The gorgeous programme featured on this Da Vinci Classics album takes us into a fascinating journey among some of the best known works of the entire flute repertoire, but also touching some lesser known pieces and including the world premieres of two contemporary works. Listening to this CD, therefore, is granted to represent a stimulating and ever-varied experience, where a mosaic of styles and suggestions is likely to capture the listener’s attention. At the same time, it is most emphatically not a piecemeal programme, in spite of the number of artists represented. There are some evident red threads, and others which will be hopefully enlightened by the following discussion.
Probably, the principal unifying trait of all works on this CD can be summed up as a question: how can the musical present relate with the musical past? Music is perhaps the most temporal of all arts; it lives in time, dies in time (except when, as is the case with this CD, a providential recording captures the elusiveness and spontaneity of a live performance), but also structures time thanks to its articulation of time. Music prescribes time (for instance, through indications of tempo and speed), and projects its own temporality on that of the listener, replacing clock time with its own psychological time.
Due precisely to the fleetingness of music, it has begun to be preserved only very recently, thanks to the recording techniques whose first examples date from approximately 150 years ago (with the most rudimentary “recordings”). And only at the beginning of the nineteenth century had the idea of a “history of music” become common, together with a new interest in the preservation and performance of the masterpieces of the past. Thus, whereas we have an immense documentation about, say, Greek art (which has inspired, or rather dictated the rules, to generations of artists for millennia), we have only a very scanty and extremely rare documentation about the music of the ancient Greeks; even less do we know about how it actually sounded.
This, on the one hand, is an irrecoverable loss, for which we musicians constantly mourn. What would we give for the possibility of listening to half an hour of “real” Greek music, or for a performance by Bach or by Mozart…! This loss, however, is not without its compensations, albeit inadequate. In spite of an actual experience of audible Greek music (such as we have experiences of actual Greek sculpture) we have our fantasy, our imagination, our creativity. And while musicologists seriously attempt to recover at least some traces of the “original” sound of that music, musicians simply draw their own idea of “Greek” music from the repository of musical imagination, at times supported by the little we do know about it. For instance, a field which is abundantly documented is that of music theory: here we are well informed about the names and structures of the Greek scales, even if we know only slightly how they were employed by Greek artists.
This, as said, did not prevent numerous musicians, especially from the late nineteenth century onwards (when musicological studies began to “reconstruct” Greek music) from imagining their “sound” for a fictional and fictive Greekness. Indeed, ancient Greece had found its way into the Western musical repertoire from a much earlier period (already in the Humanism and Renaissance), but only very occasionally did the Baroque or Classical musicians attempt to give a patina of “authentic Greekness” to their music. In the best cases, something sounding “archaic” had been taken as representing Greek classicism, or snatches from contemporaneous folk music (e.g. from the pastoral repertoire) became iconic of Greek Arcadia.
Among the things which were known since always, of course, were the tales of the mythical Greek musicians: Apollo, the god of music; the Muses; Orpheus with his enchanted cithara; Alcyon; the tales of Pan and Marsyas; and so on.
It is from one of the tales regarding Pan that one of the most famous of the pieces recorded here is excerpted. Claude Debussy was deeply fascinated by the flute and by Greece (and this should give us pause when uncritically speaking of Debussy’s “Impressionism”, since Neo-classicism is at the antipodes of Impressionism, and yet is frequently found in Debussy’s oeuvre).
Syrinx was written in 1913, and belongs in a conspicuous series of Pan-inspired works by Debussy (including, most famously, the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, but also Fêtes galantes and one of the Six Epigraphes Antiques). Indeed, the very title of this piece should have alluded in turn to Pan (it was originally planned to be Flute de Pan), but later Debussy changed his mind and decided to celebrate Pan’s victim, the nymph Syrinx, rather than her pursuer, the half-man, half-goat faun Pan. The piece was originally conceived after a commission by Gabriel Mourey, for whose play Psyché Debussy’s work should have provided incidental music. The fluctuations in the piece’s temporality are one of the strategies employed by Debussy in order to point out the “temporal exoticism” of this piece. At the same time, these fluctuations happen within an extremely carefully prescribed score, where Debussy’s love for precision becomes the instrument through which the capricious style of the faun’s improvisation can happen.
I have just employed the word “capricious”, which, as some might not know, derives from the Latin caprizare, i.e., leaping as a goat. Thus, Paganini’s Capriccios would literally refer to musical pieces whose ungraspable structure is as elusive and fantastic as a goat’s unpredictable behaviour. (Of course, Paganini’s Capriccios have normally a very clear musical form, but the “capricious” aspect lies in their seemingly improvisational handling of the technical difficulties). Thus, the goat-leaps of the faun Pan seem to appear also in Arthur Honegger’s Danse de la chèvre, “Dance of the Goat”. Honegger crafted this short and enthralling piece by jumps and leaps, particularly found in the chromatic alterations of the F-major theme. This piece was written in 1921 and was planned to constitute an element of incidental music for a choreography to be performed by Lysana within a play by Sacha Derek, by the title of La mauvaise pensée. The piece was dedicated to René Le Roy, and makes abundant use of the tritone, the “mauvais” (bad, evil) interval.
Pan returns also in a suite written three years later (1924) by Albert Roussel, and focusing on four mythical flute players.
The suite’s first movement is titled Pan, in fact, and is dedicated to Marcel Moyse, to whom also Ibert’s Pièce is dedicated. In homage to Pan’s “Greekness”, the piece employs the Greek Dorian mode (as said before, Greek modes were one of the few commonly known things about Greek music). The second piece focuses on Tityre, a character in Virgil’s Eclogues, whilst the third is dedicated to the Hindu god Krishna, who is said to have been a divine herdsman. Here too Roussel employs an “exotic” scale, i.e. a Raga from the North-Indian tradition. This movement is dedicated to Louis Fleury, the dedicatee also of Debussy’s Syrinx. Finally, the protagonist of the fourth piece is “Monsieur de la Péjaudie”, a fictional character with a rather libertine approach to life.
I have just cited Ibert’s Pièce, premiered by Moyse. This piece quotes from Ibert’s Flute Concerto, after which it was originally performed, and has some of Ibert’s “capriciousness” in turn. In particular, it embodies Ibert’s penchant for the Classical style, which is one of the main traits of his aesthetics. This is a characteristic shared also by one of the most celebrated works of all flute literature, i.e. Poulenc’s Sonata, with its skilful alternation of bittersweet melancholy, witticism, energy, irony and lyricism. In its three short movements, it wonderfully displays its composer’s style and personality, as generations of flutist have willingly demonstrated. This piece was dedicated to the American patroness of modern music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and frequently performed by the composer himself at the piano, together with some of the greatest flutists of all times.
Melancholy is also abundantly found in Saint-Saëns’ Romance, which beautifully embodies both the grief of the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1) and the desire for peace and hope after it, just as many of the other works recorded here allude to the two World Wars, or to other humanitarian crises (as happens with Sollini’s works, composed during the Covid pandemic). For instance, the sweetness and grace of Germaine Tailleferre’s Pastorale acquire a much greater poignancy if one considers it was written in the darkest days of World War II, in 1942. A similar evocation of the “pastoral” atmospheres of the mythical Arcadia is found in the other work written by a female composer and recorded here, a Pièce romantique of great grace and sweetness by Cécile Chaminade.
As said earlier, Sollini’s Canzona, written in November 2020, expresses both the mourning and the hope lived by the composer, as by many other human beings, during the first outburst of the Covid pandemic. Sollini’s A la manière de… Bach is scored for solo flute, and alludes to Bach’s unequalled handling of counterpoint, thus paying homage, with modern eyes, to a master of the past.
Here the circle closes, in a manner of speaking. The “history” of music becomes a living and lived experience. Sollini’s own, direct experience of Bach’s music as a performer, as a teacher and as a composer translates into a homage where past and present really speak with each other. And this all happens within the context of a concert, whose live experience will remain always in the memory of its listeners, but whose recorded shape is handed down through this CD. Music, then, can even transcend time, the medium of its realisation and the world it quintessentially inhabits. And it can live on not only in memory, but also in a musical recording.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Luisa Sello: Defined by the New York Concert Review “lovely mix of extroverted passion and genuine tenderness, with excellent breath control, brilliant technical rendering, engaging intensity, sonorous range and abundance of charm” is a Flute Miyazawa Artist and an Ambassador of Music and Italian Culture, supported by the Italian Ministry of Culture. Her international career includes collaborations with Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Riccardo Muti, Wien Symphoniker Orchestra, Thailand Symphony Orchestra, Trevor Pinnock, Alirio Diaz, Philippe Entremont, Bruno Canino, Karl Leister, Carnegie Hall, Juilliard School, Suntory Hall, Prazak string quartett, the composers Salvatore Sciarrino, Aldo Clementi, Rainer Bischof (première performances). Already Flute Professor at the Academy of Music in Trieste (Italy), she is actually Doctoral Professor for the ‘PhD Musical Performance’ at the New Bulgarian University of Sofia (Bulgaria) and visiting professor at the Universities in Vienna, Beijing, Madrid, Melbourne, Toronto, Kyoto, Edinburgh, Buenos Aires among others. In obtaining both her ArtD in Performing Arts and her PhD in Linguistic and Literary Sciences, she studied in Paris with Raymond Guiot and Alain Marion, who proclaimed her “very musical, superb,” and at the Accademia Chigiana with Severino Gazzelloni, who remarked her “magnificent interpretive sensibility and excellent sound”, she records for Stradivarius, Dynamic (Italy) and Millennium (Beijing).
Philippe Entremont: The exceptional career of Philippe Entremont began at the age of eighteen when he came to international attention with his great success at New York’s Carnegie Hall playing Jolivet’s piano concerto and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Since then, he has pursued a top international career as a pianist, and for the last 40 years, on the podium as well. He plays and records under the baton of Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski, Fritz Reiner, Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Pierre Boulez. He has given over 7000 concerts worldwide, more than 100 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Philippe Entremont has conducted the greatest symphony orchestras: the Wiener Symphoniker, the London Royal Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Roma, the Orchestre National de France, the China Philharmonic, the Tokyo NHK, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to name a few, and worked with the world greatest soloists, both instrumental and vocal. He is currently Lifetime Laureate Conductor of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. He creates his Summer Piano Residence in Fontainebleau and he has been member of the jury of the Ferrol International Piano Competition in Spain. Philippe Entremont is Commander of the French Legion of Honor, Commander of the Order of Merit, Commander of the Order of Arts et Lettres and Great Cross of the Order of Merit of the Austrian Republic.
Albert Roussel (b Tourcoing, 5 April 1869; d Royan, 23 Aug 1937). French composer. Though he was touched by the successive waves of impressionism and neo-classicism in French music, he was an independent figure, his music harmonically spiced and rhythmically.
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.
Cecile Chaminade: (b Paris, 8 Aug 1857; d Monte Carlo, 13 April 1944). French composer and pianist. While it is striking that nearly all of Chaminade’s approximately 400 compositions were published, even more striking is the sharp decline in her reputation as the 20th century progressed. This is partly attributable to modernism and a general disparagement of late Romantic French music, but it is also due to the socio-aesthetic conditions affecting women and their music.
The third of four surviving children, Chaminade received her earliest musical instruction from her mother, a pianist and singer; her first pieces date from the mid-1860s. Because of paternal opposition to her enrolling at the Paris Conservatoire, she studied privately with members of its faculty: Félix Le Couppey, A.-F. Marmontel, M.-G.-A. Savard and Benjamin Godard. In the early 1880s Chaminade began to compose in earnest, and works such as the first piano trio op.11 (1880) and the Suite d’orchestre op.20 (1881) were well received. She essayed an opéra comique, La Sévillane, which had a private performance (23 February 1882). Other major works of the decade were the ballet symphonique Callirhoë op.37, performed at Marseilles on 16 March 1888; the popular Concertstück op.40 for piano and orchestra, which was given its première at Antwerp on 18 April 1888; and Les amazones, a symphonie dramatique, given on the same day. After 1890, with the notable exception of the Concertino op.107, commissioned by the Conservatoire (1902), and her only Piano Sonata (op.21, 1895), Chaminade composed mainly character pieces and mélodies. Though the narrower focus may have been due to financial, aesthetic or discriminatory considerations, this music became very popular, especially in England and the USA; and Chaminade helped to promote sales through extensive concert tours. From 1892 she performed regularly in England and became a welcome guest of Queen Victoria and others.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm grew in the USA, largely through the many Chaminade clubs formed around 1900, and in autumn 1908 she finally agreed to make the arduous journey there. She appeared in 12 cities, from Boston to St Louis. With the exception of the concert at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music in early November, which featured the Concertstück, the programme consisted of piano pieces and mélodies. The tour was a financial success; critical evaluation, however, was mixed. Many reviews practised a form of sexual aesthetics that was common in Chaminade’s career and that of many women composers in the 19th and 20th centuries (see Citron, 1988). Pieces deemed sweet and charming, especially the lyrical character pieces and songs, were criticized for being too feminine, while works that emphasize thematic development, such as the Concertstück, were considered too virile or masculine and hence unsuited to the womanly nature of the composer. Based also on assumptions about the relative value of large and small works, complex and simple style, and public and domestic music-making, this critical framework was largely responsible for the decline in Chaminade’s compositional reputation in the 20th century.
Prestigious awards began to come her way, culminating in admission to the Légion d’Honneur in 1913 – the first time it was granted to a female composer. Nonetheless, the award was belated and ironic considering that she had been largely ignored in France for some 20 years. In August 1901 Chaminade married Louis-Mathieu Carbonel, an elderly Marseilles music publisher, in what may have been a platonic arrangement; he died in 1907 and she never remarried. While her compositional activity eventually subsided because of World War I and deteriorating health, Chaminade made several recordings, many of them piano rolls, between 1901 and 1914. Aeolian produced additional piano rolls of her works after the war, now with the improved technology of the Duo-Art system. In later years, by which time she was feeling obsolete, she was tended by her niece, Antoinette Lorel, who attempted to promote Chaminade’s music after her death in 1944.
Chaminade was well aware of the social and personal difficulties facing a woman composer, and she suggested that perseverance and special circumstances were needed to overcome them. Her output is noteworthy among women composers for its quantity, its high percentage of published works and for the fact that a large portion – notably piano works and mélodies – was apparently composed expressly for publication and its attendant sales (Enoch was the main publisher). Chaminade composed almost 200 piano works, most of them character pieces (e.g. Scarf Dance, 1888), and more than 125 mélodies (e.g. L’anneau d’argent, 1891); these two genres formed the basis of her popularity. Stylistically, her music is tuneful and accessible, with memorable melodies, clear textures and mildly chromatic harmonies. Its emphasis on wit and colour is typically French. Many works seem inspired by dance, for example Scarf Dance and La lisonjera. Of her larger works, the one-movement Concertstück recalls aspects of Wagner and Liszt, while the three-movement Piano Sonata shows the formal and expressive experimentation that was typical of the genre by the late 19th century (see Citron, 1993, for a feminist analysis of the first movement). The mélodies are idiomatic for the voice and well-suited expressively and poetically to the ambience of the salon or the recital hall, the likely sites for such works. The Concertino has remained a staple of the flute repertory; while it is a large-scale work and thus represents a relatively small part of her output, the piece still provides a sense of the elegance and attractiveness of Chaminade’s music.
Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.
Francis Poulenc: (b Paris, 7 Jan 1899; d Paris, 30 Jan 1963). French composer and pianist. During the first half of his career the simplicity and directness of his writing led many critics away from thinking of him as a serious composer. Gradually, since World War II, it has become clear that the absence from his music of linguistic complexity in no way argues a corresponding absence of feeling or technique; and that while, in the field of French religious music, he disputes supremacy with Messiaen, in that of the mélodie he is the most distinguished composer since the death of Fauré.
Germaine Tailleferre: (b Parc-St-Maur, nr Paris, 19 April 1892; d Paris, 7 Nov 1983). French composer. Despite her father’s opposition and her equal skills in art she entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1904, her formative studies being undertaken with Eva Sautereau-Meyer. As a pianist prodigy with an amazing memory she won numerous prizes, and in 1913 she met Auric, Honegger and Milhaud in Georges Caussade’s counterpoint class. In 1917 Satie was so impressed with her two-piano piece Jeux de plein air that he christened her his ‘musical daughter’, and it was he who first brought her to prominence as one of his group of Nouveaux Jeunes. She then went on to become the only female member of Les Six when it was formed in 1919–20. Her career was also assisted by the Princesse Edmond de Polignac, who liked her ballet Le marchand d’oiseaux (1923) enough to commission a Piano Concerto (1923–4), which proved similarly successful and demonstrated her natural affinities with the 18th-century clavecinistes. Tailleferre’s talents fitted in perfectly with the prevailing spirit of Stravinskian neo-classicism, though she was also influenced by Fauré and Ravel, remaining in close contact with the latter throughout the 1920s.
