By Mark Homsany
Sunday, March 18th 2018 at Bourgie Hall, the Trio Fibonacci will present “Au salon de Balzac.” In this concert, the Trio Fibonacci will recreate the atmosphere of a Parisian 19th-century literary salon Balzac would have held. To do this, they will play pieces by composers from that time Balzac liked as well as a piece by a composer Balzac would have surely invited to his salon.
Julie-Anne Derome, the Trio’s violinist, give us a preview of the concert.
“I think he is fascinating. I admire him a lot,” Derome states. “He is a psychologist. His observations on the human race are mind-blowing. […] My favourite novel is Cousin Bette.” Balzac was part of a literary movement called “realism.” Authors of this movement described their society as they saw it in their novels and painted very detailed psychological portrait of their characters.
“Balzac would actually spend time with lots of musicians and I thought it would be interesting to see through his eyes his relationship with musicians and music in general.” Julie-Anne Derome
She also wanted to assess Balzac’s knowledge of music. She discovered that the French writer admired Rossini and Beethoven: “Balzac also thought music was an art form superior to literature.” This kind of reflection on art is the product of salons of the time, the place where great minds met.
The Salon’s Atmosphere
The rich were the ones who attended literary salons of the 19th century. They would meet to discuss literature until the small hours. The music played was chamber music.
As soon as the concert was over, the performing musicians had to leave the salon and got their pay the next day. “They served the bourgeoisie,” says Derome. It would be wrong to believe the performing musicians were disliked. They were nonetheless part of a class inferior to the bourgeois. Famous composers and interpreters, however, could stay.
The Featured Composers
Rossini was one of the composers who was asked to stay: “Those who wanted their salon to be a success invited Rossini,” claims Derome. He organized the salons and chose the musicians as well as the pieces. He was also a good friend of Balzac’s. Although Rossini is better known for his operas, Derome thought it would be relevant to present an excerpt from The Barber of Seville. The version the Trio will play is a transcription adapted for chamber music: “It’s a stand-alone piece,” Derome explains.
Also, in the 19th century, there was a pianomania led by Franz Liszt and Balzac’s friend, Frederic Chopin. “Chopin didn’t like concert halls: he played in intimate salon settings,” the violinist explains.
In Paris, Beethoven was not popular because he did not compose operas. Balzac’s opinion, however, differed from that of Paris: “Balzac wanted to be Beethoven,” Derome says. “There are a lot of comparisons to be drawn in Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ trio. Some sketches that were discovered imply that Beethoven wanted to write an opera about Macbeth.”
The Trio Fibonacci, however, invited an unusual composer to Balzac’s salon: a contemporary composer from Quebec, Marc Hyland. “He is a multidisciplinary artist: he is a painter, a writer, a poet and a composer. I could easily imagine a composer such as Marc being comfortable visiting such salons.” She carries on: “We [the Trio Fibonacci] played the premier of his piece [Chants du signe] in 2008. We will play a revised version for this concert.”
Balzac Translated in Music
Through composers Balzac admired, the Trio Fibonacci shows us what Balzac had in common with the people of his time as well as how he was different from them. Through music, this author’s tastes and perhaps a small side of his personality will be revealed.
In Balzac’s novels, we get to see the “psychologist”; at “Le salon de Balzac”, Balzac’s salon, we will get to know the music lover.