Playing with timbre and with the specific and idiosyncratic features of instruments and voices is one of the most fascinating aspects of musical composition. Even though it is always dangerous to simplistically equate one sensorial sphere with another, undeniably many musicians and listeners are tempted to define timbre as the “colour” of music. “The notes” may be seen as the drawing underlying a composition; but this is brought to life only when timbre is added. In turn, virtually no instrument has “one” timbre, and even though listeners familiar with the Western tradition will easily recognize a particular instrument’s timbre, it is also true that every instrument and every human voice possesses an entire timbral palette of its own. Moreover, from the interaction of two or more instruments and voices many more timbral combinations and possibilities blossom, which the skilled composer can adroitly exploit, sometimes in a very surprising fashion.
Seen from a certain viewpoint, it might be argued that the French horn’s timbre may represent a kind of point of encounter between the piano and the human voice. The combination of voice and piano is one of the most frequently employed in the history of music: the piano can provide for the harmonic support and musical frame needed by the human voice whose melodic potential is unequalled. Clearly enough, pianos can acquire a “singing” quality under the fingers of very gifted pianists; however, they are and remain instruments based on a percussive principle, and the impossibility to sustain the sound or to produce a vibrato is a condition painfully felt by many pianists. On the other hand, the human voice can create an extreme variety of sounds, including some which may be no less pointed and harsh than the most brutal piano sound; however, in most cases to “sing” is to smoothly sustain a tune, and an accomplished singer will be able to play with every single note precisely in the fashion which is unattainable by even the best pianists. The French horn shares many qualities with the human voice: both are based on breathing, both are capable of modifying a tone’s sound, volume or intonation during its entire duration, and both may be characterized by a particular roundness of timbre, a mellow quality which inspires and soothes the listener. On the other hand, the French horn’s range is much wider than that of the human voice, and the horn’s capability to articulate every sound in a very clear fashion brings it rather close to the piano.
In spite of all this, these three means of sound production are not frequently found together. Voice and piano, as said, is a beloved combination; French horn and piano is a less common pairing, but which boasts many masterpieces; voice and French horn are combined in countless arias from the operatic or oratorio repertoire. In this Da Vinci Classics album, these three partners continuously interact, at times all together, at times two by two; however, even when one of the three is temporarily missing, its presence continues to be felt, thanks to the astute choice of all the pieces recorded here.
The repertoire comes entirely from the French tradition (“French” indicating here much more than a nationality, which is in fact not shared by all composers; it is rather a mode of being and a school of thought). And it is common knowledge that the French were particularly fascinated by timbre: Hector Berlioz (represented here by two of his works) was one of the greatest orchestrators of all times, and Maurice Ravel (who is not represented here but whose presence is acutely felt in the most modern of these pieces) was his worthy successor. Between these two musicians, however, many other French composers are unanimously acknowledged as being among the greatest geniuses of timbre: Camille Saint-Saëns, represented here by three pieces, is another case in point, but many more could be cited.
It comes as no wonder, therefore, that this compilation includes some of the finest examples of the French tradition of the mélodie, the French counterpart to the German Lied, and that the treatment of the French horn in some of these pieces reaches levels of exquisite refinement. The programme opens with Tarentelle op. 10 no. 2 by Gabriel Fauré. Originally a vocal duet with piano accompaniment, set to lyrics by Marc Monnier, this piece is dedicated to Claudie Chamerot and Marianne Viardot, the two daughters of Pauline Viardot. Fauré was in love with Marianne at that time, and this may explain the extreme care he took in setting to music this seemingly unpretentious poem; the result is a brilliant, enthralling and exciting piece, where all musicians can display their value while, at the same time, having fun together. Au bord de l’eau op. 8 no. 1, by the same composer, could not be more different from the preceding piece; here, the contemplation of water flowing under the poet’s eyes becomes a symbol for the transience and fleetingness of life. The lyrics come from the pen of Sully Prudhomme, and Fauré had discovered them almost by chance; evidently, they inspired him to compose this piece whose tight musical structure seems indeed to “flow” effortlessly from the composer’s creative imagination, but whose extreme harmonic and melodic refinement reveals instead his extreme mastery of compositional techniques.
