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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Although Paris remained one of the paramount musical centres of Europe, French classical music during the 19th century was eclipsed by German and Austrian music, and by Italian opera. Throughout the century, France produced composers of interest and sometimes passing fame, but lacking the individuality and spark of lasting genius. The exception was Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), arch-Romantic but musical visionary, whose example continues to resonate through French music. The French composers of the later 19th century fall into distinct groups. Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was the major French Romantic composer, often under the spell of Liszt; his sense of technical craftsmanship provided an important example to the next generation of composers. Other Romantics included Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894), an admirer of Wagner. French opera, mostly on a grand scale, provided a second thread, including those of Georges Gounod (1818-1893), Georges Bizet (1838-1875) and Jules Massenet (1842-1912), all of whom included an element of realistic intimacy in the relationships between characters (often of more ordinary people) in their major works, in contrast to the mythological scale of Wagner or the characters of power and position in Italian opera before Puccini. More notorious than any of these composers was Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), whose small-scale musical comedies stormed Europe, and whose qualities of grace, sparkle, and sheer fun helped established an important strand in later French music.

The third main group provided the foundations for a renaissance of French music, and were centred around the figure of César Franck (1822-1890). The basis of Franck's aesthetic - a preoccupation with musical form and architecture that is largely abstract, and an awareness of and admiration for Classical forms and examples - were very different from German and Austrian concerns. The importance of this aesthetic to later French music has been overshadowed by his best-known technique, the use of germ themes that return in different movements in a cyclical principle; the significance of the organ in his output ensured a tradition in French music that continues to this day. Two of his pupils developed and promoted this aesthetic in both their music and their teaching. Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) was the more conservative, and fused the inheritance with an admiration for Wagner while maintaining a French clarity. Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) refined the aesthetic, especially in his chamber works, taking it towards Impressionism, and in the final years of his life anticipating neo-classicism. Of Franck's other pupils, Henri Duparc (1848-1933), whose output was curtailed by mental illness, produced in his fourteen songs perhaps the most perfect collection of songs ever written.

Meanwhile, two composers emerged at the end of the 19th century who were to cement the renaissance of French music initiated by Franck, and place it on an equal footing with German and Austrian composition. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) revolutionized the way composers have thought of music, initially through what has become known as Impressionism; for a fuller discussion of this revolution, of Impressionism, and of Debussy's legacy, readers are referred to the entry on Debussy below. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was both less revolutionary and less influential, but the immense popularity of his music established a vital and colourful aesthetic alternative to the Germanic tradition. Of their contemporaries, Paul Dukas (1865-1935), an important teacher, refined the late-Romantic tone poem with incisive orchestration and formal construction. The eccentric Erik Satie (1866-1925) developed the miniature form, often with dissonant harmonies, and including unusual sound sources later in his career; his particular brand of the absurd, his quirky sense of humour, and his drive towards simplicity were widely influential. Albert Roussel (1869-1937) became the classicist of the period in his own individual style, traceable back to Franck and with oriental influences from his own travels.

The potency of French music was then confirmed after the First World War by the magnet that Paris became for writers, visual artists and composers from all over the world. Here were to be found such diverse artists as Picasso and Joyce, Hemingway and Le Corbusier, and among the foreign composers who lived in Paris in this period were Stravinsky, Martinů, and Prokofiev, to name but three. French composition again followed clearly defined general lines, all of which remained committed to the traditions of tonal music, or their development by Debussy, rather than following the harmonic revolution of Schoenberg and his followers. Yet the well-known composers of the generation that followed Debussy and Ravel had echoes of their mid-19th-century precursors in producing many secondary figures but none of outstanding genius. The period between the World Wars was dominated by a group known as `Les Six', a name given to them by the critic Henri Collet. The six composers were Georges Auric (1899-1983), Louis Durey (1888-1979), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) and perhaps the most outstanding, the Swiss Arthur Honegger. Although they together produced a group of piano pieces (Album des Six, 1920), and a joint ballet (Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, 1921), their common denominator was extra-musical, the influence and leadership of the writer Jean Cocteau (1891-1963). His ideas of modernity, simplicity and directness were themselves influenced by Satie, but the six composers quickly went their different ways, and had little in common musically. Auric wrote ballets for Diaghilev, but remained close to Cocteau, writing music for his films (1930-1949); late in his life he was influenced by the developments in French music after the Second World War. Milhaud also followed Cocteau's aesthetic in some of his huge output, especially in his collaborations with the writer Paul Claudel, but otherwise pursued neo-classicism and developed polytonality. His idiom became very wide-ranging, and the best of his works show what a prodigious talent he had, and the rest what little self-criticism. Durey became politically involved, eventually writing settings of communist writers, including Mao and Ho-Chi-Minh. Poulenc is the most interesting of the French composers of this group, shedding his early reputation for an almost flippant gaiety and elegance for a thoughtful and personal idiom characterized by grace and craftsmanship, including many superb songs. Tailleferre remained the most conservative of the group, and is now most often encountered in her harp music. Outside `Les Six', Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) represented a last flowering of late-Romanticism in France.

A reaction to what was perceived as the shallowness of this period of French composition, and especially the neo-classicism that became prevalent in Paris in the 1930s, was inevitable, and future historians may see the revolution that followed (partially delayed by the Second World War) as crucial to the development of classical music as that of Debussy and Schoenberg. There was already a French composer that had started this revolution, but since his ideas were so far in advance of `Les Six', and because many of his premieres had taken place in the unsympathetic milieu of New York, he had not been as noticed. Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) was experimenting with completely new concepts of sound and its organization, including the use of new instruments (for fuller details, see the entry below), and with Debussy, Schoenberg, Webern and Cage was one of the innovatory musical geniuses of the century. One significant French composer, André Jolivet, had studied with Varèse (1930-1933); with Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), the figure who was to become central to this revolution, he co-founded `La Jeune France' in 1936. The other members were Yves Baudier (born 1906), whose output was restricted by ill-health, and Daniel-Lesur (born 1908), who, beside his own compositions, did much to promote contemporary music on French radio after the Second World War. Jolivet developed an idiom tinged with exoticism, often with an incantatory or mythical impulse, dissonant effects and sometimes complex rhythms, and stood largely apart from developments after 1945. Messiaen, however, became the major French teacher of the period, while writing music, often for the organ, of astonishing power and spirituality, his mysticism paralleling that of Jolivet but firmly rooted in Christian theology. Messiaen's innovations included the development of modes, the extension of rhythmic patterns including the development of rhythmic modes, sometimes influenced by Eastern musics, and the exploration of a wide range of new tone colours, often drawing on bird-song.

These innovations paved the way for developments immediately after the Second World War; in particular, the systematization of rhythm pointed to the possibility of `total serialism', the extension of 12-tone principles into areas of musical construction other than harmony. This major step was led by one of Messiaen's French pupils, Pierre Boulez, who consolidated the principles of total serialism in 1951-1952. The importance of this step cannot be overestimated. Quite apart from the widespread emulation and development of serialism all over the world (including such French composers as Jean Barraqué, 1928-1973, and Gilbert Amy, born 1936), led by the promotional powers of Boulez in his writing and in his conducting, it reconciled two divergent strands of musical continuity that had been temperamentally at odds for 150 years and beyond, the French and the German traditions. On the one hand total serialism can be traced back through Webern and Schoenberg to Wagner and ultimately to Beethoven; on the other, through Messiaen to the twin progenitors of Varèse and Debussy, and beyond them to Franck and his precursors (it is perhaps no coincidence that Boulez is also celebrated as a conductor of both Wagner and Debussy). To cement this conjunction, one of Messiaen's other pupils, Stockhausen, took serialism back to Germany. This reconciliation (which paralleled the social reconciliation of the foundation of the European Economic Community) is partly responsible for the international embrace of serialism; from the 1950s the major divide in classical music has been not between France and Germany but between Europe and North America, however strong the cross-fertilization.

At the same time, another musical revolution was taking place in France which may prove even more far-reaching. Varèse and Messiaen had already used electronic instruments (the ondes martenot), and Varèse completed the first work for orchestra with tape in 1954, but the development of new technology (particularly the tape-recorder) gave birth to a completely new media: electronic music. The pioneers were Pierre Schaeffer (born 1910) and Pierre Henry (born 1927), who had studied with Messiaen. Schaeffer's first electronic works were composed in 1948, using the technique of `musique-concrète', in which naturally occurring sounds, including those of musical instruments, are electronically manipulated to create completely different sounds. Electronic composition using purely electronic sound sources soon followed. The `Groupe de Musique Concrète' was established in 1951, and an advanced interest in electronic and then computer technology has informed French music ever since, notably in the Service de la Recherche de O.R.T.F. (French Radio), and then in 1977 with the opening of the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, directed by Boulez, which has become a magnet for composers from all over the world interested in advanced technology. Among later French composers of electronic music have been François Bayle (born 1932), François-Bernard Mâche (born 1935), and Luc Ferrari (born 1929), who increasingly left the sound sources as natural as possible, eventually arriving at `anecdotal music': Presque rien no.1 (Nearly Nothing No.1, 1970) is the skilfully edited sounds of a busy beach, anticipating the environmental soundscapes of the `New Age' movement.

Marius Constant (born 1925) has drawn on an eclectic range of styles within conventional means, from the conventional to the experimental; further details will be found in the introduction to Rumania, his country of origin. Meanwhile, other French composers have pursued a less radical path. Jean Françaix (born 1912) has continued the French tradition of grace and charm, while the most interesting of the mainstream composers have been Marcel Landowski (born 1915), absorbing some of the new sounds into a more traditional idiom, and Henri Dutilleux (born 1916), who has forged a powerful individual idiom emerging from the influence of Roussel. Henry Barraud (born 1900) is best-known for the suite Un saison en enfer (A season in hell, 1969, after Rimbaud, for orchestra), large in intent and orchestral forces, a very sure handling of varied orchestral colour, and a harmonic language that will interest those who have accepted modern developments without putting off those who haven't. His impulse is often religious (Mystère des Saints Innocents for soloists, chorus and orchestra, 1942-1944, Te Deum for chorus and winds, 1955) or humanitarian; works less intense in emotional scale, such as the Piano Concerto (1939) or the Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra (1963), are characterized by grace and style. Alain Bancquart (born 1934) has been one of the few composers to use quarter-tones extensively in large-scale orchestral works while keeping relatively traditional structures, including the symphony. His use of quarter-tone writing dates from 1967; works or movements for strings predominate, and where instruments are unsuitable because they cannot play quarter-tones, Bancquart has found alternatives: bassoons, for example, are replaced in the Symphony No.1 by electric bass guitars. In some cases an instrument can simply be retuned to quarter-tones, as in the effective Ma Maniére de Chat, (1978) for solo harp, where 12 different notes can be produced in 2 octaves without pedal changes. The dark Symphony No.1 itself uses opposed orchestral blocks, setting up sonorities not dissimilar (especially with the quartet-tones) to the effects of some electronic music. The slow movement is for strings alone, while the final movement introduces the deep sounds of the electric bass guitar. The music of Henri Tomasi (1901-1971), once extremely successful in France but less well known outside, is dominated by his operas and by many concertos, and is noted for its orchestration and use of exotic and Impressionistic colours within a conventional, occasionally dissonant harmonic framework. The exotic sense partly reflects his time with colonial radio services in French Indochina from 1930 to 1935 (e.g. Chants laotiens, 1934), but extends to scenes as far apart as the Sahara (Impressions sahariennes, 1938, for orchestra) and the South Pacific. Of his concertos, the Trumpet Concerto (1949) is probably the best known. It is very direct and undemanding, with a mysterious, nocturne slow movement and transparent orchestration, but is an attractive addition to the repertoire. A number of his operas were conspicuously successful in their time, including Atlantide (1954), Miguel de Mañara (1956) and Sampiero Corso (1956). His later works reflected social issues, and included the Symphonie du tiers monde (Third-World Symphony, 1969) and the Chant pour le Vietnam (Song for Vietnam, 1969) for wind ensemble and percussion.

Throughout the century there has been a vigorous French musical tradition that has often been overlooked, but which unexpectedly met the latest developments in the figure of Messiaen: that of French organ music. Again with its origins in the figure of Franck (a major organist), it has produced a number of organist-composers who have kept the art of improvisation at the keyboard alive. Charles Widor (1844-1937) wrote ten symphonies for organ in a grand late-Romantic style, more suites than symphonies; the thunderous and mercurial toccata from the Symphony No.5 (1880) is often heard. Louis Vierne (1870-1936) wrote genuine symphonies for the organ that range from a thoughtful sensitivity to the full power available from the large cathedral organ. Charles Tournemire (1870-1939) produced influential organ works with a mystical cast of deep religious faith; his major accomplishments were the 51 organ masses for the liturgical year, L'orgue mystique (1927-1932). Jean Langlais (born 1929), like Vierne blind from birth, followed Tournemire in the influence of old church modes and melodic lines founded on Gregorian chant, but often with a more dramatic content. Besides his organ music, his bold Salve Regina Mass (1949) for three choirs, two organs and two brass ensembles, designed for the large spaces of Notre Dame, and the colourful and dramatic Messe solennelle (1952) are worthy of note. He also produced a number of works for chamber groups and organ. Maurice Duruflé (1916-1986) also followed the style established by Tournemire in his own delicate fashion. One of the finest of these organist-composers was Jehan Alain (1911-1940), whose output of smaller-scale works had less of a strictly liturgical intent, and explored possibilities of the development of the sounds available for the organ, a process taken further by Messiaen himself.

