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Although considered a child prodigy as both a pianist and a composer - his first compositions appeared in 1849, when he was eight - Chabrier dutifully studied law and worked full time in the French Ministry of the Interior for almost 20 years. After hearing Tristan und Isolde in Munich (accompanied by Vincent d'Indy and Henri Duparc), Chabrier finally resigned from the Ministry in 1880 to devote himself to composition. Wagner was a major influence on Chabrier, as he was upon much French music of the time. Chabrier's own character, however, is quite apparent in his works and finds expression in sharp contrasts of harmonies, rhythms, and textures. A native of the Auvergne region, Chabrier had a fine ear for folk song and dance, which he imitated very effectively.
The composer thought his stage works to be his best, while other musicians as diverse as Franck and Poulenc considered his piano music most important. It is España, however, one of a bare handful of pieces he wrote originally for orchestra, that has assured his fame. Composed in 1883 following a trip to Spain, this rhapsody captures the color and excitement of the Andalusian music he heard, and it reveals Chabrier's imaginative flair for instrumentation.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.