The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You must hear this — Ernest Chausson’s “Piece,” Op. 39, for cello and piano, which is both beautiful and unknown.

December 27, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Whew! Except for New Year’s and Kwanzaa, which stay lay ahead of us, most of the holidays are behind us. That means a lot of crazed holiday shopping, cooking and entertaining is also behind us.

So how about a Time Out? You know, a brief intermezzo – some kind of respite just for the fun and restorative pleasure of it.

So today what I offer is simply some pleasure for your ears.

Here is a beautiful piece of music I stumbled across, thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio.

It is the Piece for Cello and Piano, Op. 39, written by the French composer Ernest Chausson (below) in 1897. I didn’t know it or recognize it. But I found it lovely, one of those lyrically quiet French works, like so much of Faure’s music, which got largely drowned out or overshadowed by the more dramatic and large-scale late-19th century German and Russian composers, but which nonetheless merits a much wider hearing and more performances. It also sounds like a good piece for cello students performing at an intermediate or perhaps higher level.

Ernest Chausson

Yet it remains a rarity. I even asked a young, well-known touring professional cellist about it. But the cellist had never heard of it. And a lot of Chausson — including his Violin Concerto, his Concerto for Violin and Cello, his chamber Concert for Violin, Piano; and String Quartet (one of more frequently heard works); a piano Trio; a Symphony in B-Flat; and various songs and salon pieces –seems to  fly too far under the radar these days.

But Parry Karp (below), the veteran cellist of the Pro Arte String Quartet for almost 40 years who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and who knows the cello repertoire better than anyone else I know, knew the piece immediately when I mentioned it. In fact, he told me, he had recorded it.

Parry Karp

Should you like to get a hold of that,  you can hear Parry Karp performing it beautifully with Jeffrey Sykes, the UW-trained, San Francisco –based pianist who is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

The performance is on the second CD, Volume 2, of the “Postcards from Madison” album that you can get either separately as Volume 2 or as part of a 2-CD set.  Below is the appropriate album art, a painting of Madison area landscape by the famous American Regionalist artist John Steuart Curry, who served as the first artist-in-residence at the UW-Madison.  (There are a couple of other recordings of the Chausson I found on , but surprisingly few.)

Postcards From Madison Vol. 2

The recording is available from the UW School of Music’s on-line CD store and also from

Here are links.

First, to the UW School of Music’s on-line store:

Then to the amazon listing (so far with no reviewer comments or ratings, so you can be the first):

Finally, here is the best performance of the piece I found on YouTube, though a good video is sadly lacking.

I hope you too enjoy it and find it restful or even soothing after the hectic days on the Shopping Season between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.

Let me know what you think of it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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