Among the most remarkable musical figures working in Paris in the century was the composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), whose very long teaching career encompassed many famous pupils, and was noted for its principles of craftsmanship and clarity. In particular, her encouragement of American composers in the 1920s and 1930s was instrumental in forging a distinctively American tradition of composition.

One of the reasons for the liveliness of French composition in the 20th century has been the advocacy of modern music by performers and performing groups working especially in Paris, and far too numerous to be detailed here. Another has been the support and enlightened encouragement of French Radio, and the importance that French governments since 1945 have attached to a healthy, vigorous, and contemporary cultural life.

French Music Information Centre:

centre de Documentation de la Musique Contemporaine

225, Avenue Charles de Gaulle

F-92521 Neuilly-sur-Seine Cedex


tel: +33 1 47 47 5650

fax: +33 1 47 45 1294


































ALAIN Jehan Ariste

born 3rd February 1911 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

died 20th June 1940 at Saumur


Alain, who was killed in action in the Second World War at the age of 29, is chiefly known for his organ works. Coming from a family of organists (his father was a celebrated organist, and his famous sister, Marie-Claire Alain, has justly championed his music) he himself became a church organist in Paris in 1936, and experimented with his father on new registrations. Almost all of his organ music is miniature in length but not always in scale, and is largely divorced from liturgical or programmatic connotations. Throughout there is an emphasis on rhythm, sometimes of the most complex nature and often with the presence of dissonant harmonies, and an acute awareness of the possibilities of registration. He was influenced by exotic and oriental colours, as in the sonorous and touching Deux danses à Agni Yavishta (1934), or the Moroccan song that comes through the exotic underplay and rhythmic complexities of the atmospheric Deuxième Fantaisie (1936), one of his finest pieces. An ethereal mystical quality imbues such works as the famous Le jardin suspendu (1934), evoking the artist's ideal that is perpetually sought but always out of reach. A wistfulness haunts Aria (1938), his last composition that almost ignores the use of pedals, and Lamento (1930), dissonance typically adding an edge, while there is a dreamy evening reflectiveness in the marvellous Postlude pour l'office de Complines (1930), with its sense of plainsong drifting high into the nave. His two major works are on a grander scale. The short Litanies (1937), his most regularly heard work, was written after the death of another sister. An ardent but powerful supplication, it repeats the same dance-like pattern in changing colours and settings, a `tornado' (as Alain described it) of faith. The thematically linked Trois danses (1937-1939) were designed as a symphonic poem for orchestra, but the manuscript blew out of his sidecar in Flanders during the war, and it exists perfectly successfully as a work for organ. Rhythm dominates, often in complex fashions, especially in the jazz-influenced first dance, where the shifting patterns are laid over a regular beat. The long second dance (mourning) has an atmosphere of despair or resignation, again with extraordinary shifting rhythmic effects, while the final movement adds grandeur to the rhythmic energy. Alain stands between the French organist-composers of the previous generation and his contemporary Messiaen, and if his life was short and the works few, he continued, with his sense of humour and dance as well as devout mysticism, the finest traditions of French organ music.


works include:

- Andante, Aria, Ballad en mode phrygien, Berceuse sur deux notes qui cornet, Choral cistercien, Choral dorien, Choral Phrygien, Climat, Deux danses à Agni Yavishta, Trois danses, 2 Fantaisies, Grave, Intermezzo, Le jardin suspendu, Lamento, Litanies, Monodie, Petit pièce, Postlude pour l'office de Complines, Prélude et fugue, Préludes profances, Suite, Variations chorales sur Sacris solemnis, Variations sur `Lucis Creator' and Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin for organ


recommended works:

The complete organ works, especially:

Trois danses op.81 (1937-1939) for organ

Litanies op.79 (1937) for organ

Postlude pour l'Office de Complines op. 21 (1930)


AMY Gilbert

born 29th August, 1936 at Paris


Amy has achieved prominence both as a conductor and as a composer. Early in his career (1956) he came under the influence of Boulez, whom he succeeded as director of the Domaine Musical concerts (1967-1973). From his early works (e.g. the Piano Sonata, 1960) his music has employed an increasingly broad and Expressionistic canvas, while retaining serial forms. A favourite device has been to use divided forces: Antiphonies (1960-1963), for example, uses two main orchestras, each with their own conductor, with a concertino group as mediator. This has led to exploration of the timbral and expressive interactions of such forces, exemplified by the contrast of percussion instruments of different character (e.g. pitched versus unpitched) and different sonorities (e.g. wood versus skins) in Cycles for six percussionists (1964-1966), or the wandering violin opposed to the orchestra (broken into blocks of instruments) in Trajectoires (1966) for violin and orchestra, which uses quarter-tones. This exploration has been extended into vocal works: in Strophe for soprano and divided orchestra (1964-1966, reorchestrated 1977) a short text is broken into enunciation, then vocalization, and then a reduction to phonemes (i.e. individual constituents of sound). There is a similar process in Récitatif, air et variation (1970) for twelve voices, admirably clear in its interaction of the linear opposition of voices and the vertical opposition of the structure of words broken up. In D'un espace déployé (1972-1973), there is a concertante effect of two instrumental groups, the smaller virtuosic against the blocks of the larger group, with a solo soprano part using more extreme writing. The Sonata pian'e forte (1974) for two female voices and instrumental group, with antiphonal effects and the soloists singing into a prepared piano, went further along these lines.

Amy is representative of the post-Webern group of composers who extended Webern's ideas into serialism. Like that of so many of these composers, his music is not always comfortable listening, its complex structures extending over considerable periods rather than on the miniature scale of Webern himself. This very inflation seems destined to condemn his music to a limited audience. In 1973 Amy was appointed Musical Advisor to ORTF; he co-founded and directed the New Philharmonic Orchestra of French Radio (1976-1981), and has been director of the Lyons Conservatoire since 1984.


works include:

- Antiphonies for 2 orchestras; Chant and Triade for orch.; Trajectoires for violin and orch.

- Diaphonies for 2 ensembles of 12 players each; Mouvements for 17 instruments; 7 Sites for 14 players; Inventions I & II for four instruments; Alpha-beth for wind sextet; Relais for 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and horn; Cycles for 6 percussionists; Cahiers d'epigrammes (Epigram notebooks), Jeux and Jeux et formes for piano

- song cycle Oeil de fumée; Cette étoile enseigne à s'incliner (This star teaches us how to bow) for men's voices, 10 instruments and tape; Strophe for soprano and orch.; D'un désastre obscur for mezzo and clarinet; D'un espace déployé for two instrumental groups and soprano; Sonata pian'e forte for 2 female voices and 12 instruments



born 17th January 1928 at Puteaux

died 17th April 1973 at Paris


Jean Barraqué is a figure virtually unknown to all but a few specialists, but in the six acknowledged works that he completed before his early death, he established himself as one of the most imaginative and far-sighted of those composers developing post-Webern serialism. In particular, he sought to use serialism to express almost late-Romantic Expressionist concepts, seeing music as `the complete game, quaking on the edge of suicide'. Consequently he attempted to marry serialism with large-scale works, meticulously arranged and with an astute sense of instrumental colours and their combinations.

He came to notice with the Piano Sonata (1950-1952), a 40-minute work pitting ideas arising out of rhythmic cells against freer movement, with silences that become longer and longer until denuding the work, and with the related Séquance (1950-1955) for soprano and instrumental ensemble, both works of turbulence and cold despair. Barraqué then embarked on what was intended as a large series of musical commentaries on the novel The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch. The first to be written, Le temps restitué (1957), was revised for soprano or contralto, chorus and instrumental ensemble in 1968, and its texts, in five sections, explore cosmic philosophical questions of the interrelations of the human soul with time, death, and chance. The vocal writing includes extended vocal ranges and techniques, variously allowing the words to emerge and to be subdued in almost hallucinatory textures, and the choir sometimes support, sometimes oppose the soloist. It is an intensely dramatic work of considerable scope, sometimes including a thread of the lyrical, with the instrumentation in constant metamorphosis, from the grand scale to the pointillistic detail. The second commentary, delà du hasard (...beyond chance, 1958-1959) for soprano, women's chorus and four instrumental ensembles, pits the vocal forces against sharply differentiated instrumental groups: brass and vibraphone, tuned percussion with piano, non-pitched percussion, and four clarinets. The third, Chant après chant (Song after song, 1966) reduces the forces to soprano, piano and a large variety of percussion. The textures of Barraqué's final completed work, the Concerto (1968) for clarinet, vibraphone and six instrumental trios, are a collage of sharply differentiated colours, notably the harpsichord, emphasized by the placement into six groups, with the clarinet intervening only after an introduction by strings, and the vibraphone not appearing until considerably later. It is an exceptionally difficult work to assimilate, but nonetheless a rewarding one, its façade a ferris wheel of different events and colours, silence occupying the spaces between the chairs; but on further acquaintance it has the underlying logic that informs Barraqué's work, weaving a large web in which at any one moment a particular strand may be sounding, starting another in its train.

Barraqué's music is not for the faint-hearted, but for an example of the expressive powers of serialism, what one commentator correctly called the `combination of Logic and Passion', it is of great fascination.



- Concerto for clarinet, vibraphone and 6 instrumental trios

- piano sonata

- Au delà hasard for soprano, women's chorus and 4 instrumental ensembles; Chant après chant for soprano, piano and percussion sextet; Séquence for soprano and ensemble; Le temps restitué for soprano, chorus and orch.

- electronic Étude


recommended works:

Piano Sonata (1950-1952)

Le temps restitué (1957, revised 1968) for soprano or contralto, chorus and instrumental ensemble


BAYLE François

born 27th April, 1932 at Tamatabe (Madagascar)


Bayle studied with Stockhausen, and in 1960 joined the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (founded in 1950 by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry), a major French experimental electronic studio, and became its director in 1964. Using almost entirely electronic means (both electronically generated and musique concrète), he has been one of the more successful at creating a suitable indigenous electronic sound, rather than adapting an instrumental language to an electronic palette. Thus, although his earlier works use conventional instruments (L'oiseau, le chanteur [The Bird, the Singer, 1963, from a film score], Trois portraits pour l'oiseau qui n'existe pas, (Three portraits of the-bird-which-does-not-exist) for horn, oboe, clavichord and electronic sounds, or Archipelago, 1963-1967, for string quartet and recorded sounds), these are inclined to provide support for the electronic effects rather than the other way around. Some of his explorations (such as Solitude, 1969, mixing rock sounds with street and other noises) were a sonic disaster, but an important and still effective work (especially the sonorous third section, Hommage à Robur), which achieved some prominence at the time of its composition, was Espaces inhabitable (Uninhabitable spaces, 1967) with a formal five-movement structure, a conscious use of the descriptive powers of electronic sounds, and rhythm created by the changes of timbre and colour.

Bayle has continued to develop these concerns (exemplified in textures of Les couleurs de la nuit, 1983), especially in the area of what he has called `the poetics of timbre', in a large series of eight works titled Propositions (1972-1989). Designed to be heard singly or as a group, they cover a wide range of sound sources: the first four are for strings, wind, percussion and voices respectively, while the last four are for unusual sound sources, without any of the sonorities heard in the first four. The dream-like and sonorously impressive Proposition I (1972-1973) contrasts a held note with clusters in a mobile form; the strings sounds benefit from Bayle's experience with electronic textures. The foundation of a long held note recurs in Proposition II (1979-1980), where the wind conduct a lively dialogue (using mirror forms) before the held-note takes over evolving into a haunting landscape of homogeneous sonorities before ending with a curious, accelerating clicking passage created by unusual usage of the instruments. Propositions III (1982-1983) for six groups of percussion, is divided into four sections each reflecting different groups of percussion sound, from the primitive, unpitched and strident to the delicacy of tuned metal instruments. Proposition IV (1986) for twelve solo voices uses phonemes and a multitude of vocal sounds in a luxuriant and compelling display of vocal sonorities, again with delicate and clicking passages, sometimes recalling Stockhausen's Stimmung, and with something of the atmosphere of the animals' nocturnal sounds in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges. The second set of four move to sound worlds more distant from traditional experience. Proposition V (1986) is for 28 non-European instruments from five continents, Propositions VI (1987) was written for older European instruments (e.g. `original instruments'), Proposition VII (1987-1988) uses computer sound synthesis, and Propositions VIII (1988-1989) moves away from humanly created sound by utilizing recordings of birds and of the elements. Thus the first four of this set can be seen as representing the development of a Western tradition, the second four representing new sources to enliven that tradition, and if none of these pieces is individually remarkable, they are consistently interesting, presenting an unusual overview of the development of post avant-garde music and an enormous range of sonorities.

Bayle has taught at the University of Paris VIII, and among his writings is a large study, Schönberg à Cage (1981).


works include:

- Pluriel for orchestra and tape; Archipelago for string quartet and tape

- series of 8 Propositions for various forces and electronics

- electronic Les couleurs de la nuit, Espaces inhabitables, Lines and Points, Nadir, Trois portraits pour l'oiseau qui n'existe pas and Solitude, some as film scores


recommended works:

Uninhabitable Spaces for tape (1967)

Propositions I-VIII (1972-1989) (see text)



born 26th March, 1925 at Montbrison


Pierre Boulez has been among the most influential of all composers since the Second World War. However, the considerable effect of his work, his ideas, and his incisive intellect is more observable on two generations of composers than in a widespread appreciation (or knowledge) of his music by general audiences, to whom he is far better known as a conductor of international renown. This situation has been exacerbated by Boulez's habit of leaving works unfinished, albeit with sections ready for performance, by his reworkings of earlier material, and by the relative paucity of works in recent years.

