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Henryk Wieniawski
Fantaisie brillante
sur des motifs de l'Opéra Faust de Gounod Op. 20

Like many other compositions by Wieniawski, Fantaisie brillante Op. 20, which was based on themes from Gounod’s opera Faust, was written in two versions: for violin with piano and for violin with orchestra. The piece originated in 18651. Both versions were probably written at the same time, as indicated by their simultaneous publication2. During the composer’s lifetime, the work was released by two publishing houses: Kistner’s in Leipzig and Choudens’ in Paris3. The titles of the two editions slightly differ. Kistner’s publication is entitled Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l’Opéra ”Faust” de Gounod, while Choudens’ – ”Faust" opéra de Gounod ”Fantaisie brillante”, i.e. there is no indication that the Fantaisie is based on opera motifs, although, clearly, this is the case. Since the Choudens edition was adopted as the primary source for the present publication4, it is entitled accordingly.

The Faust theme was very popular in the 19th century. Composers used it in operas, vocal-instrumental and orchestra pieces, as well as in songs. Gounod’s opera based on this theme enjoyed particular popularity in Wieniawski’s times. Staged for the first time in Paris in 1859, it remained on the bill of the Théâtre Lyrique until 1869. It was also performed on numerous occasions at opera theatres in other European cities. Arias from the opera were widely known, and some of them even entered popular repertoire. At the time of the composition of Wieniawski’s Fantaisie, Gounod’s opera was at the peak of its popularity.

The fantasia genre was particularly popular among 19th century composer-performers. The pieces were typically based on a number of well-known melodies, frequently from operas popular at the time. They consisted of a number of sections, each of which was based on a different popular melody, resulting in something of a potpourri. Composers wrote fantasies predominantly with their own concerts in mind, and the popular melodies were intended to attract audiences. Fantasies of this kind were written for various instruments, bur primarily for piano or violin. Chopin’s early Fantasia Op. 13 is an example of such a work in Polish music. Wieniawski’s ”Faust” Fantaisie, the composer’s second, also belongs to the genre. His first attempt was the early Grand Duo Polonaise Op. 8, which was indeed a fantasia of the said type, although it did not carry such title.

”Faust” Fantaisie consists of five sections ending with a short virtuoso finale. Clearly identifiable and contrasted with each other, the particular sections differ in expression, which, among other things, is the effect of the change of key and tempo that always accompanies emergence of a new section. The tonal plan of the whole is relatively simple. The piece opens in A minor, and ends in A major; the two modes of the tonality of A alternate. It is only in section IV that a further shift to F major, and next to E major (the tonality of the dominant) appears and leads to the A major of the following section. The tempo, too, is subject to change: faster and slower alternates in consecutive sections, although contrasts in this respect are not particularly pronounced.

Section                        Bars                Tempo                                                            Key

I                                    1-59                Allegro moderato                                          A minor

II                                  60-121            Andante ma non troppo                               A major

III                                122-235          Allegro agitato non troppo                            A minor

modulatory               236-253          Moderato
of transitional
to the following

IV                                254-327          Andante. Andante non troppo                      F major, E major

V (with finale)           328-553          Tempo di Valse. Allegro non troppo            A major

Outline of the Fantaisie

The particular sections either have a closed character, and end with a keynote (e.g. section II), or employ the dominant in order to move more smoothly move to the next section (e.g. section III), yet even in these cases the dividing lines between sections are clearly marked.

Consecutive sections of the piece are based on melodies taken not only from parts performed by the opera’s protagonists, i.e. Faust, Méphistophélès and Marguerite, but also from those performed by the supporting characters of Valentin and Siébel. The composer uses either the whole melody, or only its distinct phrase or the opening fragment. Thus, the melodic line of section I (introductory) is built on the characteristic phrase of Faust’s ”Rien! en vain j’interroge” monologue from the opera's first act, which is repeated, developed and enriched with figured passages. The melody of section II is based on the opening fragment of Valentin’s ”O sainte médaille” aria from Act Two, as well as a motif from Siébel’s ”Faites-lui mes aveux” from Act Three. Section III employs Méphistophélès's melody ”Le veau d’or” from Act Two. The whole melody of Marguerite’s part (”Je veux t’aimer”) and Faust’s (”Laisse-moi”) from Act Three provides the basis for section IV, while section V is the ”Ainsi que la brise légère” waltz of Act Two.

In constructing particular sections, Wieniawski mainly employs the variation technique, which was typical of fantasies of that kind. In most cases, the theme appears twice: initially, in the original version, and later with variation changes3. The relationship between the violin and the piano parts in the Fantaisie is more balanced than in the majority of Wieniawski’s works. Although it is the violin part that dominates4, the piano is not restricted here to merely providing harmonic support. It actively contributes to creating the expressive character, the tensions and reliefs, as well as to portraying the characters central to particular sections; in a sense, it shapes the “plot” presented by the Fantaisie5. It is clear even at the very beginning of the piece, where the octaves repeated in the piano’s low register herald the dark and disturbing character of Faust. Also in the second section, the piano tremolo renders Valentin’s concern for his sister (Marguerite). Here, Wieniawski frequently employs the tremolo, the means traditionally used to emphasize anxiety and growing anger. In the same section, the composer overlaps the melodic line of the violin, which is built on the opening fragment of Valentin’s part, with motifs taken from Siébel’s, which appear only in the piano part. According to Suchowiejko6, the piano shows Siébel’s character consistent with role he plays in the opera, as an individual always staying on the sidelines. At the same time, each part remains independent in employing its own body of motifs whose combination creates an expressive whole. The piano also builds tension and provides initial description of characters in section III (it is devoted to Mephistopheles, and it underlines the demonic-sarcastic nature of the character by employing tremolo, leaps, accents, rhythmical diversity with fast tempo), as well as in section IV (the duet of Faust and Marguerite), where at the end of the F major fragment, the expressive melodic line of the violin is again accompanied by, seemingly from a distance, pianissimo, a sinister tremolo of the piano, which sounds like a harbinger of future events. Intensified motion in the piano part and numerous leaps also serve the purpose of heightening tension. However, the violin is the leading instrument, never providing accompaniment for the piano.