Unfortunately, Tailleferre never regained the acclaim she had enjoyed through her early associations with Les Six. Two unhappy marriages (to the caricaturist Ralph Barton in 1926 and to the lawyer Jean Lageat in 1931) proved a considerable drain on her creative energies, and her continual financial problems led her to compose mostly to commission, resulting in many uneven and quickly written works. Also, her natural modesty and unjustified sense of artistic insecurity prevented her from promoting herself properly, and she regarded herself primarily as an artisan who wrote optimistic, accessible music as ‘a release’ from the difficulties of her private life. However, her concertos of the 1930s enjoyed a measure of success, as did her impassioned Cantate du Narcisse (1938, words by Paul Valéry), and she was much in demand as a skilful composer of film music. After a fallow period in the USA (1942–6) she produced the superb Second Violin Sonata (1947–8) and turned her attention towards opera – her lighthearted approach being epitomized in the four short comic pastiches written with Denise Centore in 1955 (‘Du style galant au style méchant’). She also gave successful concert tours with the baritone Bernard Lefort, for whom she wrote the Concerto des vaines paroles (1954), and in 1957 she experimented briefly with serial techniques in her Clarinet Sonata. Although she continued to compose prolifically and teach until the end of her life, she resorted increasingly to self-borrowing and familiar formulae (like the perpetuum mobile), and the circularity of her career can be seen in the stylistic ease with which she was able to complete her 1916–17 Piano Trio in 1978. Meeting the conductor Désiré Dondeyne in 1969 led to a new interest in composing for wind band and she also remained devoted to children and their music, a link which helps explain the spontaneity, freshness and charm that characterize her best compositions.
Jacques Ibert (b Paris, 15 Aug 1890; d Paris, 5 Feb 1962). French composer. His father was in the export trade, and his mother was a gifted pianist who had studied with Marmontel and Le Couppey, both teachers at the Paris Conservatoire. She used to play Chopin, Bach and Mozart, musicians for whom her son retained a particular liking. Ibert began learning the violin at the age of four, and then took piano lessons from Marie Dhéré (1867–1950), who came to occupy a special position in his life. It was through her that he was introduced to the Veber family, into which he later married. After obtaining his baccalaureat, Ibert decided to devote himself to composition, but he also had to earn a living by giving lessons, accompanying singers and writing programme notes. He became a cinema pianist and also began composing songs, some of which were published under the pseudonym William Berty. He joined Emile Pessard's harmony class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1910, went on to Gédalge's counterpoint class in 1912, and then studied composition with Paul Vidal in 1913. Gédalge was the most significant influence in his three years of training; Ibert described him as ‘an adviser, a confidant and a very good friend’. While Gédalge's teaching activities at the Conservatoire were confined to counterpoint, he also advised his pupils on orchestration and organized a private class for the best of them. It was in that class that Ibert met Honegger and Milhaud.
(b Paris, 21 Jan 1858; d Sarcelles, Seine-et-Oise, 18 March 1937). French composer. She used the pseudonym Mel-Bonis. Born into a middle-class family, Bonis began piano lessons at an early age and made remarkable progress. A family friend, Professor Maury of the Paris Conservatoire, introduced her to César Franck in 1876. The following year she was admitted to the Conservatoire, where she studied harmony with Ernest Guiraud and the organ with Franck. She won second prize in harmony and accompaniment in 1879, and first prize in harmony a year later. Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné were also students during her years there.
Bonis married Albert Domange in 1883, and for about ten years devoted herself to raising a family. She began composing regularly in about 1894, writing more than 300 compositions, most of which were published. Among her works are 20 chamber pieces, 150 works for piano solo, 27 choral pieces, and organ music, songs and orchestral works. Her music was warmly praised by Camille Saint-Saëns, Célestin Joubert and Pierné. Already unwell, she suffered acutely the death in 1932 of her younger son; she died five years later. Her children assembled a memoir from her notebooks and published it as Souvenirs et réflexions (Paris, n.d.).