What does the title of Fauré's Suite "Masques et Bergamasques" mean?
[by Dick Verweij]
The aged Fauré was commissioned by the Prince of Monaco to compose a musical comedy with singing and dancing. The title came from Claire de Lune, a poem by Paul Verlaine.
The text begins with:
Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
Your soul is a chosen landscape to where charming masques and bergamasques go, playing the lute and dancing, though almost sad, hiding behind their fantastic disguises.
It seems Fauré was quite charmed by the rhyme in the 2nd line and he used those three words as the title. However this is most likely a reference to the actors of the well-known commedia dell'arte, the "masques" being the masked players and "bergamasques" the inhabitants of the Italian city of Bergamo who were known for their childish dances and who played characters like Harlequin, Pulcinella, Colombina and Scaramouche in the Italian improv theatere of the 16th to 18th century. Debussy was apparently inspired by the same poem by Verlaine in his Suite Bergamasque.