Fauré: Dolly Suite

Born in 1845, Gabriel Urbain Fauré is considered to have been one of the greatest French composers of the 19th century, and is probably best known for his Requiem. He was the only musician in the Fauré family, descending from a line of butchers, smiths and military officers. Gabriel was a solitary and quiet child and, despite the lack of a musical background, he did have an innate talent. He became friends with his professor, the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who was only ten years his senior. Young Fauré was his favourite pupil, and they remained friends after Fauré completed his formal education.

Faure’s Dolly was originally composed as a collection of piano duets that reflect upon experiences from childhood. The suite was written between 1894 and 1896. The work is dedicated to Helene Bardac, the daughter of Emma Bardac who later became the second wife of Debussy. It is said that Helene was so tiny when she was born that she was nicknamed ‘Dolly’. Dolly was a charming and delightful little girl, with blonde hair. Fauré created perfectly the image of her feminine precocity and innocence in this work.

The opening piece, “Berceuse” (a Lullaby), will be familiar to anyone who remembers the BBC Listen with Mother radio programme. The soothing melody over a gently rocking accompaniment delightfully suggests a cradle song. The second piece, “Mi-a-ou”, is not a description of a favourite cat, but relates to Dolly’s brother whom she nicknamed “Mi-a-ou”. It is lively and playful, with lots of agile high notes.

Next, “Le jardin de Dolly” (“Dolly’s Garden”) is meant to portray the ideal garden. It has two main sections, the first distinguished by a graceful theme, the second by a more expansive theme.

The suite ends with a Spanish dance “Le pas espagnol”, which was inspired by a bronze equestrian statue which stood on a mantelpiece in Madame Bardac’s house and was much admired by the young Dolly. It is an exhilarating allegro full of Latin rhythms and colour.