The very title of Saint-Saëns’ Romance op. 36 shows that the composer was considering the French horn as akin to the human voice; indeed, it is the singing quality of this instruments which comes to the fore throughout this short but touching work, and the accompaniment is as discreet and as delicate as possible. The compositional style clearly alludes to that of a Song without Words, and the choice to include it within this album is entirely consistent with the overall concept of the programme. As if trying to counterbalance it, the following piece by Saint-Saëns, a song on lyrics by Henri Cazalis, seems to treat the human voice as an instrument. Saint-Saëns was clearly aware of this feature: indeed, he later turned this song into an extremely famous orchestral piece, relinquishing the words in favour of very daring timbral explorations.
The Dance of Death, in which two distinct though close traditions merge (that of Halloween night and the medieval danse macabre) is represented in the orchestral version through thrilling and efficacious timbral ideas, including the use of the xylophone to symbolize the rattling bones of the skeletons.
The following piece was also initially a vocal duet. Gabriel Fauré wrote Pleurs d’Or op. 72 on lyrics by Albert Samain, originally titled Larmes – but Fauré changed the piece’s name because he had already composed another mélodie by the same title. The main musical idea structuring the piece is a stroke of genius: the waving accompaniment in 12/8 is punctuated by syncopated notes, gently dripping from the pianist’s fingers like “golden tears”. The overall atmosphere is seducing, caressing, and exquisitely romantic. By way of contrast with the other piece for French horn by Saint-Saëns recorded here, the Morceau de concert (existing in two versions, one with orchestral accompaniment) is a highly virtuosic and spectacular piece, created by the composer in dialogue with Henri Chaussier, one of the greatest horn players of the time. Chaussier had designed an omnitonic horn of his own invention, responding to what he perceived as the drawbacks of the German valve horns; Saint-Saëns fully endorsed his friend’s innovations and this brilliant work is almost a demonstration of their potential.
The musical language of Jules Massenet’s Les yeux clos is a skillful combination of typical topoi indicating hope and grief, desire and deception: the ascending triadic arpeggios suggest longing, while the descending chromaticism is a symbol for pain. An entirely different kind of love is depicted in Quand je fus pris au pavillon by Reynaldo Hahn, a picturesque, colourful and slightly ironic representation of a coup de foudre. The other song by the same composer, Tyndaris on lyrics by Leconte de Lisle, belongs instead in a collection of Etudes latines, inspired by a mythical classicising past, an exotic place of the soul imagined rather than remembered.
The use of reinterpreted ancient modes gives a mysterious and touching air to this masterpiece of a mélodie. Similar to Saint-Saëns’ Romance, also Paul Dukas’ Villanelle for horn reveals its vocal inspiration since its very title, alluding to a traditional vocal genre found in Renaissance Italy. A very virtuosic and brilliant piece, written for the final examinations of the Paris Conservatoire (1906), it gives the players the possibility of displaying the full range of their technical skill without renouncing a charming musicality. Another kind of “picturesque” imagination is that found in Berlioz’s Le jeune pâtre Breton, a mélodie originally scored for French horn, voice and piano. Here the horn represents the enchantment of nature, and its tone and typical melodic movements are borrowed by the voice, in a continuing reciprocal exchange. Nature is evoked also in Fauré’s Clair de lune, on lyrics by Paul Verlaine (which would also inspire Debussy’s piano piece); the mystery of masquerading corresponds to the mystery of moonlight and of night, in a graceful and seducing atmosphere. Tenderness and longing are also expressed in Massenet’s Amours bénis, vividly depicting the increasing proximity of a loving couple. The voice sings at first in very broken phrases, while towards the end of the piece it conquers long melodic stretches, poignantly symbolizing the achieved unity. Another work written as an examination piece for the Paris Conservatoire is En Forêt by Eugène Bozza, and in turn it seems to eschew none of the difficulties of horn technique, from large intervals to trills and including the full palette of technical complexities. In spite of this, it is a beautiful composition evoking, once more, the sounds of nature and the horn’s tradition as a symbol for the woods, for hunting and for nature in general. To conclude this album, we find two more gems: Fauré’s Après un rêve op. 7 no. 1 is probably the most famous and best loved of his many songs, and recounts the unattainable reality of a dreamed love; and Berlioz’s D’amour l’ardente flamme, one of the most celebrated of his operatic arias, and an astonishing depiction of the contrasting feelings stirred in the soul by an impossible love. The unity of love symbolized in many of these pieces through musical strategies seems therefore to evoke (and to be evoked by) the unity of sound achieved by the two instruments with the voice: a unique aural experience, which becomes a touching and intense symbol for poetry itself.
Liner Notes Chiara Bertoglio
Barbara Costa: Born in Milan. She graduated in foreign languages and successfully attended Accademia Teatro alla Scala in 1999/2000. She won several singing international competitions and made her debut in the role of Madama Butterfly at Ponchielli theatre in Cremona.
She then performed in many leading roles (Tosca, Aida, Norma, Otello, Trovatore, Turandot, Ballo in maschera, Macbeth, Nabucco, Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Löhengrin, Stabat Mater, and others) in several Opera theatres in Spain, Germany, Canada, Corea, Egypt, Serbia, Macedonia, Japan. She sings with the "Ensemble Strumentale Scaligero" and "Brass Ensemble" of Teatro alla Scala. She is co-founder of chamber trio "Trio Morgen". She published several album with Pomeriggi Musicali orchestra, Opera Ensemble and Trio Morgen, available on all streaming platforms. Beside singing, she is also an actress, having had a role in Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and Variazioni Goldberg at Teatro Parenti theatre in Milan. She is a singing teacher in many schools and masterclasses. Moreover, she is a painter: she took part of Art Exhibitions in Rome (catalogued by "Pagine" L'arte sì Mostra), Como and Amalfi.
Emanuele Delucchi: Born in 1987. Pianist and composer, he studied with Canzio Bucciarelli (Genoa), Riccardo Risaliti (Imola) e Davide Cabassi (Bozen); he graduated in 2009 summa cum laude and in 2016 he got the Composition diploma. He has given recitals in Italy, Germany, France, UK, Greece, Slovenia, Croazia and Mexico and he has recorded for the labels Toccata Classics (music by Alkan-Da Motta, first recording, with pianist Vincenzo Maltempo), Dynamic (Beethoven-Drouet, Sonatas op. 30 with flutist Fabio De Rosa) and Piano Classics; his repertoire includes music from renaissance to contemporary age, with special attention for the less-known literature (he gave the first live performance of Pianist im klassischen Style op. 856 by C. Czerny in 2017 and first italian performance of the Concerto op. 39 by C. V. Alkan in 2009). He is an appreciated interpreter of the piano music by L. Godowsky (albums “Piano works” and “Studies on Chopin opus 10” are issued by the label Piano Classics and have been enthusiastically reviewed by critics Jeremy Nicholas, Jed Distler and Robert Nemecek). His own works are published by M.A.P. in Milan and Da Vinci Edition in Osaka; his Ricercare II for orchestra opened the VI Festival Primavera di Baggio in 2017. He is a voracious reader and a classical culture lover.
Roberto Miele: Born in Cassino in 1978. He reaches the Conservatoire Diploma at Frosinone "L. Refice Conservatoire" under the guide of M° D. Sebastiano. He continues his postgraduate studies with M° L. Giuliani. He starts his professional activity in 1996 at "Lirico Theatre" in Spoleto, which follows the "Academic Orchestra of Santa Cecilia" in Rome and the homonym "Youth Orchestra"(1997/2000), "Maggio Musicale Fiorentino" in Florence (1997), then "Lirico Theatre" in Cagliari. In May, 2001, he wins the International Competition at "La Scala Theater" in Milan, chosen by M° R. Muti, with whom immediately starts his activity as First Horn and assistant, both for "La Scala Theatre" and "La Scala Philarmonic Orchestra". Moreover, Roberto Miele is element of "Ensemble Strumentale Scaligero Teatro alla Scala" so as "La Scala's Horns" , "Trio Morgen" and many others. He is acclaimed soloist and appreciated teacher, very required in Italy and abroad for masterclasses and courses. He combines these activities with conduction of orchestras and ensembles, for which in many cases, cares also for transcriptions.
Morgen Trio was born in 2013 from the desire of its three founders: Barbara Costa - soprano, Roberto Miele - horn, Emanuele Delucchi - piano and from their constant search for music innovation. Each musician has an international solo career of over 15 years. The Trio is unique both in Italy and abroad with this stable formation, featuring the horn as a new and unexpected instrument in its repertoire. This is particulary evident for those pieces - specially transcribed - where the horn sound becomes a real surprise. The great ability and ductility of each of the three musicians, allows this uncommon Trio to space between very distant musical eras and generes. While being truthful to each period style, every transcriptions is really unique and exciting. Moreover, Triomorgen repertoire spaces between seven languages. TrioMorgen also performs new compositions written for them from contemporary authors. TrioMorgen mainly performed in Italy (Teatro Regio Parma, Amici del Loggione del Teatro alla Scala, Torino, Roma, ecc.).
Camille Saint-Säens: (b Paris, 9 Oct 1835; d Algiers, 16 Dec 1921). French composer, pianist, organist and writer. Like Mozart, to whom he was often compared, he was a brilliant craftsman, versatile and prolific, who contributed to every genre of French music. He was one of the leaders of the French musical renaissance of the 1870s.
Eugène Bozza (b Nice, 4 April 1905; d Valenciennes, 28 Sept 1991). French composer and conductor. He studied with Büsser, Rabaud, Capet and Nadaud at the Paris Conservatoire where he won premiers prix for the violin (1924), conducting (1930) and composition (1934), and also the Prix de Rome with La légende de Roukmāni (1934). From 1938 to 1948 he conducted at the Opéra-Comique in Paris and in 1951 he was appointed director of the Ecole Nationale de Musique, Valenciennes, an appointment he held until his retirement in 1975. He was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1956. Though his large-scale works have been successfully performed in France, his international reputation rests on his substantial output of chamber music for wind. This displays at a high level the qualities characteristic of mid-20th-century French chamber music: melodic fluency, elegance of structure and a consistently sensitive concern for instrumental capabilities.
Gabriel Fauré: (b Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; d Paris, 4 Nov 1924). French composer, teacher, pianist and organist. The most advanced composer of his generation in France, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th-century composers. His harmonic and melodic innovations also affected the teaching of harmony for later generations.
Hector Berlioz (b La Côte-Saint-André, Isère, 11 Dec 1803; d Paris, 8 March 1869). French composer. He stands as the leading musician of his age in a country, France, whose principal artistic endeavour was then literary, in an art, music, whose principal pioneers were then German. In many senses the Romantic movement found its fullest embodiment in him, yet he had deep Classical roots and stood apart from many manifestations of that movement. His life presents the archetypal tragic struggle of new ideas for acceptance, to which he gave his full exertions as composer, critic and conductor. And though there were many who perceived greatness in his music from the beginning, his genius only came to full recognition in the 20th century.
Jules Massenet (b Montaud, St Etienne, 12 May 1842; d Paris, 13 Aug 1912). French composer. He was the most prolific and successful composer of opera in France at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th.
Paul Dukas (b Paris, 1 Oct 1865; d Paris, 17 May 1935). French composer, critic and teacher. Dukas was not only an influence on many French 20th-century composers and others such as Zemlinsky and Berg, but also remains important in his own right. His reputation rests on only a small number of compositions, notably the Piano Sonata, Ariane et Barbe-bleue, the ballet La Péri and L'apprenti sorcier. Dukas's influence as a critic, from 1892 to 1932, can be compared with Debussy's; his informed opinions reveal great sensitivity to the musical and aesthetic changes that took place during the period. With his high ideal of craftsmanship, Dukas was extremely self-critical and he destroyed a number of his compositions.
Reynaldo Hahn (b Caracas, 9 Aug 1874; d Paris, 28 Jan 1947). French composer, conductor and writer of Venezuelan birth. Hahn's mother, Elena Maria Echenagucia, came from a Spanish family, established in Venezuela since the 18th century. His father, Carlos Hahn, was born in Hamburg and emigrated to South America as a young man. Reynaldo was the youngest of 12 children and was not quite four years old when the family moved to Paris. Hahn had already shown a talent for music in Caracas; once in France he began to play, making his début, aged six, at a musical soirée hosted by the Princesse Mathilde, niece of Napoleon I. Hahn entered the Paris Conservatoire in October 1885, where his teachers included Massenet. While there he made the acquaintance of Ravel, Cortot and Edouard Risler, and began to compose songs, among them one which brought him early fame, Si mes vers avaient des ailes. This was dedicated to his sister Maria, who had married the painter Raymundo de Madrazo. It was at their house that Hahn met many of the leading young artists of the time, including Daudet, for whose play L'obstacle Hahn composed incidental music when he was only 16.
