Ernest Chausson (1855–1899)
Ernest Chausson was a French composer. He wrote music in all genres, including three operas, one complete symphony, three symphonic poems, many songs, and several chamber works. Many of his works exhibit the bold harmonic language, intense lyricism, and rich timbres and sonorities associated with the music of Richard Wagner and César Franck, who were among his biggest influences. He later sought a more refined style, particularly for his orchestral and chamber compositions.
Born in Paris on January 20, 1855, Chausson spent his formative years among the artistic elite of the Parisian salons to which his tutor had introduced him. At the encouragement of his family, he earned a law degree and then a doctorate, before turning to music as his profession. In 1879, he enrolled at the Conservatoire where he took classes taught by Jules Massenet and Franck. The latter significantly shaped Chausson’s musical style, as did also the operas of Wagner, the stage performances of which he saw on visits to Germany, including the 1882 premiere of Parsifal in Bayreuth.
In 1886, Chausson became secretary of the Societé Nationale de Musique, an organization that was founded by Romain Bussaine and Camille Saint-Saëns in 1871 to promote contemporary French music. This helped to establish him within Paris’s intellectual and musical circles. He also managed his family’s own famous salon at 22 boulevard de Courcelles, which was visited by poets and artists such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Claude Debussy, Alfred Cortot, and Eugène Ysaÿe.
Chausson’s relationships with these artistic figures inspired several works. They also facilitated a turning point in his compositional style in the mid-1890s, away from expressing extreme Romanticism and toward greater conciseness and clarity. Unfortunately, we can only imagine in what direction his music might have continued in the 20th century—a cycling accident in Limay, France led to the composer’s premature death on June 10, 1899.