This is the inaugural blog post of an occasional series that will highlight a piece that we’re obsessed with. Hopefully it will introduce pieces that are new to you, reaffirm your own love for the piece, or make you see the piece in a new light.
Gaspard Le Roux Suite no. 5 in F major
I would never consider myself a writer, but I’ve written enough to know how difficult it is. Just like I would never consider myself a composer, even though I’ve composed enough to know how difficult that is too. First hand knowledge of the amount of effort it takes to create something good has made me appreciate good work when I hear it and has made me want to take things apart more, figure out just how they did it, maybe even learn some of the craft involved.
More and more, as I look at these pieces that I admire, I’ve come to appreciate economy. Less is more, they say, and the more I think about it, they’re right. It amazes me how some composers or writers can create a whole depth of emotional experience with the least amount of notes or words, how they can create an entire world with one chord, an entire lifetime in just one page. Somehow they just know which notes or words are needed to create maximum impact on their audience. And I’m left, jaw agape, wondering just how the hell did they do that?
The more I study the music of the past, the more I appreciate the economy of the French Baroque. They knew what they wanted to say and they said it, simply and elegantly (I like to think simple melodic lines with elegant ornaments.) Many of these pieces, especially the keyboard works, are short. But brevity is the soul of wit, and these pieces have soul.
Gaspard Le Roux embodies all these qualities that I love about French music. I recently played his suite in F major and I practically melted every time I practiced it. The piece elicited so many warm feelings, so many rich smells, so many beautiful images that it reduced me to a crumpled drooling mess on the ground.
And it’s so short! The whole suite is barely eleven minutes long, but what a profound eleven minutes!
The suite as a whole shows you all the shades of F major. The opening prelude sounds to me to be almost pleading, an insecure F major just wanting to be heard. The following allemande is F major at its most romantic, a slow walk between lovers trying not to veer too far off the path where it is private and dark. The courante is F major at its most regal.
Then there’s the chaconne. The chaconne is my favorite movement of the piece and coming in at four minutes, it’s also the longest movement of the piece. Like all the best French chaconnes, Le Roux’s seems to encompass the entire world. It takes me on a journey from melancholy to pleading to desire to finally triumph. A whole lifetime in just four minutes.
The minuet and the two doubles of the minuet is F major at its most innocent. That is, until we hear the minuet’s little brother, the passepied which bubbles with the exuberant enthusiasm of a five year old on Christmas morning.
Then the suite ends with another allemande, drastically different from the first. This last allemande is F major at its most nostalgic, a bittersweet reminiscence on times gone by, where you laugh with tears in your eyes.
This piece is as cathartic and as profound to me as any longer piece from later time periods, let’s say Mahler or Wagner. But Le Roux gets us to catharsis so economically. With the exception of the prelude and chaconne, he uses binary forms. He never veers that far from F major, and when he does move away, the moment becomes more mysterious, more moving. Mostly, Le Roux uses the dances and the dance rhythms to create all the different characters and emotions. It all seems so simple, yet I know that if I tried to do something like it, I would fail. Le Roux’s skill in achieving something so elegant with such little means is a testament to his talents as a composer.
Mostly, I’m just happy that the piece survives, that I can listen to it, that I can play it, and every so often just wonder, how the hell did he do that?
Here’s a YouTube link to a performance of the chaconne. I dare you to not fall in love.