The violin part is very rich and varied. Alongside singsong fragments of lyrical character, it contains several virtuoso fragments, varied figurations, also in high positions and double stops, including long staccato sections performed on a single bowstroke, so characteristic of Wieniawski, polyphonic playing, chords, leaps and numerous harmonics (cf. in particular the harmonic motif in the waltz). However, all these virtuoso devices are closely subordinated to musical requirements; they depict the characters of the Fantaisie. Numerous changes of metre, not only between, but also within, particular sections, also serve this purpose. In second II, metre alternates with 12/8, but only in the piano part. In the violin part, it is invariably metre throughout. This does not give an impression of polymetry, for three quavers in the piano part correspond to one crotchet in the violin part, which produces the same effect as if the piano part contained triplets. Thus, it is only a different method of notation. What the composer sought, however, was to accelerate motion. He achieves this effect even more distinctly in the next section, where metre is followed by 6/8 – this time in both parts – and further on by . Here, the change of metre is clearly identifiable. Metre also changes in section IV, with ¾, , and 9/8 appearing in succession. These changes add to internal diversification of the sections, and, at the same time, contribute to the musical portraits of the characters from Faust.

In the 19th century, fantasies for violin and piano on the theme of Gounod’s operawere also written by such composers as Vieuxtemps, Alard and Sarasate. Structurally, all these works are very similar, frequently with the majority of opera themes coinciding7.

After the composer’s death, Fantaisie brillante Op. 20 in the violin and piano version was most often published in Germany, but also in England, USA, and, after World War II, Poland, which is a measure of violinists’ interest in this glittering composition.

The autograph of the piece in the version for violin and piano have not been preserved, or, at least, it was nowhere to be found. During Wieniawski's lifetime, Fantaisie Op. 20 was published by two publishers: Kistner in Leipzig and Choudens in Paris. The composer's involvement in the preparation of both editions - wheter he proofread them, and if so, when - remains unknown. We know, however, that Wieniawski was very meticulous as far as preparation of his works for publication was concerned; hence, in all probability, he did proofread the editions, the more so that his concert visits to Germany and France coincided with work at Kistner's and Choudens's on their respective publications. Autograph of the score for violin and orchestra, no title page, is preserved in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, call no. M.S. 8065.

First edition of version for violin and piano, Fr. Kistner, Leipzig, has plate number 3261 [1868]. Separate title page of the edition for violin and piano probably did not exist. First edition of violin part [Fr. Kistner, Leipzig, plate numbers 3260, 3261, i. e. the plate numbers of the piece's version with orchestra and with piano, which means that both versions contained the same solo violin part] has title page: Fantaisie brillante / sur des motifs de l'Opéra: / "Faust" de Gounod / pour le / Violon / avec Accompagnement d'Orchestre / ou de Piano / composée et dédiée / À SA MAJESTÉ / CHRISTIAN IX / ROI DE DANEMARC / par / HENRI WIENIAWSKI. / OP. 20., on the right-hand side: Violon principal Pr.M.2.- / Parties d'Orchestre Pr. M. 7.50 net. / [V. I, II, Va, Vc. & B. à M.1.- net] / Avec Piano Pr. M.5.-. Below in the middle: Propriété de l'Editeur. / Enregistré aux Archives de l'Union. / LEIPZIG, FR. KISTNER. / Médaille d'or del'Empereur d'Austriche. / Droit d'exécution réservé. / 3260.3261.

Second impression of the first French edition, Choudens fils, Paris, plate number A.C. 3129 [ca. 1887]; title page: A Sa Majesté / CHRISTIAN IX ROI DE DANEMARK / FAUST / Opéra de Ch. GOUNOD / Fantaisie brillante / POUR VIOLON / avec accompde Piano / ou d'Orchestre / PAR / H. WIENIAWSKI / Prix 10 Paris, CHOUDENS Fils, Editeurs, / Boulevd des Capucines, 30, (près la rue Caumartin) / Tous droits d'execution et de reproduction réservés.; first impression of the edition could not be found.

Zofia Chechlińska


1.  Dating acc. to: Andrzej Jazdon, Henryk Wieniawski. Katalog tematyczny dzieł, [Henryk Wieniawski. Thematic Catalogue of Works], Towarzystwo Muzyczne im. Henryka Wieniawskiego [Henryk Wieniawski Musical Society of Poznań], Poznań, 2009, p. 91.
2. First editions of both versions carry subsequent plate numbers, and the violin solo part carried two plate numbers: of the piano and the orchestra versions;
3. For detailed discussion of the Fantaisie Op. 20, cf. Renata Suchowiejko: Henryk Wieniawski, kompozytor na tle wirtuozowskiej tradycji skrzypcowej XIX w. [Henryk Wieniawski. The Composer and the 19th Century Virtuoso Violin Tradition], Towarzystwo Muzyczne im. Henryka Wieniawskiego, Poznań, 2005, pp. 172-183.
4. Acc. to R. Suchowiejko (op. cit., p. 174), here both instruments play equal roles.
5. The thesis of piano’s contribution to the “plot” of the Fantaisie was advanced by R. Suchowiejko (op. cit., p. 178).
6. R. Suchowiejko, op. cit., p. 178.
7. R. Suchowiejko (op. cit., pp. 176-183) draws a detailed comparison of the said fantasies.