What we can learn from Cecile Chaminade's Intermezzo, from Album des enfants (Op. 123, No. 2)


French composer and pianist Cecile Chaminade (1857 - 1944) earned an international reputation and was an important role model for young women of her time. Despite the fact that her father prohibited her from pursuing a formal education in music, she found great success in both composing and performance. Her piano compositions were especially popular in her lifetime. She gained international prestige by performing these works on tours of Europe and later America. She was especially admired by Queen Victoria, who frequently invited her to perform at Windsor Castle. Across the ocean, hundreds of "Chaminade clubs," consisting of admirers and female amateur musicians were formed around America. Chaminade amplified her renown by publishing the majority of her works. But she was in high demand as a pianist (especially with the success of her Concertstuck for piano and orchestra in 1888). In 1913, she was the first female composer to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur. Her fame dwindled after the first World War (during which she put her musical career on hold to serve as a nurse), but fortunately interest in her life and music has had a revival in recent decades.

Chaminade's Intermezzo from her Album des enfants (Op. 123, No. 2, 1906) is a great example of the pedagogical usefulness of this suite. The pieces are short, melodic, and very accessible. Not only do they contain a wealth of material suitable for in-class examples and for analysis, but many of the melodies can be excerpted for short sight-singing exercises and/or can be easily adapted for shorter melodic dictations. 

Chromatic harmony
This piece features some great examples of applied chords, including secondary leading-tone chords (for example, measures 18 and 20). 

Measures 17 - 20 

Measures 17 - 20 

Both a prominent bVII and a V4-3/IV appear in measure 30. The resolution of the V4-3/IV (to an eventual ii6 rather than a IV) is an opportunity for discussion on the predominant function.

Measures 29 - 32

Measures 29 - 32

A V7/bII resolves to the Neapolitan in measure 24, below.

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Embellishing tones
Ornamentation is abundant in this piece, and includes passing and neighbor tones, pedal points, and appoggiaturas. Accented, unaccented, chromatic and diatonic varieties appear, as in the unaccented chromatic passing tone in measure 7, the unaccented chromatic lower neighbor in measure 18 (see above). In measure 31 (above), an upward-resolving suspension (7 - 8) works in tandem with the G-sharp APT. A few appoggiaturas also appear, including the downbeat of measure 20 (above, decorating an applied leading-tone chord).

This piece contains both half cadences and authentic cadences, as well as three examples of the cadential 6/4. One example is visible in above, in measure 17. The A section consists of a repeated (progressive) period, in which the antecedent phrase ends on a HC and the consequent is a PAC in the dominant. 

Voice exchange occurs in measure 21, with a passing 6/4 chord. This is a great example of the Passing 6/4 expanding the tonic, as well as the voice exchange typical of this gesture. 

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This intermezzo features a good number of seventh chords of various qualities (major-minor, and fully and half diminished), and in different inversions. The texture and length of the piece make it great for analysis. This piece provides a good opportunity identify seventh chords based on quality, in a practical musical context. 

Sabrina ClarkeComment