Garcia-Abril, Chaminade, Chopin, Poulenc: Chansons et Mélodies


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    In the Italian Renaissance, painter and author Giorgio Vasari authored a book which was destined to an enormous success. It was titled Lives of famous painters, sculptors and architects, and recounted, with a passionate and well-documented tone (though also in a fashion rather different from today’s historiography) the stories of the greatest artists of the era. Of course, this was a very praiseworthy undertaking, and we owe to Vasari a wealthy mine of information about the artists of his time. But we owe him also something which, at least in the opinion of many, is not equally commendable, i.e. a ranking of the arts. Vasari suggested that there are nobler, higher arts (such as, in fact, painting, sculpting, and architecture) which are directly based on drawing, and lower arts, such as embroidery, tapestry, or marquetry, which refer to drawing only indirectly. (It may be noted that most of the “lower” arts were forms of creativity practised by female artists). Vasari’s ranking influenced the perception of art in the following centuries; indeed, of what counts as art, and what can be classified as mere craftmanship. And this attitude, regarded by many as unfair, has conditioned the practice and the social worth of many artistic genres.
    Something akin to Vasari’s attitude can also be found in music. Until Classicism, music was essentially functional, though, of course, this did not prevent some of this “functional” music to reach the level of an absolute masterpiece: Bach’s Passions are “functional” music inasmuch they were written with a precise purpose and function in mind, but few works in the Western repertoire reach the heights they conquer. It was perfectly normal for composers to be employed by a Church establishment or a court, or else to be entrepreneurs who ventured in the field of opera. In all cases, composers had to compose pieces as they were commissioned by their employers, or to create operas at such a pace, and with such a style, that they could be immediately appreciated by the audience and enjoy success – in terms of both glory and financial remuneration.
    Starting with Mozart’s generation, independence was sought as a value and as a goal. And, particularly with Beethoven, we assist to a role reversal: it was no more the employer or the audience who had the right of dictating the aesthetic parameters of the musical composition, but rather the composer who could establish his or her own aesthetic values, and impose them to the audience. Given the immense authoritativeness of Beethoven’s figure, whose human drama (deafness) increased his “social weight”, and whose role became increasingly that of a musical guru, an embodiment of Goethe’s “genius”, his works became the paradigm of what ought to be done in music. Thus, works such as symphonies, sonatas, Masses, quartets etc. acquired the status of models, and the aesthetics beyond them became normative.
    A double standard was thus established: on the one hand, “l’art pour l’art”, art in itself, art for its own sake: take it or leave it. On the other hand, “entertaining” music, with a plethora of piano dances, Feuillets d’album, fantasies and potpourris on operatic themes and so on, designed for the amateur pianists’ pleasure or for the virtuoso’s display of his or her technique. The chasm between these two worlds increased in size with time.
    Thus, it came to be that works such as those recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album, rarely found the attention owed to true “artworks”. They could excite the enthusiasm of amateurs, particularly female amateurs, but only seldom found the way for the concert hall, or were studied in theses or other such works.
    The Spaniard Antón García Abril (1933-2021) was in fact tempted by both “absolute music” and by program or “consumption” music (for instance, he wrote the music for countless movies, or, in a different field, for the national hymn of Aragon). His source of inspiration came frequently from the Spanish tradition, which he revered and knew deeply; however, to non-Spanish ears, this may sound as exotic or nationalistic, and thus fall back, once more, within the realm of “occasional” or “functional” music, rather than of “absolute” music. His six Preludios de Mirambel, written between 1984 and 1996, draw their name from a village from the Aragon region of Maestrazgo. The year before the musician’s beginning of the compositional process, Mirambel was awarded the Prize “Europa Nostra”; this prompted the musician’s wish to depict in sounds the landscapes of his youth. He wrote: “When writing this collection of preludes, my wish was to root my work within Spanish pianism, which accomplished very important levels in terms of artistic expression and technical evolution within the framework of universal music”. In spite of the long timeframe needed for completing the collection, its original planning was clear at the very beginning, and lends uniformity and unity to the cycle. Prelude no. 1, recorded here, is dedicated to the composer’s son, Antón, who at the time was a student at the Real Conservatorio Superior of Madrid. The musical material is handled with competence and skill, building up a dialogue of tensions and distensions, particularly thanks to harmonic solutions which are both daring and compelling, grounded, as they are, on modes and tonal centres.
