In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ernest Chausson

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Essay Collections
  • Historical Surveys and “Portrait” Profiles
  • Biographies
  • Memorial Tributes
  • Letters, Essays, and Other Writings
  • Franck, the Franckistes, and Other Contemporaries
  • Debussy
  • Artists, Poets, and Other Friends
  • Assessments, Aesthetics, and Style
  • Solo and Chamber Music
  • Incidental Music

Music Ernest Chausson
Brian Hart
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0278


Amédée-Ernest Chausson (b. 1855–d. 1899) was born in Paris to a wealthy contractor and his wife. Although he obtained a law degree in 1876, music was his true passion. He entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied briefly with Jules Massenet and then with César Franck. Between 1879 and 1883 he made several journeys to Bayreuth and became an ardent Wagnerian. He served as secretary of the Société Nationale de Musique from 1886 until his death. Chausson and his wife, Jeanne, maintained an active salon that drew many prominent figures from all the arts, and he developed close relationships with many of them, most notably the young Claude Debussy. Despite his happy family life (which included five children) and comfortable surroundings, as a composer Chausson was beset with crippling self-doubts. Struggling to express his feelings with as much emotional honesty and satisfying artistry as possible, he continually found himself “erupt[ing] with rage at seeing how what I can do is so far from what I would like to do, from what I seem to hear in my head” (from a letter of 1884). Friends ascribed the melancholy in his music to this obsessive search for what Vincent d’Indy called “the better,” to a profound empathy with the suffering of others, and to deep apprehension that critics would dismiss him merely as a wealthy amateur imitating Franck and Wagner—as indeed many did. Despite his insecurities, Chausson composed notable chamber and orchestral works, a substantial body of mélodies, and one opera, Le roi Arthus. Most observers believed that Chausson finally achieved his own voice in the late 1890s, especially in the Piano Quartet of 1897. Tragically, however, his career ended soon thereafter, on 10 June 1899: riding a bicycle at his country estate, he apparently lost control going down a hill and crashed head-first into a wall. Pierre Louÿs’s eloquent condolence letter to Mme. Chausson summed up the general reaction: “There was never a more excellent man . . . I was struck, each time, by the . . . admirable goodwill that radiated through each gesture. At every moment of his life, he felt compelled to bring happiness to people. Everyone loved him.” As his student Gustave Samazeuilh wrote, Chausson “will occupy an eminent place in the history of French music; a just recompense for a life devoted totally to the good, to work, and to the Ideal.”

General Overviews and Essay Collections

Few modern sources outside of the standard reference dictionaries consider Chausson at any length. Gallois 2001 and Schneider 2019 provide detailed discussions—by the preeminent Chausson scholar and a noted German expert on French music, respectively. The composer is the subject of two special collections, one a period source and the other more recent. Prunières and Coeuroy 1925, issued to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chausson’s death, includes essays, reminiscences, and collections of letters, as well as the first publication of a late mélodie. Pistone 2000 assembles a wide-ranging set of twenty-five essays devoted to biographical, cultural, and analytical topics concerning Chausson. Originating as papers for a conference commemorating the centenary of his death, the book appears to simply reprint the presentations with citations added; owing to their brevity, these studies represent starting points rather than definitive treatments, but they are no less valuable for that. Many articles from both collections are cross-referenced throughout this bibliography.

  • Gallois, Jean. “Chausson, (Amédée)-Ernest.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Good summary by the leading expert on the composer. Life, works, aesthetics, and style. Includes photographs of the composer and of the original production of Le roi Arthus. Available online by subscription.

  • Pistone, Danièle, ed., with Isabelle Bretaudeau and Jean Gallois. Ernest Chausson. Ostinato rigore 14. Paris: Éditions Jean-Michel Place, 2000.

    The most valuable nonbiographical scholarly source on Chausson. Reprints twenty-five French-language papers given to mark the centenary of his death; authors include the leading specialists on the composer. Twelve essays concern his life, cultural milieu, and aesthetics, while thirteen focus on analytical studies and comparisons with other figures. Appendix includes English-language abstracts.

  • Prunières, Henry, and André Coeuroy, eds. Special Issue: Ernest Chausson. La revue musicale (numéro special, 1 December 1925).

    Commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chausson’s death. Includes two scholarly articles, various reminiscences, six collections of letters to and from various correspondents, excerpts of reviews and memorial tributes, a works catalogue, and the score of a previously unpublished 1898 song, “Le chevalier malheur.”

  • Schneider, Herbert. “Chausson, Ernest.” In MGG Online. Edited by Laurenz Lütteken. Kassel, Stuttgart, New York: 2019.

    Study of Chausson’s life, works, and aesthetics by a leading German specialist; duplicates the 2001 print article with updates from June 2019. Available by subscription online.

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