Fauré’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in D Minor: “The Power of Tranquil Thought”

Gabriel Fauré’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109 inhabits a world of elegance and dreamy nostalgia. It is music characterized by soft edges, buoyant motion, and an effortless sense of melody. Composed in the summer of 1917, this is one of two cello sonatas Fauré completed in the final decade of his life. During these years, Fauré, who served as the head of the Paris Conservatoire until 1920, continued to compose despite suffering from increasing hearing loss. For the attentive listener, Fauré’s two cello sonatas have been described as conveying “the power of tranquil thought.” (Martin Cooper)

The opening theme of the first movement (Allegro) was drawn from an unpublished D minor Symphony the composer completed in 1884. It begins with a percussive rhythmic “heartbeat” in the piano which develops into an exuberant motor. In the final bars, this persistent, propulsive line is picked up by the cello.

The second movement (Andante) is a serene and melancholy sarabande. There are motivic echoes of the Pie Jesu movement from Fauré’s Requiem. Glistening, bell-like tones in the piano embellish the cello’s singing line. Later, these turn into “ghost notes” which give the fleeting impression of a haunting second cello voice (3:14).

The final movement (Allegro comodo) evokes magical, ever-shifting light. This outwardly sunny music is tinged with a subtle underlying longing and sadness. Appropriately, it is the dreamy, illusive music of a composer who once said, “Imagining is trying to formulate all one would wish to be better, all that surpasses reality.”

Here is a recording by cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Pascal Devoyon:

I. Allegro:

II. Andante:

III. Final – Allegro comodo: