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Barcarolle for piano in E flat major, op. 71

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Mel Bonis composed four barcarolles for piano, including the Barcarolle-Étude op. 43. Her opus 71, published by Demets in 1906, counts among her large concert pieces, much more difficult technically than her collections of pieces for amateurs. The melody, fleshed out with octaves or chords, is displayed in the right hand over the left hand’s ample undulations. In the central part of this ABA’ form, the textures become lighter, with an aquatic, crystalline piano tone that recalls some of Liszt’s works. While the passionate atmosphere of the Barcarolle clearly links it to a late Romantic aesthetic, the piece is also marked by its harmonic experimentation. One is sometimes reminded of the young Debussy and especially Fauré, though Mel Bonis takes less liberty with tonal functions: her melodic chromaticism does not challenge the foundations of traditional harmony. Nevertheless, she introduces modulations into foreign keys and original colours such as the major seventh chord at the very beginning of the piece. She dedicated the Barcarolle to the pianist Gabrielle Fleury-Monchablon, the daughter of her close friend Jeanne Monchablon and the wife of the flautist Louis Fleury, who was also a loyal performer of her music. The dedicatee played the piece on 22 May 1906 at the Salle Berlioz during a concert whose programme included several works by Mel Bonis (Quartet for piano and strings No. 1, Variations for two pianos, Pavane and Sarabande for piano). She performed it again notably at the Salle Érard, on 31 May 1910, at a concert for which she shared the bill with her husband.


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