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Ernest Chausson, photograph by Guy & Mockel, Paris, ca. 1897, Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Am√©d√©e-Ernest Chausson (20 January 1855 ‚Äď 10 June 1899) was a Frenchmarker romantic composer who died just as his career was beginning to flourish.


Ernest Chausson was born in Parismarker into a prosperous bourgeois family. His father made his fortune assisting Baron Haussmann in the redevelopment of Paris in the 1850s.

To please his father, Chausson studied law and became a lawyer at the Court of Appeals; but, in truth, he had little or no interest in the law. He frequented the Paris salons, where he met celebrities such as Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon, and Vincent d'Indy. He dabbled in writing and drawing before definitively deciding on his career.

In October 1879, at the age of 25, he began attending the composition classes of the opera composer Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatoiremarker. Chausson had already composed some piano pieces and songs. Nevertheless the earliest manuscripts that have been preserved are those corrected by Massenet.

Chausson enjoyed travelling; and in 1882 and 1883, he made the pilgrimage to Bayreuthmarker to attend the operas of Wagner. On the first of these journeys, Chausson went with d'Indy to see the premiere of Parsifal, and on the second trip he went with his new spouse Jeanne Escudier, who was the sister of Henry Lerolle's wife Madeleine.

From 1886 until his death in 1899, Chausson was secretary of the Société Nationale de Musique. He received many of the Paris artistic elite in his salon, including the composers Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, and Isaac Albéniz, the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, the Russian novelist and playwright Ivan Turgenev, and the impressionist painter Claude Monet. Chausson also assembled an important collection of Impressionist art which he displayed in his home at 22 boulevard de Courcelles, near Parc Monceaumarker.

When only 44 years old, Chausson died in Limay (Yvelinesmarker) as a result of a freak accident. It appears that he lost control of the bicycle he was riding on a downhill slope of his estate, ran straight into a brick wall, and perished instantly. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemeterymarker in Paris. A small park called Place Ernest-Chausson in the 17th arrondissement of Parismarker is named in his honor.


The creative work of Chausson is commonly divided into three periods. The first was dominated by Massenet and exhibits fluid and elegant melodies. The second period, dating from 1886, is marked by a more dramatic character, deriving partly from his contacts with the artistic milieux in which he moved. The third period dates from his father's death in 1894, and was influenced by his reading of the symbolist poets and Russian literature, particularly Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy.

Chausson's work is deeply original, but it does reflect some technical influences of both César Franck and Wagner. Stylistic traces of Massenet and even Brahms can be detected sometimes. Chausson's compositional idiom bridges the gap between the Romanticism of Massenet and Franck and the Impressionism of Debussy.

Several delicate and admirable songs came from Chausson's pen. He completed one opera, Le roi Arthus (King Arthur). His orchestral output was small, but significant and includes the Symphony in B flat, his sole symphony; Poème for Violin and Orchestra, an important piece in the violin repertoire; and the dramatic song-cycle Poème de l'amour et de la mer.

Chausson is believed to be the first composer to use the celesta. He employed that instrument in December 1888 in his incidental music, written for a small orchestra, for La tempête, a French translation by Maurice Bouchor of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Not at all prolific, Chausson left behind him only 39 opus-numbered pieces. (See List of compositions by Ernest Chausson.) Musical creation for him always proved to be a long and painful struggle. However, the quality and originality of his compositions are extremely high, and they continue to make occasional appearances on programs of leading singers, chamber music ensembles, and orchestras.


  1. Blades, James and Holland, James. "Celesta"; Gallois, Jean. "Chausson, Ernest: Works," Grove Music Online (Accessed 8 April 2006) (subscription required). Note: The first major composer to use the celesta in a work for full symphony orchestra was Pyotr Tchaikovsky. He first used it in his symphonic poem The Voyevoda in 1891, and the following year in his ballet The Nutcracker, most notably in the "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy".

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