Following Boulez's discovery of the music of Schoenberg in 1945, his studies with René Leibowitz led first to a period fusing 12-tone techniques with the ideas of his earlier teacher Messiaen, and then, crucially, to his adoption of what has come to be known as `total serialism' (and which Milton Babbit had independently already formulated). Extending the ideas of the Second Viennese School, and particularly those of Webern, the rules of the 12-tone system were developed by equivalents to cover not just pitch but all aspects of music - rhythm, dynamics and instrumentation. Messiaen had already applied such ideas to rhythm (by adding or removing fractional values) but not in a serial context, while Varèse and his follower Jolivet had added irrational smaller units of rhythm. Having already abandoned time-signatures in the Piano Sonata No.1 (1946), which is typically built on motivic cells of ideas, Boulez started to apply 12-tone ideas to rhythmic concepts in a serial frame in the Piano Sonata No.2 (1948) and then in the rhythmically very unsettled Livre pour quatuor (Quartet-Book, 1948-1949), now withdrawn and revised as the haunting, distant and dense Livre pour cordes (Strings-Book, 1968). But it was with Polyphonie X (1951) for eighteen instruments, with its extreme leaps of register, its inexorable logic and its clarity of texture, and with Structures Ia (1951-1952) for two pianos, that he applied analogous principles to dynamics and timbre as well as rhythm, thus achieving a total system control over the material. Among those immediately influenced by these works were Berio, Cage, Pousseur and Stockhausen - all of whom soon found the strict application of total serialism too restricting, and adapted some of the techniques thus learned to the development of the avant-garde, or combined them with other concepts, particularly, in the case of Cage and Stockhausen, chance happening (the antithesis of total serialism).

Boulez himself relented from such absolute strictures in what has become his best known work, considered by many to be his masterpiece. Le marteau sans maître (The Hammer Unmastered) (1953-1955) for contralto, alto flute, viola, guitar, vibraphone, xylorimba and percussion, sets three poems by René Char, and intersperses them with musical commentaries on those poems using associated material (preceding and succeeding the actual songs). The resultant sense of strong structure, together with the clarity of the instrumental writing, pointillistic in feel (developing the lead of Varèse and Webern), is arresting and compelling. Its effect is heightened by a basic opposition between the sensuality of the surrealist poetry, supported by a rich and sometimes exotic feel to the instrumental timbre, and the intellectual incisiveness of the technique and structure. Boulez had already set René Char in two works using chorus, both of which have complicated histories in which their current versions reflect the additions and changes in Boulez's style since their original inception. Le soleil des eaux (The Sun of the Waters, originally incidental music, 1948, versions 1950 and 1958, final version 1965) for soprano, chorus and orchestra sets two allusive poems that use two of the images of the stage-play: a lizard in love, complaining of man's destruction, and the river as a metaphor for nature and life, the soloist predominant in the first, the chorus in the second. The cantata Le visage nuptial (The Nuptual Countance for chamber ensemble, 1946, version 1951, current version 1988-1989) for soprano, contralto, women's chorus and orchestra is Boulez's choral masterpiece. The poem, in five sections, deals with the erotic experience in dense language and imagery, and the antecedents of both text and music are to be found in the rich, allusive, luxuriant styles of Expressionist Vienna. It is a heady work, ceaselessly shifting, effusive were it not for the sense of order weaving through the intensity; Boulez produces restless but sometimes lyrical layers requiring extraordinary virtuosity from all the performers. This fantastically rich web almost becomes too much - the moments of respite are brief, but sometimes magical, as in the end of the third song - though just as a surfeit seems to have arrived a change of pulse underlies the penultimate section, giving respite. Throughout, one feels that every strand of this dense and complex work has purpose and integrity, doubtless the result of over four decades of work. Both text and music are not easy to absorb, but this cantata is a culmination of a line that looks back through the vocal works of Berg to the earlier, sensuous Schoenberg, but has arrived at the late 20th century.

After Le marteau sans maître, Boulez next started to apply some of the freedoms he found in the poems of Mallarmé to his music in the effort to develop and broaden the intellectual techniques which power his music (a continuous feature of his output). Notable among these was the concept of interchangeability of sections (otherwise known as `open form'), and the concept of continual transformation within self-contained forms (for Mallarmé notably the sonnet) - all of which presumably contributes to the officially unfinished character of so many of Boulez's works. Boulez initially tried a musical equivalent in the Piano Sonata No.3 (1957, discussed below), but it is in Pli selon pli (Fold upon Fold, 1957-1962, but with some sections now existing in different versions and revisions) for soprano and orchestra that the tribute to Mallarmé is overt. Centred on three Improvisations sur Mallarmé (which transcribe elements of sonnet form, with indeterminacy in the third), the potential aridity of serialism is countered by the allusive writing, with constantly changing timbres and colours, some of which are intended to be symbolic. The opposition here is between those inner sections with complete settings of Mallarmé texts to chamber forces, and the outer sections where only fragments are set with complete orchestra, the music contributing the rest of the whole. The transference of poetic structures into music was further explored in cumming is der dichter (unfinished, 1970-) a setting of birds (here invented) for sixteen voices and twenty-four instruments.

The importance of timbre in Boulez's work, the extension of controlled but durationally undetermined events, as well as the synthesis of different works, was further demonstrated in Éclat (meaning both `burst' and `glitter', 1964-1965) for two keyboards, three strings, four winds and percussion, which exists as an independent piece or as the opening of the unfinished Éclat-Multiples. With a polarity between those instruments that have a quick decay of sound (playing in the foreground as soloists), and those that are more sonorous (providing the background), its colours do shimmer in changing textures of light, enhanced by bursts where the conductor, at moments of his or her own choosing, requires the orchestra to respond with a burst of sound. The unfinished (but playable) Multiples (1974-) exists only in conjunction with the earlier score, adds nine violas and a basset horn, and provides a further opposition, its more continuous lines and sonorous textures retrospectively highlighting what has already been heard.

But his most immediate work of the 1960s and 1970s was Rituel, (1974-1975, in memoriam Bruno Maderna), for eight groups of instrumentalists and nine percussionists. As the title would suggest, the sense of ritual, with insistent percussion and an atmosphere of the blocks of sound suggesting the Far-Eastern processional, is paramount, enhanced both by the sometimes exotic spotlighting of colour and the extremely effective structure. It is divided into fifteen parts, which alternate between very slow (controlled by the conductor over freer percussion) and moderately slow (more improvisatory, with the conductor setting events in motion). At each section (until section 13) the duration gets longer and more forces are added; after section 15, the entire process is reversed (in retrogression). Rituel has affinities with the ritualistic insistency of the music of Varèse, and in its vivid sense of colour and its instrumental transparency is probably the most approachable work for those unfamiliar with the music of Boulez. Manipulation of short sections is also found in Domaines (1968) for clarinet and twenty-one instruments, where the order in which the twelve sections are to be played is first chosen by the conductor, and then by the soloist. Messagesquisse (1976) for seven cellos (with one in a solo role) emerged as a more conventional if till compelling work, unfolding with beautiful formal logic from an opening statement of six notes (based on the surname of Paul Sacher, the dedicatee), moving through very fast, eliding variations, to a solo cadenza and a final coda. There is even a suggestion of an underlying key (E flat), though the work is in no way tonal. The equally effective Notations (1978) for orchestra is a reworking of four pieces from an early piano work, Twelve Notations (1945); short but densely packed, they are almost raunchy in feel.

Following the foundation of IRCAM (see below), Boulez has further extended the parameters of his technique. The major work to emerge has been Répons (1980-, again incomplete, and currently in three sections). The expansion in means has been the addition of transforming electronics and the importance of spatial effect, and again there is a basic opposition of textural concept. Six soloists (piano, organ, harp, cimbalom and tuned percussion) are spaced around the hall, and they are electronically modified, by pre-set programmes, both timbrally and spatially into shimmering sounds. Against them are an ensemble of twenty-four players, their unmodified writing particular and detailed.

The three piano sonatas are regularly encountered (at least in reference if not in performance). The short two-movement Piano Sonata No.1 (1946) shows the influence of Webern, but the Piano Sonata No.2 (1947-1948) - which at one point quotes from Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata - is one of the seminal works of the period. Extremely virtuosic, its material is again developed from melodic cells, its rhythmic complexities regularly preclude a sense of metre, and it also takes advantage of the sounds of the release and decay (rather than just the playing) of notes, while the third movement shows another characteristic of Boulez - the continual presence of a particular interval, here major 2nds. The structure of the Piano Sonata No.3 (1956-57) of which two movements of the projected five have been released (it is rumoured that the other three were complete by 1959) derives from a Mallarmé poem designed to look like a constellation. In the poem the reader can move from place to place in the constellation; so in the sonata, whose Constellation-Mirror is in two forms (forward and retrograde), while the whole extant piece can also be played in retrograde.

Boulez's particular genius has not just been to emerge as the most prominent and most influential innovator of total serialism and its subsequent (less purist) evolution and development, but also to produce music of striking power and effect that goes considerably beyond the intellectual rigour of the theoretical conception. A number of characteristics seem to be responsible. The parameters are almost always controlled, and when aleatory elements start to appear in his work, they are within a basis of pre-setting in the overall structure. Crucial to many works is a central contrast, often between instrumental forces, which adds another dimension to the serial structures. Above all, there is an instinct for and preoccupation with timbre and colour. This is a fundamentally sensuous instinct, in opposition to the formidable intellectualism of the form and technique. The idiom is extremely difficult for those unused to serial music; but that clash between content and form, that containment of the sensuous by the intellect, is a late twentieth-century version of a basic duality that has imbued all great music. Its absence or imbalance in so many of Boulez's followers is partly responsible for the aridity of so much serial and post-serial music. Its presence in the work of Boulez is partly responsible for the regard in which it is held by other composers, and is why the difficulty of the idiom should not deter anyone who has the least interest in the music of our time.

Amongst Boulez's many conducting activities have been his appointments as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1971-1974) and the New York Philharmonic (1971-1978). Between 1974 and 1977 he set up with government backing the Institut de Récherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. IRCAM has become one of the world centres for new music, and through it Boulez has again influenced or promoted the music of composers of his own generation, including Berio, Birtwistle and Kurtág, as well as a whole new generation.


works include (some incomplete but performable):

- Domaines for clarinet and 21 instruments; Doubles (revised as Figures, doubles, prismes) for orch.; Rituel for orch.

- Répons for six soloists, chamber group, computer tape and live electronics; Dérive for chamber group; Eclat for chamber forces, with additions in Éclat-multiples;...explosante fixe... for various forces; Messagesquisse for solo cello and six other cellos; Polyphonie X for 18 instruments; Livre pour cordes for strings; Sonatine for flute and piano

- 3 piano sonatas; Structures I & II for 2 pianos

- Le marteau sans maître for soprano and ensemble or orch.; Pli selon pli for soprano and various forces; Le soleil des eaux for various voices and orchestra (in 4 different versions); Le visage nuptial for soprano, contralto, female voices and orch. (originally 2 soloists, 2 ondes martenot, piano and percussion); cummings is der dichter for chamber chorus and orch.; Étude sur sept sons for tape


recommended works:

Éclats-Multiples (1965-)

Le marteau sans maître (1955)

Piano Sonata No.2 (1947-1948)

Pli selon pli (19570)

Répons (1981-1982)

Rituel (1974-1975)

Le visage nuptial (1946-1989) for soprano, contralto, women's chorus and orchestra



P. Boulez Boulez on music today trans. S. Bradshaw & R.R. Bennett, 1971

Conversations with Célestin Deliège trans. E. Wangermée, 1976

Orientations: collected writings trans. J.-J. Nattier, 1986

ed. W. Glock Pierre Boulez - A Symposium, 1986

P. Griffiths Boulez, 1978

Joan Peyser Composer, Conductor, Enigma, 1976

P.F. Stacey Boulez and the Modern Concept, 1987


CANTELOUBE de Malaret, (Marie) Joseph

born 21st October 1879 at Annonay (Ardèche)

died 4th November 1957 at Grigny


Canteloube is almost entirely known for one set of works, which have become world famous and a staple of the vocal repertoire. They are the Chants d'Auvergne (Songs of the Auvergne) published in five sets (1924,1924,1927,1930,1955), which are arrangements of folk-songs collected from 1900 onwards in the region between the Dordogne and the Rhône. The involved and very beautiful orchestration (started, so it is said, after he arranged a song he had heard in 1900 while travelling in a train 23 years later!) is so extensive that, apart from the melodies and the words, these are essentially original works. He uses a large Romantic orchestra, often pulling out solo or groups of instruments against a general background, favouring the upper woodwind to give a country feel and as a colour device to point up the expressiveness or the humour of the songs, which are in the original dialect. The results are sometimes delicate, sometimes Impressionistically languid, usually rich in changing colours, careful to echo the modal nature of the original songs, though sometimes, where appropriate, chromatic in harmony. As much as anyone, Canteloube succeeded in reflecting the varying moods of a rural countryside, using the songs as his medium, and his orchestration as his means. He also collected songs from other parts of France (the collection Chants de France is sometimes heard), and edited French-Canadian songs. His two operas (one on a rural theme, the other a patriotic portrait of the Gaul leader Vercingetorix), were performed at the Paris Opera, but failed to enter the repertoire.


works include:

- Lauriers and Vers la princesse lointaine for orch.; Piéces Françaises for piano and orch.; Poème for violin and orch.

