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Effable and Ineffable: Gabriel Fauré and the Limits of Criticism

Year of Funding: 

Conference: October 21-24, 2015

In 1897 Marcel Proust wrote to Gabriel Fauré: “I not only love, not only admire, not only adore your music, I have been and am still falling in love with it. I could write a book more than 300 pages long about it.” Alas, like most of Fauré’s devotees, Proust did not commit his thoughts to paper. Despite his reputation beyond the academy, Fauré remains the least discussed of major composers. Beloved by musicians, yet inaccessible to scholars, Fauré's music provides a unique focal point for rethinking the relationship between music and discourse. This conference opens new keyholes onto Fauré's elusive art, posing three questions: Why does his music resist analysis? What accounts for his marginal status in academia? How can his music reshape our practice as critics?

Our conference title draws inspiration from philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch’s seminal study La musique et l’ineffable (1961). Jankélévitch defended music from hermeneutics and verbal interpretation, championing instead music’s utopian power to create experiences of inarticulate plentitude. His influential voice has drawn attention to Fauré, but has also deepened the reverent silence around the composer. We have invited six interdisciplinary speakers to help fill this silence: pianist-scholars Roy Howat (Royal Academy of Music, London and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow) and Sylvia Kahan (City University of New York), music scholars Jann Pasler (University of California, San Diego) and Steven Rings (University of Chicago), Carlo Caballero (University of Colorado), Stephen Rumph (University of Washington), classicist Sander Goldberg (University of California, Los Angeles), and French literary scholar Jay Lutz (Oglethorpe University). Altogether, twenty-seven speakers will deliver papers on diverse aspects of Fauré’s music, reception, and cultural significance.

The conference also features rich musical offerings at the UW School of Music. These include a piano master class, a recital of Fauré’s chamber music and songs, and a production of Fauré’s rarely performed opera Pénélope (1913).

All conference events are open to the public and (except for Pénélope) free of charge. Opera tickets are available through the UW School of Music.

Conference website: Gabriel Fauré and the Limits of Criticism

Primary Contacts

Stephen Rumph (Music History)

Carlo Caballero (Music History, University of Colorado)