Ernest Chausson

Portrait of Ernest Chausson

Ernest Chausson was a French Romantic composer who died just as his career was beginning to become established. He was born on 20th January 1855 in Paris, France and died on 10th June 1899 in Limay, France aged 44.

Major Works

Concerto for piano, violin, and string quartet (1889-1891)
Piano Quartet (1897)
Symphony in B flat major (1890) 
Poème for violin and orchestra (1896)

Biography Timeline

Amédée-Ernest Chausson was born on 21st January 1855 in Paris, France. His father was quite well off having assisted Baron Haussmann in the redevelopment of Paris in the 1850’s. To please his father, he studied law and was appointed a barrister for the Court of Appeals but showed no interest in the work. He spent a lot of time in the Paris Salons where he met people such as Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon and Vincent d’Indy.

1879: He enters the Paris Conservatoire and studies with Jules Massenet and Cesar Franck and becomes good friends with the latter. 

1881: He fails to win the Prix de Rome and becomes dispirited even thinking of giving up altogether however a small inheritance allows him to continue with music composition even after leaving the Conservatoire.

1882: He visits Bayreuth in Germany with Vincent d”Indy to hear the operas of Richard Wagner and sees “Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), “Tristan und Isolde” and the premiere of “Parsifal”. He composes the symphonic poem “Viviane” in September which is heavily influenced by Wagner. He also begins composing “Poème de l’amour et de la Mer” (Poem of Love and the Sea) which is a song cycle for voice and orchestra but is not completed until 1892.

1883: He takes his new wife Jeanne Escudier on a trip to Bayreuth. The couple go on to have five children.

1886: He becomes secretary of the Societe Nationale de Musique. His home is frequented by famous people such as Gabriel Faure, Claude Debussy, Claude Monet and the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev and he begins to love Russian literature. He is also an avid collector of paintings. He begins to compose the opera “Le Roi Arthus” (King Arthur) to a libretto written by himself. (Completed 1895, and first performed 1903 after his death).

1888: He writes the incidental music for the French version of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare. In “La Tempete” he is the first composer to use the celesta in his orchestration.

1889: He begins to compose the Concerto for piano, violin, and string quartet.

1890: He completes his Symphony in B-flat Major.

1891: He conducts the first performance of the Symphony in B-flat major on 18th April at a concert of the Societe Nationale de Musique. 

1894: His father dies bringing about a darker period in his music.

1896: He composes the Poème” for solo violin and orchestra which has become a staple of the violin repertoire.

Ernest Chausson died on 10th June 1899, at one of his retreats, the Château de Moussets in Limay, after cycling downhill into a brickwall. Suicide has been suspected but does not seem likely according to his biographer. His funeral was attended by Gabriel Faure, Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin and Claude Debussy and he was buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France.

Further Information

List of compositions by Chausson.

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