- Dans la montagne for violin and piano; Rustiques for oboe, clarinet and bassoon

- folksong arrangements Chants d'Augoumois, Chants d'Auvergne and Chants de France; Au printemps (To spring), Eglogue d'automne (Autumn elegy) and Triptyque for voice and orch.; Colloque sentimentale for voices and string quartet; song cycle L'Arade

- operas Le Mas (The Farmhouse), Vercingétorix


recommended works:

Songs of the Auvergne (1924-1955)



born 25 June 1860 at Dieuze (nr. Nancy)

died 18th February 1956 at Paris


Although he lived until the age of 95, Gustave Charpentier (not to be confused either with the famous opera composer of the 17th century, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, or Jacques Charpentier, born 1933) is chiefly known for one work completed in 1900. The opera Louise, regularly revived and with one very famous aria (Depuis le jour) deserves a place in any survey of 20th-century music, for if its musical idiom has shades of Massenet, Wagner, and Italian verismo, its plot (which shocked early audiences), its philosophical attitude, and its essentially ordinary story were distinctly modern, making it a transitional work. The autobiographical story (very rare in opera) is set among the proletariat of Paris (vividly portrayed), and revolves around the generation-gap between the seamstress Louise and her parents, and her leaving home to live with (not marry) the poet Julien. The resulting conflicts and morals are those that have preoccupied the century ever since; the almost incestuous love of the father for the daughter is also a contemporary theme. The opera moves from realism to a symbolic fantasy in its central two acts (Alma Mahler called Charpentier "the first surrealist") and back to naturalism again, and is more effective on stage than in broadcast or recording. If an autobiographical opera was rare, life reflecting opera was even rarer, for in 1902 Charpentier founded the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson, which for 35 years gave Paris seamstresses the opportunity for (free) musical training. In 1913 the successor to Louise, Julien, ou La vie du poète was staged at the Opéra-Comique with some success, but has been neglected ever since. Charpentier produced little else, and eventually became a recluse; his picturesque orchestral suite Impressions of Italy (1889-1890) was once popular, but has long disappeared from the repertoire.


works include:

- Impressions d'Italie for orch.

- cantata La vie du poète; Impressions fausses, Poèmes chantées and Sérénade à Watteau for voices and orchestra

- operas Julien and Louise


recommended works:

opera Louise (1900)



F. Andrieux (ed.) Gustave Charpentier: lettres inédites à ses parents, 1984


D'INDY (Paul-Marie-Theodore-) Vincent

born 27th March 1851 at Paris

died 2nd December 1931 at Paris


Outside France, Vincent d'Indy's music is more honoured in the breach than in the observance, his influence and importance to French music universally recognised, his works surprisingly neglected.

Part of the reason is that his compositional career (1870-1931) spans a period of great change in European music; the achievements of the Impressionists in the middle of this period, and of the Parisian circle of younger composers at the end, have overshadowed his personal style, rooted in Romanticism. He was initially influenced by his teacher César Franck, whose ideas were German-orientated rather than French, with emphasis on counterpoint and fugue (and on Franck's instrument, the organ), with the innovation of Franck's own development of the cyclic principle (a recurring motif or idea that appears throughout a piece, linking it structurally), and with an emotional emphasis on the mystical and the luxuriant.

Following visits to Bayreuth, d'Indy became interested in Wagner, the immediate outcome of which was the tone-poem La forêt enchantée (The Enchanted Forest, 1878), a happy and dramatically effective musical painting that is occasionally revived, and whose French aspect is clear from the orchestration, far brighter and clearer than d'Indy's German models - despite the eight harps. Other Wagnerian works included the opera Fervaal (conceived 1878, completed 1897), and if d'Indy's style had been exclusively on these lines, his music would probably be forgotten, especially in the anti-Wagnerian reaction exemplified by the Impressionists.

However, an abiding love of the countryside infected his music, particularly the Vivarais and Cévennes regions (whose folk-songs he collected), tempering the Wagnerian leanings with a light freshness. This is the major element in d'Indy's two most popular works. The lovely and lyrical Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français (Symphony on a French Mountain Song, also known as the Symphonie Cévenole, 1887) has a major role for the piano (integrated into the orchestra, and creating a new departure for French piano concertos). Its individuality, in spite of the echoes of Liszt and Franck, is created both by the folk theme (which links all three movements, perhaps recurring a little too often) and the pastoral atmosphere. Its comparative neglect seems entirely due to the absence of virtuosity in the solo piano part. The large-scale orchestral counterpart is the Jour d'été à la montagne (A Summer's Day on the Mountain, 1905), incorporating Gregorian chant as well as folk themes. The fine Diptyque méditerranéen for orchestra continues this idiom, but is less well-known, perhaps because of its late date (1926).

Of his other works, three in particular stand out. The symphonic variations Istar (1887, later successfully used as a ballet score) are, on a purely emotional level, a marvellous evocation of the Assyrian legend - Romantic in feel, but with some passages almost Impressionistic in the shimmering delicacy of orchestration. On an intellectual level, the variation form is unusual and used with complete command - the variations are in reverse, with the statement of the theme occurring only at the end. The Piano Sonata (1907) is a summation of the Romantic inheritance - a work on the grand scale, the influence of Liszt and Franck evident in the germinal (small cells of material gradually expanded) and cyclical (the third movement rewords material from the other two) structure, with a set of variations as the first movement. The Symphony No.2 (1902-1903) uses similar structural principles, moving in its course from charm to nobility but with an intellectual energy and orchestral clarity that leave Romanticism behind.

The works written after the First World War show a continuance of the move away from the Wagnerian influence, culminating orchestrally in the Concerto for piano, flute, cello and string orchestra (1927), his last orchestral work, with neo-classical elements; there was also much chamber music, notably the String Sextet of 1928. Of his choral works, the dramatic legend Le chant de la cloche (The Song of the Bell, 1883, for soloists, chorus and orchestra) established him as a composer. Once popular, its prologue and seven tableaux hark back to the example of Berlioz as well as Wagner (it is often referred to as an opera; it was produced as such only long after its composition). Of his four actual operas, L'étranger (1903) is based on a story that is a French parallel to Britten's Peter Grimes, while his last opera, La légende de Saint Christophe (1908-1913), although reportedly containing fine music, was damned for its anti-semitism at its first production in 1920.

It is symptomatic of this paradoxical man that while remaining a fervent champion of his master Franck, his editing of the then little-known operas of Monteverdi and Rameau, and of some of Bach's works, wittingly or unwittingly helped to lay the foundation for neo-classicism. Such older music sometimes influences his own (e.g. Chansons et danses for seven wind instruments, 1899 or the Suite dans le style ancien for two flutes, trumpet and string quartet, 1886). His teaching was hugely influential, especially his co-foundation of the Schola Cantorum (1894), the first modern conservatory whose methods were widely copied elsewhere, aided by his many foreign tours. Among his many accomplishments, he was decorated for bravery in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and was the prompter at the premiere of Bizet's Carmen (1875). He died of a heart attack at the age of 80, at the end of a day working on a book on Wagner's Parsifal.


works include:

- 3 numbered symphonies (No.1 Italienne never published, No.3 Sinfonia brève de bello Gallico [Of the War in Gaul]); Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français (Symphony on a French Mountain Song, also known as the Symphonie Cévenole) for piano and orch.

- concerto for piano, flute and strings

- Diptyque méditerranéen, La forêt enchantée (The Enchanted Forest), Istar, Jour d'été sur la montagne (A Summer's Day on the Mountain), La poème des rivages, Saugefleure, Souvenirs and Wallenstein Trilogy for orch.

- Suite dans le style ancien for 2 flutes, trumpet and string quartet; cello sonata; violin sonata; trio for clarinet, cello and piano; piano trio; piano quartet; 3 string quartets; piano quintet; string sextet and other chamber music

- piano sonata; Helvetica for piano and other piano music

- Le chant de la cloche (The Song of the Bell) for soloists, chorus and orch.; choral works; songs; folk-song arrangements; comic opera Attendez-moi sous l'orme (Wait for Me Under the Elm-Tree)

- operas L'étranger (The Stranger), Fervaal, La lègende de Saint Christophe, La rêve de Cinyras (The Dream of Cinyras)


recommended works:

Concerto for Piano, Flute and Strings op.89 (1926)

La forêt enchanté op.8 for orchestra (1878)

symphonic variations Istar op.42 (1896)

Jour d'été à la montagne op.61 for orchestra (1905)

Piano Sonata op.63 (1907)

Symphony No.2 (1902-1903)

Symphony on a French Mountain Song op.26 (1886) for piano and orchestra



L. Vallas Vincent D'Indy Paris, vol.1 1946, vol.2 1950 (in French)


DEBUSSY (Achille-) Claude

born 22nd August 1862 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

died 25th March 1918 at Paris


Debussy is perhaps the seminal composer of the 20th century, whose influence has pervaded much of the rest of the century's serious music. That influence has been more insidious and less spectacular than that of Schoenberg, less clearly traceable than that of Webern, more self-effacing than that of Stravinsky. But his aesthetic was a more complete break with Romanticism than that of the Second Viennese school, and his harmonic solutions have proved as durable and as relevant as those of the Serialists; the style known as Impressionism has continued to recur as a stylistic element; the concept of the movement in stasis obliquely led to the work of such composers as Cage, and, eventually, to the Minimalists; the ballet Jeux is a distant herald of Boulez and Stockhausen; and the suggestions of neo-classicism that appeared in his later works, although he was not the only composer of the time to utilize them, helped pave the way for the neo-classical movement. Moreover, and to a greater extent than any of the other major composers of the 20th century, his music appealed to a very wide general audience, and continues to do so.

His compositions can be roughly divided into three periods. In the first he developed his aesthetic and formulated the characteristic colours and idioms, culminating in the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1902). With La mer (1903-1905) for orchestra, that development reached maturity, and the works of the decade 1894-1905 are both the best-known and the ones most associated with Impressionism. With the stage mystery Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911) and Jeux (1912-1913) he initiated a final, more rarefied phase. His revolutionary reaction to Romanticism was to absolve music of the necessity of thematic development to create forward motion and form. Thematic development had been the basis of all 19th-century music, had impelled the works of such contemporary composers as Mahler, and was, in altered form, to continue to underlie the practices of the 12-tone composers, surviving, of course, as a major musical element to this day. In its place Debussy evolved more improvisatory forms, often of short duration, in which there is an underlying static quality overlaid by metamorphosis of detail and colour. These are less suited to the traditional genres of the symphony or the concerto, which is why neither of these appear in Debussy's canon, apart from a youthful symphony. It is this reconception of the way music may have motion that led eventually to Cage, and by another path, to the Minimalists; a variant of this way of thinking was also adopted in 1911 by Schoenberg in his concept of Klangfarbenmelodie.

At the same time, the traditional notions of harmony (which during the 19th century had been inseparable from thematic development, even when the rules of harmony had been stretched to the breaking point by ever-increasing chromaticism) were both unsuited to this conception and (from a very early age) outside Debussy's aesthetic. His solution was less radical than that of atonalism or 12-tone techniques, but no less influential: to turn to the old Gregorian church modes, and to the whole-tone scale, both of which avoid traditional harmonic implications, and which give much of Debussy's music its individual cast. In particular, he adapted from early music the notion of organum, two identical lines of music moving together a given interval apart (often thirds or fifths) creating a parallel motion that emphasises the horizontal rather than the vertical; this particular effect has found widespread use in later 20th-century music, perhaps aurally most obvious in the work of Vaughan Williams. Part of the popular appeal of Debussy's music is that this did not lead to dissonance; rather he preferred a juxtaposition of consonant ideas and this method of construction - introducing a new consonant layer over another already in progress - adds to the static qualities.

This evolution of ideas also placed more emphasis on orchestral or instrumental colour. In the absence of traditional harmonic development, the interplay of texture and timbre, the details of the entire orchestral palette, the subtle changing shades and inflections, themselves create an element of momentum and change. Consequently Debussy developed the minutiae of orchestration, using the orchestra in a manner comparable to brush-strokes in painting, from a broad wash, through the sharpness of a dab of brass, the points of light from the woodwind, a fluttering figuration for the flutes, to the characteristic brightness of edging from a harp or tuned percussion. These details, individually often of short duration, are combined and juxtaposed to create the larger orchestral canvas. Similarly, in his piano music he emphasized the subtleties of colour, pedalling, expression and touch.

All these solutions had been influenced by two experiences. The first was his stay in Russia (1890) as pianist to Madame von Meck (Tchaikovsky's patron), where he discovered in the music of Mussorgsky (1839-1881) an earlier attempt to break away from traditional forms, and a close musical correspondence with the context of texts in word-setting, as well as the influence of Russian Orthodox music. The second was his encounter with oriental culture at the Paris World Fair of 1889, and especially with Balinese gamelan music, which is built on movement through stasis (and was to reappear as an important influence in Western music after 1945), and which showed the possibilities of new textural colours.