Hahn's song cycle to poems by Verlaine, Chansons grises, was completed while he was still a student at the Conservatoire. The first performance was given by Sybil Sanderson, Massenet's favourite soprano, at Daudet's house, with Verlaine present. Even during the years after his death, when Hahn's music fell out of favour, ‘L'heure exquise’, the fifth song of the group, remained known. Hahn's own voice, a light baritone, was put to good use throughout his career; he accompanied himself in his own songs, and in opera arias and popular songs of the day. A collection of 20 of Hahn's songs, published by Heugel in 1895, increased his celebrity, so much so that the novelist and explorer Pierre Loti allowed Hahn to adapt his autobiographical Le mariage de Loti as the opera L'île du rêve. By the time this received its first performance at the Opéra-Comique in 1898, France had been divided by the Dreyfus affair. Hahn and his two closest friends, Marcel Proust and the actress Sarah Bernhardt, joined the Dreyfusard camp. This political turmoil affected the lives of everyone in France, even after 1906 when Dreyfus was finally cleared. Hahn, partly Jewish and fiercely attached to France, was deeply disturbed by this conflict.
Neither L'île du rêve, nor Hahn's second opera, La Carmélite, which was given a prestigious première with Emma Calvé in 1902, remained in the repertory. This disappointment meant that most of Hahn's music composed between 1902 and the outbreak of war in 1914 was not for the stage, although his ballet Le bal de Béatrice d'Este, conceived merely as a divertissement, has remained one of his best-known and most regularly performed pieces. During the 1900s his career as a conductor and critic gained momentum. He began to write for journals (he was critic for La presse from 1899, then for La flèche from 1904); as well as conducting concerts of his own music, he organized a Mozart Festival in Paris, and was invited to conduct Don Giovanni at Salzburg. Although he continued to compose and publish songs, notably the cycle Etudes latines in 1900, his most extensive work from this period is the sequence of piano pieces gathered under the title Le rossignol éperdu (1902–10). A Proustian ethic seems to drive the music, with its evocations and memories of places and impressions. After long neglect, there was a revival of interest in Hahn's instrumental music in the 1990s.
Hahn took French nationality in 1909 and, at the outbreak of war in 1914, volunteered for the army (although he was over the official age limit for conscription). He served as a private, and was eventually promoted to corporal. While at the front he composed the cycle of five songs on poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, and began to sketch his opera based on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
Hahn's greatest commercial success as a composer dates from the early 1920s. Returning to Paris after the war, and following the deaths of Proust and Bernhardt, Hahn composed Ciboulette, a nostalgic evocation of 19th-century Paris, set in the old market of Les Halles. This was a huge success, and was followed by the musical comedy about the adventures of the young Mozart in Paris, created for Yvonne Printemps (wife of the playwright Sacha Guitry) who acted and sang the role of the composer. Mozart, although tailored for the Guitrys, has been revived several times, as has a second collaboration with Guitry, O mon bel inconnu.
In the late 1920s Hahn composed what became his best-known concert work, a piano concerto, which was given its first performance by Magda Tagliaferro, who subsequently recorded it with the composer. Hahn's only major commission for the Paris Opéra was Le marchand de Venise. Although it was received with some enthusiasm, and had several revivals, Hahn's mixture of light, operetta-like music for the romantic scenes and his dramatic declamatory style for Shylock is problematic.
Because of his Jewish ancestry, Hahn's music was banned by the Nazis during the occupation of France (1940–44), and the elderly composer spent the war years partly in hiding, but still working on songs, instrumental music, and his final work for the stage, Le oui des jeunes filles, which was first performed posthumously.
At the end of the war, when Hahn returned to Paris (he had eventually settled in Monte Carlo), he was appointed director of the Opéra and during his tenure there he conducted an important revival of Méhul's Joseph, and gave his last concerts, with Tagliaferro and Ninon Vallin, one of his favourite sopranos, with whom he had recorded several of his own songs before the war.