knowing of the inevitable trip to the vet, I was listening to Gabriel Fauré, who is already on my mind as one of the composers in Toronto Summer Music (for instance, the concert from last week).
This CD begins with Masques et Bergamasques, a favourite that alway reminds me of Domenico Pietropaolo, a scholar who has written & taught extensively about Commedia dell’Arte, and who had spoken so eloquently Saturday at Luella Massey’s funeral. I was thinking of Domenico & what he might have said about the Belle Époque, their (mis-) understandings and misconceptions of CdA. Verlaine’s fêtes galantes inspired both Debussy & Fauré.
And then serendipity brought me to of all things Fauré’s Dolly Suite, the Belle Époque’s answer to Cats. How appropriate! Yet it was my own good luck, nothing more, that brought me to those tracks on the CD. Speaking of what was shared by both Fauré and Debussy –such as Pelléas et Mélisande, or poems of Verlaine—their greatest love in common was, not surprisingly, a woman. Emma Bardac was Fauré’s mistress before she found her way to Debussy’s side, and furnishes the curious answer to a nerdy trivia question.
“Can you name the woman who was lover of two different composers, each writing brilliant music dedicated to one of her daughters?”
And the compositions?
Before Bardac’s little Chou-Chou inspired the Children’s Corner suite by Debussy, her Dolly (the nickname of her girl) inspired several remarkable pieces from Fauré: the compositions now known as the Dolly suite. Dolly is the little girl, while the feline association is perhaps a small part of this suite. That didn’t stop me (perhaps erroneously, from the assumptions made skimming record jackets) from projecting & associating the whole thing with cats, when the feline is only a small part of Dolly suite. No matter.
Partial as I am to Debussy, Fauré’s Dolly is just a little more sympathetic to the mind of the child, a little more universal, and a little less obstinately brilliant than Children’s Corner. Debussy, who never suffers fools gladly, is not inclusive.
And so, as I drove along thinking of my cat’s imminent demise, I had the good luck to stumble upon Fauré’s invocations of feline cuteness.
If what I saw in Wikipedia is accurate (where the sequence of these compositions corresponds to chronology, as Dolly grows & matures), there is a subtext to the suite in the growing maturity of the child. Fauré employs a technique I also saw in his Masques et Bergamasques (mentioned above), where a suite begins in innocence leading to a more complex ending suggesting the passage of time, growing sophistication & the nostalgia of mature retrospection. I’ll speak in detail of the Masques et Bergamasques–a suite i love dearly– another time.
Dolly suite has six movements, each of which appeared in a different year.
- Berceuse is a cradle song, the most innocent piece in the suite (NB a suite originally for four-hands piano, but later orchestrated)
- Mi-a-ou seems like a playful invocation of a cat, full of energy, syncopated and a bit unpredictable.
- Le jardin de Dolly (OR Dolly’s garden) is a stunning piece, full of simplicity but also nostalgia & sentiment (presented here in an orchestrated version)
- Kitty-valse is another clever piece, transparent & shimmering with energy. I may be projecting “cat” into this piece if –as some suggest—the music has more to do with Bardac’s pet dog than any cat. It won’t stop me from enjoying the associations i’ve made with the music (presented here in a computerized version).
- Tendresse is a glimpse of something more adult & sophisticated, complex & poignant.
- Le pas espagnol is an extroverted conclusion to the suite, after the introspection & vulnerability of the previous piece, perhaps a tonic to too much sentiment & too many tears. I can’t help remembering Nietzsche’s comments about Carmen as a tonic to too much Wagner.
I’m keeping her ashes.