The term `Impressionist' has usually been applied to Debussy, and has been the subject of academic (if not popular) controversy, usually from commentators unable or unwilling to place Debussy's music in a wider cultural and artistic context. The term is less appropriate in his earlier works, as he was developing his idiom; the expression `Symbolist' (which has also been applied to Debussy) is here more applicable, and works such as Prélude à `L'aprés-midi d'un faune' (1894) or Pelléas et Mélisande have affinities with such artists as Beardsley. But in the central period of the best-known works, the techniques do parallel those of the Impressionist painters. Points of light and colour, individually insubstantial and without sharp delineation except in the larger context, combine to create light and shade, momentum, the subtleties of impressions, and, together, that larger context. Similarly, the overview of a Debussy work or an Impressionist painting is often static; the momentum is created internally and thus self-contained by the interplay of the details.

But much more important than these technical similarities is the perception of the world that Impressionism represents. In place of dramatic, programmatic or symbolic content, or a view of nature that sought to mirror the nature of man, the Impressionists sought to show how a single still view, often of something perfectly ordinary (be it of a landscape or a portrait) could contain a multitude of impressions that affect the viewer and contain their own momentum. The result is not only contemplative and essentially passive, but acknowledges an affinity with all the natural elements of the still view, rather than using them as a mirror to man; it is also an attempt to reconnect with the natural world from a largely urban base that seemed to have lost such contemplation. This is precisely the perspective that Debussy, friend of painters and poets as much as musicians, himself adopted (and with a similar desire for the natural in one who, living almost entirely in the city, had to create it internally: Debussy, composer of La mer, had never experienced the sea beyond the beach and a cross-Channel ferry-ride). It is profoundly different from the main thrust of music at the time, which was increasingly expressing heightened and more complex conflicts of internal psychology, a trend that was continued in the work of the atonal and 12-tone composers. Thus through this very different response to, and view of, the world around, Debussy achieved a break with late Romanticism. The later Debussy works move on to embrace other, new angles of perspective; but so then do the visual works that evolved out of Impressionism.

Although Debussy's maturity as a composer is often dated from the Prélude à `L-après-midi d'un faune' (1892-1894) for orchestra, the impulse to express the ingenuous pictorial essence (rather than any Romantic internal state) is already observable in the charming and unpretentious Petite suite (1889) for two pianos, most familiar in its orchestral version, and which has something in common with the pictorial reveries of the Spaniard Albéniz. A Wagnerian element pervades some of the earlier songs (discussed below), but it was the String Quartet (1893) that first brought Debussy to the attention of the musical world of Paris. The form still follows the models of the French tradition of César Franck (with a cyclical structure, a germinal theme appearing in different guises in each of the four movements), but there is a fluidity of movement, with constant changes of shades of mood, an oriental influence in the scherzo (recalling the contemporary French literary Orientalism) and a stillness in the slow movement of this alluring, sometimes yearning, sometimes nervously energetic, often sinuous work. Prélude à 'L-après-midi d'un faune', perhaps Debussy's best known work, is based on a poem about the nature of dreams and reality by Mallarmé, though it is more an expression of the moods of the poem - languor, sensuousness, dreamy longing - than of its content. The limpid flute, cascades from the harp, a solo violin, are typical Debussy colours, the dreamy stillness of the mood - even the central dance turns back on itself - a typical Debussy atmosphere, though the melodic elements are not as fragmentary as his middle works, and there are both French and Wagnerian influences. Apart from its atmospheric allure, its appeal lies in its completeness; it seems exactly to contain what it should, no more, no less. The three Nocturnes (1897-1899, but reworking material conceived earlier) for orchestra hover between Symbolist and Impressionist palettes, with a central dance, sometimes of vivid realism (including the echo of a drum and bugle band), being flanked by first an Impressionist orchestral evocation of clouds and the interplay of light, and second the shifting swells and arabesques of the final Sirènes, with its wordless female chorus based on but two notes a tone apart.

With La mer (1903-1905) for orchestra the development of Nocturnes is fulfilled (it actually quotes a phrase from the earlier work). One of Debussy's best-loved works, and one of the most successful translations of the ocean into music, it has an element of symphonic construction in its three movements, but this evocation of the sea and its moods (rather than a pictorial description) is built on wisps of harmony and fleeting rhythmic ideas. The main emphasis falls on the vivid detailed orchestration, with constant shades of nuance, and on a rhythmic heave and flow; momentum without going in any direction, the satisfaction of arriving in much the same place while having experienced the essence of that place. Of the three pieces that form Images (1908-1912, not to be confused with the piano sets of the same name) for orchestra, the most popular is the central Iberia, with its Spanish atmosphere again an imaginary evocation of received impressions (for Debussy visited Spain for the total time of but a couple of hours). Itself in three parts, it is most often heard alone rather than in the context of the suite, and ranges from vivid poster paint colours and Spanish rhythms and melodic ideas to a more nocturnal mood. But in Images Debussy is already moving away from the `Impressionist' style, when layering an independent foreground of lithe woodwind against an underbelly of slow orchestral swell behind (a technique brought to fruition by Britten); in the sometimes almost mechanistic ostinati of Iberia; in the unusual rhythmic dance effects of Rondes de printemps (with prominent timpani), and especially in the more open, lean orchestral sound and the use of a Scottish folk-song in the Gigue which starts the set, but which was written last.

The thinning out of Debussy's idiom was heralded by the incidental music to Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911), now most likely to be encountered in the suite of symphonic fragments (arranged, it is believed, by André Caplet) or in a concert oratorio version retaining the choruses and songs and linked by a connecting text. The influence of church modes is immediately evident, with the use of parallel fifths, but it is combined with a restrained languor, a Mediterranean sensuousness, and thinner orchestral palette that aims for long melodic lines of single colours rather than the detail of earlier works, and adds a darker drama. Debussy had stripped down his aesthetic, and in doing so, made it more direct. In the ballet Jeux (Game, 1912 - the original ballet was set on a tennis court), the earlier Symbolism seems almost to return, using a construction of contrasting short sections or blocks, whose juxtaposition creates the momentum but which are linked by harmony or common intervals. Its extraordinary opening, with ostinato fragments and bare percussion, seems to leap two or more decades; if the subsequent music is not so startling, it nonetheless has a new sense of poise and motion (still with a sinuous touch) through the use of fragmentary motifs whose logic avoids all traditional progressions. Jeux has always rightly been a seminal work for the Debussy connoisseur, if less encountered on the popular platform.

Late in his life Debussy returned to chamber music, planning a set of six sonatas, of which only three were completed, in intended imitation of 18th-century French music. The return to traditional structures brings with it not only an element of formality, as in the very opening of the Cello Sonata (1915), which is tinged with the tragedy of the First World War, but also a concentration on the purely abstract qualities of the music, and in particular - and this is the strength of these late works - a leanness in which every note carries weight. In the central slow section of the Cello Sonata there is a suggestion of the rhythmic irregularity, the deconstruction and juxtaposition of material that was to be pursued later in the century. The Violin Sonata (1916-1917), better known because of its brighter and more flowing lyricism, explores the shades of colour of the string instrument. The most appealing of these sonatas is, though, the Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915), in which some of the Mediterranean nuance of colour achieves a richness of texture through the barest of means. The earlier Syrinx (1913) for solo flute has a haunting mixture of Celtic mysticism and Dionysian sensuousness; much 20th-century flute music has been under its shadow.

Although the piano pieces are often heard individually in recital, their full effect is only appreciated when they are played in the sets to which they belong - apart, of course, from such self-contained works as L'isle joyeuse (1904), the first of Debussy's piano works to embrace the virtuoso expression of light and water, probably influenced by Ravel's Jeux d'eau. While individual pieces conjure up some particular atmosphere or scene usually in an almost improvisatory way, the careful architecture, created by the juxtaposition and order of small pieces, is only revealed over the longer span of the sets, even if Debussy himself disapproved of playing the Préludes complete. The Suite bergamasque (1890, revised 1905) anticipates neo-classicism in some of its echoes of the age of Couperin, but the third of its four pieces, Clair de lune, dreamy, nebulous, eventually rippling with a nocturnal sparkle, has become one of his most famous works. The title is from a poem by Verlaine, set the following year in the first set of te galantes (discussed below). The two sets of Images totalling six pieces (1905 and 1907) should not be confused with the orchestral suite of the same name, and there is also an originally unpublished 1894 set of three similarly-titled pieces. Images are perhaps the most obviously Impressionistic of the piano works, with the typical evocation of light and shade on water and its eddying motion (Reflets dans l'eau [Reflections on the Water] or Poisson d'or [Goldfish]), or the light of the moon.

The two books of Préludes (1909-1910, 1912-1913, each of twelve preludes) vary from the mysterious atmosphere-painting of La Cathédral engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) to more abstract evocations such as Les tierces alternées (Alternating Thirds). Showing Debussy's wide range of affinities and pianistic moods, they embrace visual scenes (mists, dead leaves, winds), places (with the Spanish element of the Alhambra, Egypt, the hills of Anacapri), or people and dances (Delphic and Shakespearean), ending with fireworks. But even in the more obviously extrovert works, there is a feeling of the music being garnered from the wind, spun out on the keyboard, and released to the wind again, a triumph of instinct, judgement and technique. There are structural connections between the pieces (for example, the basic tonality of C and the thirds connecting the first and the eleventh pieces of Book II). Their sense of the wash of impressions is reinforced by Debussy putting the titles at the end of each piece, rather than the beginning, as if saying: gain your own impressions, your own undercurrent of reaction, and then see the source of inspiration. The Études (1915) are the summit of Debussy's pianistic art. Evocative titles are now dropped; instead the twelve pieces divided into two books have titles reflecting technical musical aspects (for example Pour les sonorités opposées [On opposed sonorities]). The intention is by no means solely to provide some practical pianistic manual; rather it is Debussy's own exploration in a series of miniatures of the possibilities he has reached on his favourite instrument. The first book has an almost spartan quality, the studies concentrating on sureness of technique, except for the last flowing fantasy Pour les huit doigts (For the eight fingers), while the second set more explores shades of touch and colour, all from the minimum of basic material. Mention should also be made of the ever-popular Children's Corner (1906-1908), a suite of six innocent and delightful pieces written for his daughter, including the Golliwog's Cake-Walk, its rollicking jazz rhythm delighting children, the satire on Wagner (it quotes Tristan) entertaining adults. One of his finest late compositions is also little known, mainly because it is written for two pianos, four hands: the three movement suite En blanc et noir (In White and Black, 1915). There is enough characteristic phrasing to be instantly recognizable as Debussy, but it is combined with a simplification of colour, a rarification of idiom (the two pianos provide a spatial atmosphere rather than being used to double the potential), a formality of overall outline, and a willingness to veer into unexpected directions, be they jaunty or tumultuous. At times it sounds like music written entirely to satisfy an interior whim, without notion of audience.

Debussy's contribution to the revival of French song, as a genre in its own right rather than following German models, is considerable. All are for voice and piano, although the Trois ballades de Villon (1910) were also arranged for voice and orchestra. Besides the many early songs, some of which are only now coming to light and which show the shadow of Massenet, the song cycle Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire (1885-1888) still has touches of Wagner in the melodic lines and in the emotions, but also a restraint and close integration between singing line and piano that was to become characteristic. Ariettes oubliées (1887-1889), to words by Verlaine, one of Debussy's favourite poets, has a similar influence in the through composition, rather than an internal division in the songs into the traditional three parts. But the next Verlaine settings, Trois mélodies (1891), are far more lithe, with loose flowing vocal lines, rippling piano arpeggios, and shifting consonant harmonies. Conventional song structures, based on verse forms, are now almost completely dissolved in favour of following the essence of the words. Verlaine was also the poet for the two sets of Fêtes galantes (1891 and 1904), which follow similar lines, though the first are more delicate and direct (especially in the piano writing), the second more divergent and confident in its effects, especially in the swell and nebulous piano fragmentation of La faune. The Trois ballades de Villon (1910) throw the emphasis on the free vocal lines, with restrained and clear-cut piano writing, capturing something of the dichotomy between the outward naïveté and the hidden complexity of Villon's verse, and with a peasant loveliness in the final song extolling the superiority of the Paris women, or rather their nagging tongues. Debussy's last song-cycle, Trois poèmes de Mallarmé (1915) is lyrical and restrained, almost pessimistic in tone.

The opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1902), a virtual word for word setting of the symbolist play by Maeterlinck, is spellbinding. It treats what might be described as an episode from some heroic and legendary story with resonances of Arthurian legend, not in the grand manner, but as an interior and intimate drama, centred not so much on the inevitability of fate but more on the appropriateness of synchronous actions. There is an ethereal quality throughout the score (which discreetly uses recurring motifs), but also an astonishingly close correspondence between the vocal line and the words (a correspondence also found in Debussy's songs), and in particular between the music and the emotional content of the words, blurring any distinction between recitative and aria. This creates vocal lines that sound spontaneous and natural, and aids the very strong portrayal of the characters. The story itself (and such was its symbolist intent) operates in short scenes on the level of subconscious empathy rather than surface action, in spite of the vivid naturalness of some of its dialogue, and is open to Jungian interpretation. It is this layer, without a wide range of orchestral colour but with a richness and consistency of subdued texture, as well as his compassion for the characters, that Debussy's allusive and elusive score so amplifies in slowly evolving detail. The aura of innocence removes it far from Expressionist angst (the anguish and anger of the betrayed husband Golaud is all too directly expressed), and all these qualities made the opera both remarkable and widely influential when it appeared, but almost impossible to imitate, and its tone has since perhaps only been matched by Bártok's Bluebeard's Castle. Debussy also worked for many years on a second opera, based on Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher; he never completed it, but enough has remained for others to put what remains in performable order, suggesting a dark oppressive drama.


works include:

- Images; March écossaise, La mer; Nocturnes, Printemps, Prélude a `L'après-midi d'un faune' for orch.; Dances sacrée et danse profane for harp and strings; Fantaisie for piano and orch.; Rhapsodie for alto saxophone and orch. (or piano); Première rhapsodie for clarinet and orch. (or piano)

- Syrinx for solo flute; cello sonata; Petit pièce for clarinet and piano; violin sonata; sonata for flute, viola and harp; string quartet

- Berceuse héroique, suite Children's Corner, D'un cahier d'esquisses, Estampes, Études, Hommage à Haydn; Images (two sets), L'isle joyeuse, The little Nigar, Masques, La plus que lent, suite Pour le piano, Préludes (two books), Six épigraphes antiques, and Suite bergamasque for piano; Marche écossaise, Petite suite and Six épigraphes antiques for piano, four hands; En blanc et noir and Lindaraja for two pianos

- song cycles with piano Ariettes oubliées, Chansons de Bilitis, Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire, Fêtes galantes (two sets); Le promenoir des deux amants, Proses lyriques, Trois ballades de Villon (also orchestrated version), Trois chansons de France, Trois mélodies and Trois poèmes de Mallarmé

- La demoiselle élue for soprano, women's voices and orch.; L'enfant prodigue for 3 soloists and orch.; Invocation for men's voices and orch.; Salut printemps for women's voices and orch.; Trois chansons de Charles d'Orléans for chorus

- ballets La boîte à joujou, Khamma and Jeux; incidental music to Le martyre de Saint Sébastien; operas The Fall of the House of Usher (incomplete) and Pelléas et Mélisande


recommended works:

All of Debussy's works are recommended. A sensible introduction to Debussy is through Prélude à `L'après-midi d'un faune' (1892-1894) for orchestra, La mer (1903-1905) and some of the earlier piano music, such as L'isle joyeuse (1904) or the Images for piano (1095 and 1907). Those familiar with the popular works of Debussy might consider turning to the more rigorous late works, and the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1902)..



C.Debussy Debussy on Music, 1976

M. Dietschy A Portrait of Debussy, 1990

E.Lockspeiser Debussy, 1962-1965


DUKAS Paul Abraham

born 1st October 1865 at Paris

died 17th May 1935 at Paris


For many years Dukas has been known by a single work, albeit one of the most popular in the orchestral repertoire. But recently the real value of his very limited output (the complete list is given below) has begun to reach wider audiences. One of the most fastidious and private of composers, he is known to have destroyed much of his unpublished and unperformed work before his death, including three incomplete operas and a symphony - a great loss.

His first success (after being a fellow pupil of Debussy), was Polyeucte - Ouverture pour la tragédie de Corneille (Overture to the Tragedy by Corneille, 1891) whose successful and seamless five-part structure, allied to a general Wagnerian wash with a lovely and nostalgic slow ending, reflects his lengthy studies of Classical composers - pleasant, if unstartling music. The Symphony in C major (1896) is more individual, equally skilfully crafted, and indebted to Beethoven.

In 1897 appeared Dukas' most famous work, L'apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice). This brilliant scherzo, one of the most graphic tone-poems ever written, conjuring up both the actions of the story and the feelings of the unfortunate apprentice, is based on a monologue by Goethe, describing the apprentice attempting - disastrously - to use magic to do his chores for him. Particularly brilliant is the sharp, rich and yet crystal clear orchestration, with the enchanted broom splitting into two on clarinet and bassoon, and the gripping depiction of movement through rhythm. It was equally brilliantly set to cartoon (with Mickey Mouse as the apprentice) in Walt Disney's Fantasia, ensuring its world-wide popularity. It also caught the attention of younger composers at the time of its composition, for its absence of Wagnerian influence (it is much more akin to contemporary Russian tone-poems), for its orchestration, and for the harmonic devices.

But L'apprenti sorcier is not entirely characteristic of Dukas' concerns, which were more with the problems of large-scale musical architecture, as in his best-known piano work, the wide-ranging Variations, interlude et final sur un thème de Rameau (c.1899-1902). His other major surviving work, the opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (Ariane and Bluebeard, 1899-1906), seems to be regaining some of the attention it deserves. It also uses variation technique, usually associated with operas later in the century. Maeterlinck's reworking of the traditional story was unusual for the time, though it now has a contemporary ring. The subject is Ariane herself, who not only rescues Bluebeard, but asserts herself and eventually subdues him, emerging as a modern and undominated woman; the traditional submissive role of women is represented by the other wives, who are not dead, merely imprisoned, but who are too fearful to take the opportunity they are offered at the end to leave. The opera provides not only social comment, but also an allegory of the forces of progression and traditionalism. For this Dukas provided music that sometimes has a Wagnerian grandeur, but also something of the line and atmosphere of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (also to a Maeterlinck text), with whole-tone harmonies - at the name of Mélisande (one of the former wives) Dukas quotes Debussy. It is a compelling score and drama, with a massed chorus of villagers outside the castle walls, and a major and difficult role for the mezzo-soprano heroine.

Dukas' last work, apart from one song and La plainte, au loin, du faune... (1920) for piano, a tribute to Debussy, was the ballet or `poème-dansé' La péri (1911-1912) to which he later added an imposing brass fanfare in a ceremonial style Walton was to emulate. In contrast to the fanfare, the actual ballet, an eastern fairy-tale telling how La péri, guardian of the Lotus of Immortality, wins it back through her dancing when it is taken by King Iskender, is hauntingly atmospheric. Again the orchestration is brilliant and lucid: sections of the orchestra are layered (the flutes and high woodwind sometimes running at a different pace) giving great depth to the rich overall sound. The rhythm and dynamics are extraordinarily fluid. It is perhaps a finer, if not so immediate, achievement than L'apprenti sorcier.

Dukas was active as a critic, and one of the editors of the complete editions of Rameau and François Couperin, and taught at the Paris Conservatoire, Messiaen being the most notable of his pupils. Privately, Dukas was also known for his extensive collection of pornographic pictures.


works include: (complete list of known works):

- symphony

- early overtures Götz von Berlichingen and King Lear; L'apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) and overture Polyeucte for orch.

- Villanelle for horn and piano (also orchestrated)

- piano sonata; La plainte, au loin, du faune..., Prélude élégiaque and Variations, interlude et final sur un thème de Rameau for piano

- Sonnet de Ronsard and Vocalise for voice and piano; unpublished cantatas Hymne au soleil, Sémélé and Velléda

- ballet La péri; opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (Ariane and Bluebeard)


recommended works:

opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (1899-1906)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (L'apprenti sorcier) (1897) for orchestra

La péri (1912) for orchestra



P. Dukas Écrits sur la musique, 1948 (in French)

G. Favre L'oeuvre de Paul Dukas, 1969 (in French)



born 11 January 1902 at Louviers

died 16th June 1986 at Paris


Duruflé, an organist-composer in the French tradition, only published a handful of works, reflecting his fastidiousness. He is justly known for one work in particular, the Requiem op.9 (completed 1947, for mezzo, bass, organ and orchestra, also version for organ alone). This lovely work takes up the spirit of Fauré's Requiem (both were written in memory of the composer's father), and cloaks it in a late Impressionist hue. It shows the main features of his style - largely gentle, but with more dramatic moments well integrated into the whole. Melodically his idiom is based on Gregorian chants, while employing an orchestral wash of subdued colour, with only limited use of other instrumental touches. The deep sonorities are aided by the use of the organ. The Impressionist harmony uses modal ideas, and aims at a gentle and intimate evocation (the ostinati of the `Sanctus' seem to stand between Impressionism and the Minimalists). A similar combination of Impressionist harmonies and liturgical influence had already surfaced in the Trois danses (Three Dances, 1936) for orchestra. His organ music shows the influence of Tournemire, and is distinguished by its meticulous craftsmanship and by the sense of the self-sufficiency of individual pieces. His style, which first attracted notice in the Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié op.4 (1929), has distinct layers of simultaneous action, usually employing different but related rhythms. In the Scherzo op.2 (1926) the counterpoint leads to a gentle but lively mood, in the chorale variations section of Veni Creator Spiritus, op.4 (1930) to multiple strands of idea. The rhythmic emphasis is even more marked in the elliptical opening of the Prélude et fugue sur le nom Alain op.7 (Prelude and Fugue on the name Alain, 1943), commemorating the organist-composer Alain, and quoting his Litanies - the use of plainsong is also overt. This small body of organ works, so finely crafted, is particularly pleasing.


works include:

- Andante et scherzo and Trois dances for orch.

- Prelude, Recitative and Variations for flute, viola and piano

- Tryptique for piano

- Fugue sur le carillon des heures de la cathédral de Soissons for organ; Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié for organ; Prélude sur l'Introit de l'Epiphanie, Prélude et fugue sur le nom de Alain, Scherzo, Suite (also orchestral version), and Veni, Creator Spiritus for organ

- mass Cum jubilo; Requiem; 4 Motets for unaccompanied choir


recommended works:

complete organ works

Requiem op.9 (1947)



born 22nd January 1916 at Angers


That the music of Henri Dutilleux, so highly regarded by many who have encountered it, has still to reach a wider musical public outside France seems due more to its circumstances than its intrinsic worth or its potential appeal. His style has a more traditional base than that of many of the better known modern French composers, and has therefore attracted less attention, less of the excitement of the new. He has not subscribed to any `school', and like another French composer who has been a major influence on his own work, Roussel, he has been something of an isolated figure. In addition, his output has been limited to a handful of works (nine major scores in 40 years), less a reflection of his numerous other activities as teacher and administrator than of his extreme fastidiousness, which has included the suppression of his earlier scores.

Orchestral writing (non-programmatic, but usually with a poetic subtitle) has dominated his output. The most obvious characteristic is the mastery and brilliance of the orchestration, from the glowing textures of the Symphony No.1 (1949-1951) onwards. Typically he subdivides the orchestra into small units that are either briefly highlighted or act autonomously to generate polyrhythmic and polytonal effects, so that, for example, the strings of Métaboles (Metabolism, 1962-1965) for orchestra are subdivided repeatedly in one of its sections, while the Symphony No.2 `Le double' (The Double, 1956-1959) pits, in concerto grosso fashion, twelve solo players against, and sometimes with, the rest of the orchestra. In non-orchestral works there is a similar preoccupation with expressive colour, so that the String Quartet `Ainsi la nuit' (Thus the Night, 1975-1976) explores every permutation of string colour in seven movements with four `parentheses'. His harmonic language, which has ranged from the obviously tonal (the Piano Sonata, 1947, a well-known piece in France) to a 12-tone idea in one of the sections of Métaboles, always has the feel of a tonal base and, thanks to the clarity of orchestral texture, rarely feels dissonant in spite of the polytonal effects.

As a result, much of the emotional and structural preoccupation is with sonority, and in particular a sense of the opposition of two basic concepts, what one might describe as the still point and the turning world. At times this might be between massed sound and silence, at others between low, held chords and fluttering ideas. His preferred method of musical structure emphasizes these features. In place of the traditional methods of statement and development, he has developed structures that rely on internal metamorphosis, in which individual ideas almost imperceptibly evolve, and the overall pattern is eventually seen to have slowly undergone consistent change. Shorter linked sections that devolve into each other therefore predominate over traditional movements. The origins of this lie in variation technique (used in the Piano Sonata) and allow for a sense of plastic freedom, most clearly seen (as its title would suggest) in Métaboles.

Of the individual works, the rather ineffectual extended melodic lines of the opening of the passacaglia that starts the Symphony No.1, initially tinged with an almost jazzy feel, should not deter listeners from the rest of the work, which is in one continuous flow. For it opens out in tight argument into magical gossamer moments of colour and effect, evolving into more aggressive brass and darker strings with great rhythmic energy reminiscent of Roussel or Walton. The scherzo has a compelling fleetness and vitality, and the whole work impressive power. The Symphony No.2 `Le double' (The Double), with its division of forces and its quasi-variations construction, is less assertive until the finale, but equally effective. Métaboles is perhaps Dutilleux's most characteristic score, the five sections playing continuously, with the third part (`Obsessional') in the cast of a passacaglia, the emotions ranging from a dark mystery to nobility. The orchestral diptych Timbres, espaces, mouvement (1977), subtitled La nuit étoilée (Tone colours, space, movement or The starry night) has brilliant instrumental writing, and is built around the metamorphosis of a single note (G#).

These works show Dutilleux's idiom to be essentially poetic, a musical expression of the deep colours and landscapes of our subconscious, in which changing timbre is always more important than melodic line. Both, however, come to the fore in the two concertos which many may find an appealing approach to the composer. However, even in the Cello Concerto (as it seems to be universally known, though correctly titled Tout un monde lontain [A whole distant world, 1968-1970, after Baudelaire]) often it is the interaction of the colours of the orchestra and the highly rhapsodic and flowing solo line that is responsible for the effect. It was the cellist Rostropovich's advocacy of this work that introduced Dutilleux to a larger audience, and Isaac Stern has repeated this with the Violin Concerto (1985, subtitled L'arbre des songes), a less lyrical, more brittle work with a close dialogue between orchestra and soloist (whose virtuoso material at times seems almost discursive), leaping melodic phrases, sharp instrumental colours (including a piano), and nervous intensity.