    A similar attention for the musical language characterizes the works and style of Cécile Chaminade, a French composer belonging in a different generation with respect to García Abril (1857-1944). A very gifted child prodigy, Chaminade could not attend the courses of composition at the Paris Conservatoire, which admitted only men, and therefore studied privately both composition and performance (at the piano and violin) achieving a very high level of musical proficiency.
    As a young woman, Chaminade tried and asserted her worth, writing ambitious works in the wake of the great tradition of Western music. Her Piano Sonata, op. 21, recorded here, is a prime example of her successful handling of large-scale forms and genres. By way of contrast, her lasting fame is bound to small-scale miniatures, many of which do not require transcendental technique, and therefore were considered as particularly appealing by amateur pianists, who worshipped her. Unfortunately, the reverse of the coin is that a Vasari-like attitude depreciates her worth in comparison with musicians who were more indifferent to the musical needs of amateur musicians. Still, works such as her Arabesque demonstrate the variety of her inspiration, and also the demanding nature of some of the passages she wrote (one has just to listen to its brilliant and virtuosic ending to question the stereotype of Chaminade as a composer of “easy” works).
    Her Sonata, written in an early stage of her musical career (probably in the late 1880s), is a powerful and well-structured composition, dedicated to one of the greatest virtuosos of the era, Moritz Moszkowski, who had married Chaminade’s sister. Its main key, C minor, qualifies the piece from the outset as a homage to the father of the Piano Sonata, i.e. Ludwig van Beethoven, even though the piece is a refreshing creation, by no means plagiarizing the music of older composers. For instance, Chaminade surprises the listener by her brilliant use of contrapuntal language and polyphony, which is reminiscent of Baroque stylistic influences.
    The second movement, an Andante, is the expressive heart of the Sonata, with its touching and intense melodies and its interesting tonal itinerary. The enchantment it builds is brusquely dispelled by the energetic drive of the Finale, whose overall concept alludes to the Baroque toccata, but seen through the lens of more recent composers (such as Schumann and his own Toccata). While the entire Sonata saw the light in 1895, this last movement was published first, in 1886, as an Etude (the fourth of Chaminade’s Six Etudes de Concert).
    No question has ever been raised about the artistry of Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturnes, even though they clearly belong in the same genre as, for instance, Chaminade’s Arabesque: short, self-standing works, which have an immediate appeal on the listener. This is clearly the case with Chopin’s Nocturne op. 27 no. 2, which constitutes a pair with no. 1 (also from the tonal viewpoint), but which can also clearly be played in isolation. The piece is quintessential Chopin, with the fluid arpeggiations of the left hand, above which the singing melody of the right hand stands out; the right hand also offers a number of embellishing decorations and figurations, displaying Chopin’s inventiveness in the adornment of simple melodic lines.
    A lyrical vein, but punctuated with the composer’s characteristic irony and humour, is found also in Francis Poulenc’s Intermezzo in A-flat major (1943). If Chopin’s Nocturne seemed to suggest the dialogue of two souls, here the inspiration is clearly a monologue, with references to Classicism (in a Neo-classical fashion) and to “characteristic” situations, such as rural settings, Arcadian music, and Baroque/Classical ornamentation styles.
    This Da Vinci Classics album is crowned by a set of pieces, again authored by Francis Poulenc, and referring to a particular occasion. Les Soirées de Nazelles alludes to the evenings spent by the composer, by his relatives and friends, in Nazelles, the place in the country where he used to spend some time. The evenings were animated by the composer’s improvisations, which sought to portray the people who had come, their characteristic traits, features, gifts and limits. Under this viewpoint, they resemble Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The work was dedicated to “aunt Liénard” (who actually was not a relative, but just a friend), who had passed away. The people portrayed in the pieces are not identified on the score, but their identities can be guessed, with some precision, when considering the tempo and character markings offered by the composer.
    Together, these works demonstrate the futility of “rankings” in the musical and artistic field. There are no better or worse musical genres, no higher and lower undertakings; as a matter of principles, there is only good or bad music, and these works doubtlessly qualify in the former category.
    Chiara Bertoglio © 2023