Dutilleux was director of singing at the Paris Opéra in 1942, joined French Radio in 1943, becoming director of music productions 1945-1963, and professor of composition, first at the École Normale de Musique in 1961, then at the Paris Conservatoire from 1970.


works include:

- 2 symphonies; cello concerto (Tout un monde lointain); violin concerto (L'arbre des songes)

- Métaboles, Serenade and Timbres, espace, mouvement for orch.

- Chorale, cadence et fugato for trombone and piano; Sarabande et cortège for bassoon and piano; Sonatine for flute and piano; string quartet Ainsi la Nuit (Thus the Night)

- piano sonata, 2 preludes, Résonances and early works for piano; Deux figures de résonances for two pianos

- San Francisco Night, Trois sonnets de Jean Cassou and other songs

- ballet Le loup (The Wolf); incidental music


recommended works:

Cello Concerto (Tout un monde lointain) (1968-1970)

Métaboles (1962-1965) for orchestra

Piano Sonata (1947)

Symphony No.1 (1949-1951)

Symphony No.2 (Le double) (1956-1959)

Timbres, espace, mouvement (1977) for orchestra

Violin Concerto (L'arbre des songes) (1985)



P.Mari Henri Dutilleux, Paris, 1973 (in French)


FAURÉ Gabriel (-Urbain)

born 12th May 1845 at Pamiers (Ariège)

died 4th November 1924 at Paris


Although Fauré was 54 when the 19th century turned into the 20th, he was a composer who strode both centuries not only temporally, but also musically, being a traditionalist who nonetheless introduced into his style many elements that were to come to fruition in the following generation of composers. That his music (with the exception of the very popular Requiem) is not more widely known, or his stature more determined, is almost entirely due to his concentration on small-scale forms, the song, of which he is one of the great French masters, piano music and above all chamber music. In addition his relatively small output was constrained by financial obligations to his family - throughout his life he could devote time to composition only in the summer. His art is also one of understatement, the antithesis of display, and appeals more to those who are prepared to explore and share its intimacy. It is no coincidence that Fauré was one of the few composers of his generation who was immune to the spell of Wagner (apart, perhaps, from the Ballade for piano and orchestra, 1881).

His earliest music reflects the Romanticism of his teacher Saint-Saëns, and the Violin Sonata No.1 (1876) has remained popular for its lyricism and the flowing ideas that were to remain a major characteristic. During the last two decades of the 19th century his style matured, adding an assertiveness to the underlying lyricism and introverted grace. The Requiem is the outstanding work of this period. But Fauré's summit of achievement did not come until the 20th century, and especially the last two decades of his life (for he continued to compose masterpieces until his death at the age of 79). Notably in a series of chamber works his expression becomes more refined, more ethereal, tauter and more radiant. His characteristic traits remain: the preference for long melodies that are created from harmonic or rhythmic germ-cells to any sense of variety or vividness of colour, for which Fauré seems to have had less feel than almost any other major composer (one reason why there is so little orchestral music and none for wind); a rhythmic sense that is rarely central to his music and which has sometimes been criticised for monotony; three- or four-movement structures that often include scherzos of Gallic impishness and humour; an essentially diatonic harmonic palette that includes modes inherited from the church music Fauré was accustomed to as a professional organist; and a harmonic freedom created by the naturalness of his technique of very rapid modulations, usually by movement through notes shared by the initial and final key.

The bulk of his output puts the piano in a central position, in the songs (where, in French art song, Fauré gave it a new importance in relationship to the voice), in the solo piano music, and in the chamber music (where the only work not to use piano is the String Quartet, 1923-1924), again helping detail of tone and timbre to offset lack of colour. However, these last works extend the harmony to include elements of dissonance, chromaticism, and whole-tone passages, and the kind of introverted serenity that is the province of only a handful of composers in their old age. Fauré, like Beethoven, had the additional handicap of deafness, which had become serious by 1910.

Of his orchestral music, the masterpiece is the lucid suite op.80 from his incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande (1898), the first musical work based on Maeterlinck's influential play. The suite was formed by Fauré's own orchestration for a large orchestra of his pupil Koechlin's chamber orchestration of the original theatre scoring. Unlike Schoenberg's tone-poem or Debussy's opera on the same subject, it looks back to classical models, and thus forward to the neo-classical movement. The now little-heard Prométhée (1900), originally for three wind bands, 100 strings and twelve harps, together with soloist and choirs, secured Fauré considerable public success. Fauré, always preferring the intimate to the public face of music, destroyed other large-scale works before they were publicly heard or published. However, the suite Masques et bergamasques op.112 (1918-1919) for orchestra and based on incidental music and material from as far back as 1869, again has a strong feel of neo-classicism in its series of entertaining dances and in its light scoring.

However, it is his chamber music, which spanned his entire compositional life and reflects the evolution of his style, where the most rewards are found. The Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor op.15 (1879), probably his best known chamber work, is classical in form, essentially lyrical and graceful, as is the quite often heard Élégie for cello and piano, op.24 (1883). But the beautiful Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor op.45 (1886) is wider ranging in its ideas, more powerful in its impact, with a greater freedom and delight in the manipulation of the material, especially in the sometimes ravishing harmonic changes. There is a similar contrast in the two piano quintets. The Piano Quintet No.1 in D minor op.89 (1887-1905) is more conventional than its successor, the Piano Quintet No.2 in C minor, op.115 (1919-1921). Sustained by its extended formal arguments, this latter quintet has a beautifully carefree and graceful atmosphere, the warmth of a mellow and well-aged wine, as well as breathless and dissonant moments in the scherzo. The two Cello Sonatas (1917 and 1922) and the Piano Trio in D minor (1923) op.120 continue the rarefied and yet lyrical aesthetic. Fauré left writing a string quartet until the very last, at the age of 79. The String Quartet in E minor op.121 (1923-1924) is strong in melodic line, transparent in construction, and has an ethereal quality, as if already lost in some other world. But it seems slightly rough-hewn for Fauré, and indeed he did not live to revise it as he wished.

Much of Fauré's distinctive piano music is grouped into forms (though not content) that evoke the titles of Chopin - the Impromptus, the Barcarolles and the Nocturnes. The attractive Theme and Variations in C sharp minor, op.73 (1897) is quite often encountered, while the later works (the last three Nocturnes, or the later Barcarolles) again show the compression of concept. Many commentators have traced some of the ideas of Impressionism back to Fauré's piano music.

His songs were gathered into three collections published in 1879, 1897 and 1908. With the exception of the settings of Verlaine, for whose poetry Fauré had a particular affinity (e.g. the song cycle Cinq mélodies de Verlaine op.58, 1890), he often chose poetry devoid of obvious musical content or clear description, allowing the piano a greater (sometimes contrasting) role than had been customary. In his earlier song cycles (e.g. La bonne chanson op.61, 1891-1892, also in version for piano, string quartet and double bass) he arranged the chosen poetry into a dramatic progression, emphasising this musically by the use of recurrent themes. His last song cycles (Le jardin clos, op.106, Mirages op.113, and L'horizon chimérique op.118) omit this technique, but show the rarification, and the subtlety of thought and detail, that mark his other later works. His opera Pénélope (1913) is derived from the techniques of song, the drama introverted, theatricality absent. But his best loved work is the Requiem op.48 (1877-c.1890, version for small ensemble 1888-1892, with soprano and baritone, soloists and chorus, full orchestration 1900), written in memory of his father. Its simplicity and purity of beauty, untroubled by any sense of banality or self-consciousness, have exceptional appeal. Of the three versions (with organ, with small instrumental ensemble, with orchestra), that for a small instrumental ensemble (without violins and with divided violas and cellos) perhaps most happily matches the scale, intimacy and lucidity of the writing, from the initial echoes of old church music, the lovely rocking of the Sanctus set against divided strings, some in lilting ostinato, some soaring through the chorus, to its famous close, with the atmosphere of a gentle carol, the organ weaving its own song above, in Paridisum. There is also a version for the smaller orchestral ensemble with two extra movements and two horns added by Fauré in 1893.

Undoubtedly, one of Fauré's greatest legacies was the influence he had through his teaching, and the very French example of his own music, effortless, intimate and yet full of the clarity of light, of grace, of charm, that so contrasted with German models. Among his pupils were Enescu, Koechlin, Ravel, Florent Schmitt, and the most notable teacher of the succeeding generation, Nadia Boulanger. In addition to his posts as organist, he started teaching at the Conservatoire in 1896, and was its director (introducing major reforms) until 1920. Until his death he was a champion of new music, co-founding the Société Nationale de Musique with d'Indy, Lalo, Duparc and Chabrier in 1871, and becoming president of the new Société musicale indépendante in 1909. He was music critic for Le Figaro (1903-1921), fought in the action that raised the siege of Paris in 1870, and was awarded the Grand Croix of the Légion d'honneur in 1920. He edited the complete piano works of Schumann and the organ works of Bach.


works include:

- Ballade and Fantaisie for piano and orch.; (for orchestrations of works for instrument and piano see below); suite Masques et bergamasques; suite from incidental music Pelléas et Mélisande for orch.

- Élégie (also orch.) and Sérénade for cello and piano ; 2 cello sonatas; Fantaisie for flute and piano; Andante for violin and piano (possibly from destroyed violin concerto); Berceuse and Romance for violin and piano (both also orchestrated); 2 violin sonatas; piano trio; 2 piano quartets; string quartet; 2 piano quintets

- piano works including Barcarolles, Impromptus, Nocturnes and Préludes

- song cycles La bonne chanson, La chanson d'Eve, Cinq mélodies `de Venise', L'horizon chimérique, Le jardin clos, Mirages and 60 other songs; Requiem and numerous other choral and vocal works

- lyric tragedy Prométhée; opera Pénélope; `musical comedy' Masques et bergamasques


recommended works:

Barcarolles Nos 1-13 (1880s-1931) for piano

Cello Sonata No.1 in D minor op.109 (1917)

Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor op.117 (1922)

suite Pelléas and Mélisande op.80 (1898) for orchestra

Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor op.15 (1879)

Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor op.45 (1886)

Piano Quintet No.2 in C minor op.115 (1919-1921)

Piano Trio in D minor op.120 (1922-1923)

Requiem op.48 (1887)

Requiem op.48 (1893 version with two extra movements and small orchestra)

Quartet in E minor op.121 (1923-1924)



ed. J.M.Nectoux Gabriel Fauré: his Life through his Letters, 1984

R.Orledge Gabriel Fauré London, 1979



born 23rd May 1912 at Le Mans

died 25th September 1997 at Paris


Jean Françaix is an epitome of a particular French brand of musical expression: an amiable, delicate palette in which emotion is played down in favour of wit and elegance tinged with an amused irony. That his works rarely address deeper understandings (coming closest in the oratorio L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean, 1942) makes him an intrinsically less interesting composer than, for example, his contemporary Poulenc, who was equally capable of creating such Gallic pleasures. Some listeners may therefore find Françaix's music too trite; others may enjoy exactly such an idiom. The Piano Concerto (1936) confirmed the promise of the sparkling Piano Concertino (1932). The concerto is typical of his style, delicate, chamber in feel (in spite of the large orchestra, its size used for shades of colour), and with more of an amiable dialogue between soloist and orchestra than a confrontation. A similar feel - clarity of line and texture, a gentle lyricism, sometimes light-hearted rhythms - are found in other concertante works: the Suite (1934) for violin and orchestra with piquant Stravinskian elements, the Rhapsody (1946) for viola and small wind orchestra with episodes of more sardonic humour, the admired Fantasy (1955, from earlier material) for cello and orchestra, or the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1965). In his large and wide-ranging output, ballet music formed a large proportion of his earlier music, including Scuola di ballo (Ballet School, 1933) which is based on themes by Boccherini (1743-1805) and a story by Goldini. His chamber music includes the happy Wind Quintet (1948), full of lively and expertly crafted writing, especially for the horn, and the very attractive `musical game' Sérénade BEA (1952) for string sextet, commissioned for a beautiful woman named Beatrice.