    Brazilian pianist Diego Caetano was considered by the Italian newspaper La Stampa "a gifted pianist with a brilliant technique and musicality." He has been performing widely as soloist and chamber musician throughout the USA, Brazil, Chile, Europe, Asia, and Africa, including performances at New York's Carnegie Hall, Yokohama's Philia Hall, Lisbon's Palácio da Foz, Rio de Janeiro's Sala Cecília Meireles, and London's Royal Albert Hall.
    He has worked with conductors such as Michael Palmer, Paul Hostetter, Neil Thomson, Rodrigo de Carvalho, Guilherme Bernstein, Joaquim Jayme, Daniel Guedes, and others. He has been featured in recitals and concerto appearances at the Grand Teton Music Festival, Louisiana International Piano Series, Durango's Conservatory Music of the Mountains, Bangkok's Asia Pacific Saxophone Academy, and Brasília's International Music Festival. An advocate for contemporary music, he has premiered works by composers Robert Spillman, Anne Guzzo, Marlos Nobre, Roger Goeb, and Guilherme Bernstein.
    Caetano has frequently served as a masterclass clinician and competition adjudicator in various universities and conservatories around the globe and has presented at various national and international conferences about pedagogical works by Brazilian composers, effective practicing techniques, and performance anxiety. His students have received prizes at national and international piano competitions. He is a member of Duo Lispector with Russian violinist Evgeny Zvonnikov and a member of Resch - Caetano Duo with German tenor Richard Resch.
    Dr. Caetano received the top prizes in more than fifty national and international piano competitions, including Concorso Internazionale per Giovani Musicisti “Città di Massa” (2021), Bonn Prize International Music Competition (2020), Bucharest Pro Piano International Piano Competition (2018), London's Grand Prix Virtuoso (2016), Carnegie Hall Debut International Concerto Competition (2014), MTNA Young Artist - Steinway & Sons (2011), "Arnaldo Estrella" Piano Competition (2008), and many more. He has also won special awards including Best Interpreter of Brazilian Composers, Best Interpreter of Spanish Composers, and Prix d'Excellence in Performance.

    Dr. Caetano graduated with a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a Master of Music degree from the University of Wyoming, and a Bachelor of Music degree from Universidade Federal de Goiás (Brazil). Caetano has studied under the guidance of Dr. David Korevaar, Bob Spillman, Dr. Theresa Bogard, Dr. Maria Helena Jayme, and Lílian Carneiro de Mendonça. Dr. Caetano also studied with Dr. Nadezhda Eysmont at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, in Russia.

    Diego Caetano maintains an active schedule as an educator. He was the founder and the Artistic Director of Amarillo College Piano Series from 2016 -2020. He is the co-founder and the Director of Keyboard Studies at Ávila International Music Festival in Ávila (Spain) and is the President of the World Piano Teachers Association - Texas Chapter. He has held previous faculty positions at Casper College and Amarillo College.

    Dr. Caetano is a Professor of Piano at Sam Houston State University, and a Shigeru Kawai Artist.


    Antón García Abril
    (b Teruel, 19 May 1933). Spanish composer. He studied music in Valencia with Pedro Sosa, Manuel Palau and Enrique Gomá, and (from 1953) at the Madrid Conservatory with Julio Gómez and Francisco Calés. He later studied composition with Frazzi, conducting with Paul van Kempen and film music with Lavagnino at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. In 1964 he studied with Petrassi in Rome. At the Madrid Conservatory he taught solfège and music theory (1957–69) and composition and musical forms (from 1974). His works have won many awards, including those for the best film scores for La fiel infantería (1960) and No busques los tres pies (1968), the National Theatre Prize for the musical comedy Un millón de rosas (1971) and the Segovia prize for Evocaciones (1981). In 1983 he became a member of the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts.

    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.

    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.

    Frédéric Chopin: (b Żelazowa Wola, nr Warsaw, 1 March 1810; d Paris, 17 Oct 1849). Polish composer and pianist. He combined a gift for melody, an adventurous harmonic sense, an intuitive and inventive understanding of formal design and a brilliant piano technique in composing a major corpus of piano music. One of the leading 19th-century composers who began a career as a pianist, he abandoned concert life early; but his music represents the quintessence of the Romantic piano tradition and embodies more fully than any other composer’s the expressive and technical characteristics of the instrument.