Françaix was a brilliant pianist, and toured extensively.


works include:

- symphony

- Concerto Grosso; clarinet concerto; double bass concerto; flute concerto; concerto for harpsichord, flute and strings; piano concerto; double piano concerto; Quadruple Concerto for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon and orch.; viola concerto; violin concerto; piano concertino; Divertissement for bassoon and strings; Fantaisie for cello and orch.; Variations de concert for cello and strings; Musique de cour for flute, violin and orch.; Jeu poétique for harp and orch.; Divertimento for horn and orch.; L'horloge de Flore for oboe and strings

- Les bosquets de Cythre, Le Dialogue des Carmélites, La douce France, L'heure du Berger, Hymne Solennel, Thème et variations, La ville mystérieuse and other works for orch.; Cassazione for three orchestras; Quasi Improvisando and Six Préludes for strings

- Suite for solo flute; Mouvement perpetuel for cello and piano; Rhapsodie for viola and wind; Divertissement for oboe, clarinet and bassoon; trio for flute, cello and harp; quartet for cor anglais and strings; saxophone quartet; string quartet; clarinet quintet; wind quintet; Sérénade BEA for string sextet; Nuit for clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quartet; Hommage l'ami Papageno for piano and 10 wind instruments; Danses exotiques for 11 wind instruments and percussion; Quasi Improvvisando for wind ensemble and other chamber music

- piano sonata; Danse de trois Arlequins, Eloge de la danse for piano; Danses exotiques for two pianos and other piano music

- oratorio L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean; songs and choral works

- ballets Les camalais, La dame dans la lune, Les damoiselles de la nuit, Le jeu sentimental, Le jugement d'un fou, La Lutherie enchantée, Les malheures de Sophie, Le Roi Midas, Le Roi nu, Scuola di ballo, Verrières de Venise and Les zigues de Mars

- operas L'apostrophe, La main de gloire, Paris nous deux, La princesse de Clèves; chamber opera Le diable boiteux; film scores


recommended works:

Concertino (1932) for piano and orchestra

Piano Concerto (1936)

`musical game' Sérénade BEA (1952) for string sextet

Wind Quintet (1948)



D. Ewen Françaix


HENRY Pierre

born 9th December 1927 at Paris


Pierre Henry was a pioneer and leading exponent of the musique-concrète movement, exploring electronic composition through the manipulation of acoustic, non-electronic sounds. After studying with Messiaen and Nadia Boulanger, he collaborated in 1949 with Pierre Schaeffer in the first musique-concrète experiments at the Experimental Division of the French Broadcasting Network, becoming the head of the Research Group (1950). He left in 1958 to set up his own studio, the Studio Apsome. In his earliest pieces (for example the Concerto des ambiguïtés, 1950) atonal techniques were modified by electronic distortions to tempo, pitch, and timbre. With Bidule en nuit (1950) and Symphonie pour un homme seul (Symphony for a man alone, 1950), both developed with Schaeffer, this developed into a purely electronic language, in which the material is based either on sounds electronically generated or non-musical sound sources electronically manipulated. The intention was to liberate music from conventional, inherited notions, and to evolve a musical language more in keeping with the realities of contemporary existence. The results were almost totally divorced from the accepted musical sounds or forms (other than the necessity of organising material within time limits), and favoured low-pitched electronic sonorities. With a series of ballet works for the choreographer Maurice Béjart, following their meeting in 1955, Henry's abstract vocabulary was modified into an almost pictorial expression of clear programmatic content. Some of these ballets use purely electronically-generated sounds (Le voyage, 1962, concert version 1963), some concrète sounds (the creaking door in Variations pour une porte et un soupir [Variations for a door and a sigh, 1963], others more recognizable musical elements (pop music in the Messe pour le temps présent [Mass for the present time], 1967). Le voyage, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is perhaps the most remarkable of these, following the journey of the soul on the death of a man; the wind that comes with death, the extra-worldly light and darkness, and the fear and the final dissolution described in the text are highly suited to electronic realisation, and Henry's score is vivid, descriptive, and sometimes genuinely frightening. Its construction and metaphysics are perhaps influenced by Messiaen. The slow immobility of La noire à soixante (1961), later combined with the extreme quasi-speaking techniques of a manipulated voice of Granulométrie (1968), admirably illustrate concrète techniques and include a humorous element, but are of limited aural interest when divorced from a visual context. Henry's later music has extended the scale of these programmatic stage-orientated works into larger spectacles, with extensive lighting and stage effects, and includes a re-exploration of the `noise-makers' invented by the Futurists in the 1920s in Futuristie I (1975), and the ballet Nijinsky, clown de Dieu (Nijinsky, Clown of God, 1971). But it is the earliest works, pioneering electronic music, that are of the most interest and of historical importance, while Le voyage remains one of the most cogent electronic scores based on an extra-musical programme.


works include:

- electronic Symphonie pour un homme seul (with P.Schaeffer); electronic Concerto des ambiguïtés (1950)

- Bidule en nuit (with P.Schaeffer), Coexistence, Granulométrie and other electronic works

- electronic ballet scores including Haut voltage, Messe pour le temps présent, Nijinsky, clown de Dieu, La noire à soixante, Orphée, La raine vert, Variations pour une porte et un soupir, Le voyage; L'apocalypse de Jean; La messe de Liverpool

- incidental music; many film scores


recommended works:

Concerto des ambiguïtés (1950)

Symphonie pour un homme seul (1950) (with Pierre Schaeffer)

electronic ballet Le voyage (1962)


IBERT Jacques François Antoine

born 15th August 1890 at Paris

died 5th February 1962 at Paris


Although for much of his life Jacques Ibert was mainly involved with opera and incidental music, he is best known for a handful of orchestral and chamber works that have endured in the repertoire. Otherwise his music, full of charm and sparkle and utilizing both Impressionism and neo-classicism, has been largely too shallow in substance to survive. His works usually combine classical forms with bright colours, a poster-paint vivacity, sometimes unexpected harmonies, and a piquant imagination (as in the juxtaposition of the sonorous string tone of the cello against wind instruments in the Concerto for Cello and Wind Instruments, 1925). In the Suite Élizabéthaine (1944) for solo voice, chorus and orchestra, he utilized music from the English Elizabethan composers, while the ballet Diane de Poitiers (1933-1934) expands Renaissance dances into primary colours and a lively joie-de-vivre. His best-known work is probably the Divertissement (1930) for chamber orchestra, witty, fun and colourful, and originally written to accompany Labiche's celebrated farce, The Italian Straw Hat. It includes musical jokes, from a policeman's whistle and jazz to a parody of Mendelssohn's Wedding March. There is an element here of the French tradition stemming from the delightful humour of Offenbach, as there is in Angélique (1926), the best known of his seven operas, including two written in collaboration with Honegger. The symphonic suite Escales (Ports of Call, 1922), evoking the atmosphere of three Mediterranean ports, was once very popular, while the entertaining Trois pièces brèves (1930) are often encountered in wind quintet recitals. The lively Concertino de camera (1935) for alto saxophone and eleven instruments makes full use of the potential of the instrument, but his most successful concerto is the Flute Concerto (1934). It typifies much of Ibert's idiom: a classical three-movement structure, a strong lyrical sense made to feel elliptical by the harmonies, a sense of pleasure and of fun, and sometimes a feeling at the end of a passage that for all the facility nothing memorable has been said. Nonetheless, this is a warm and charming work, an important contribution to a limited repertoire. Ibert was director of the French Academy in Rome (1937-1955, except for the war years), and director of the Paris Opéra and the Opéra Comique from 1955 to 1957.


works include:

- Sinfonia concertante for oboe and orch.; concerto for cello and wind instruments; flute concerto; piano concerto

- La Ballade de la geôle de Reading (The Ballad of Reading Jail), Donogoo, Escales, Jeux, Paris and Suite Élizabéthaine for orch.; Divertissement for chamber orch.

- trio for violin, cello and harp; string quartet; Trois pièces brèves for wind quintet; Capriccio for ten instruments

- song cycle Chansons de Don Quichotte ad other vocal works

- ballets Diane de Poitiers; operas Angélique, Gonzague, On ne seurait penser tout, Persée et Andromède and Le Roi d'Yvetot; radio opera Barbe-Bleu; operas in collaboration with Honegger L'Aiglon and Les Petits Cardinal


recommended works:

La Ballade de la geôle de Reading (1922) for orchestra

Flute Concerto (1934)

Divertissement (1930)

Trois pièces brèves (1930) for wind quintet



G. Michael Jacques Ibert 1967 (in French)



born 8th August 1905 at Paris

died 20th December 1974 at Paris


In the last few years Jolivet's music has made something of a comeback outside his native France, where he has always been highly regarded. In 1936, in reaction to the intellectual experimentation - especially neo-classicism - of contemporary French composers and of Stravinsky, he formed La Jeune France with the composers Baudrier, Lesur, and Messiaen, to promote their own ideas and compositions. Subsequently his idiom consistently attempted to return music to its antecedents as a reflection of the spirituality of humankind, as ritual and sacrament, through a language that gradually moved further and further away from a tonal base but without strict serial techniques. He achieved this through primitive ritual, incantation, an interest in exotic and ancient musics, and the use of Pythagorean number ratios and the `golden section'. Prominent in his idiom is the use of percussion (which he learnt from studies with Varèse, 1930-1933) and a strong melodic interest.

However, ritual was not apparent in his earliest works. In the uncompromising String Quartet (1934), written under the influence of Varèse, dissonances and harmonic conjunctions destroy traditional tonality, and it was followed by the earnest but lovely Andante for strings (1934). But with Mana (1935 - Mana refers to the spirit of fetishes), six piano pieces based on objects given to him by Varèse, Cinq incantations for flute (1936) and the Dance rituelles (1939, orchestrated 1940-1941) the ritual element was established. The effective Dances rituelles perhaps inevitably have echoes of the ritualistic works of the Impressionists and of the Stravinsky of the Rite of Spring, but clothed in thick orchestral textures, an uneasy harmonic sense (mitigated by the melodiousness), primitive dance rhythms, and with the tone of the flute, so appropriate to a sense of ancient music and ritual and prominent in many of Jolivet's works. The heady atmosphere of ancient religious ceremony and music from other cultures is most overt in the Suite delphique (1943), whose twelve instruments include the ondes martenot and percussion instruments (to make such sounds as that of baying dogs). Its exoticism, created by unusual rhythms, eastern harmonic effects and melodies, is blended with a sense of traditional tonality and a feel of the convocation of traditions.

But with the exhilarating and dissonant Piano Sonata No.1 (1945, dedicated to the memory of Bartók), and the Ondes martenot Concerto (1947), the first of the fourteen concertos that form the core of his music, usually with technically difficult solo parts, he submerged the more overt aspects of ritualism and exoticism into a broader language. Those aspects are retained in a sense of the dance, and especially in a feeling that the music reflects a spontaneous expression of the human spirit; one of the results is that the shifting harmonies and dissonances, and the increasing use of percussion and unusual percussive/rhythmic effects are more obvious, as they are no longer so clearly connected to exotic borrowings or ancient ritualism. Gradually they become more violent.

This new direction was signalled in the Concertino for trumpet, piano and strings (1948, numbered as the Trumpet Concerto No.1), in which Jolivet tries to merge a spontaneous flowing feel (with jazz influences and some dizzy dissonant sections) to a neo-classical base - with its echoes of the first piano concerto of Shostakovich - in an entertaining if light-weight piece. The Flute Concerto No.1 (1949, for flute and strings), is also an attractive neo-classical work, with a florid solo part. A third concerto in a popular idiom was the Trumpet Concerto No.2 (1954), with echoes of jazz and Stravinsky.

Of more substance, and the work that brought Jolivet international prominence, was the large Piano Concerto (1950). It opens with an ostinato piano against African-style drumming and Arabic woodwind, progressing to shades of Bartók and hints of Ravel. Heavily orchestrated sections, emphasising woodwind and percussion in snatched phrases, contrast with passages for piano and single instruments or exposed percussion. The first movement is supposed to evoke Africa, the second the Far East, the third Polynesia. It caused quite a furore when it appeared. It is well worth hearing, though its constantly shifting elements, including three separate batteries of percussion, crowd out an overall sense of unity. The eclectic abandon of this work (more commonly associated with young composers than one of 45) is present in the much more effective Symphony No.1 (1953), whose four movements develop by the opposition of ideas rather than classical development. Again a fusion of the Occidental and the Oriental, it has a steamy and sensual slow movement followed by an other-worldly allegro full of ostinati.

With the raucous Symphony No.2 (1959) Jolivet attempted a synthesis of serial and modal music, and of melodic continuity and restless rhythm, although interrupted by characteristic violent outbreaks. The most difficult of the symphonies, Symphony No.3, (1964) is also the finest. There is a battery of twenty-four percussion instruments, and the predominant language is violent and dissonant, with massed timbres. The sense of a tonal base is almost, though not quite, extinguished, but underlying it is the pounding of an elemental ritual. In the sombre Cello Concerto No.1 (1962), the lyric flow and harmonic insecurity are predominant, with a restrained orchestra (that nonetheless employs twenty-two percussion instruments), and a striking second movement of cello against revolving percussion. The similarly rhapsodic Cello Concerto No.2 (1966), with a very difficult solo part written for Rostropovich, uses only strings (with a solo quintet).

Of his chamber music, a special place is given to the flute, and his music is often encountered in flute recitals, especially the Cinq incantations (1936) and Ascèses I (1967, for various flute types played solo). Among his vocal music is the large-scale oratorio La vérité de Jeanne (The Truth of Joan, 1956), written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Joan of Arc's death, and the appealing Epithalame (1953), a `vocal symphony' for twelve voices with an incantatory feel.

Jolivet's place in the music of the 20th century is difficult to establish, as is his appeal. Most readers should find merit in the earlier ritual works, and entertainment in the two trumpet and second flute concertos, and a rugged interest in the first cello concerto. Those prepared to accept the violence of the language - and the easiest way to do this is to accept some primordial miasma as the spiritual source of the music - will find the later works of interest, but lacking that complete individuality which was always threatening to emerge. His techniques of blending other types of music with an essentially tonal base is of interest to an age that is searching for new ways to extend traditional patterns of harmony while rejecting 12-tone techniques and the avant-garde experiments that followed.

Jolivet was director of music at the Comédie Français (1943-1959 - his only opera, Dolorès ou Le miracle de la femme laide [Dolores or The miracle of the ugly woman, 1942] is an opera bouffe), was the founder of the Centre Français d'Humanisme Musical at Aix-en-Provence (1959), and taught at the Paris Conservatoire (1966-1970).


works include:

- 3 numbered symphonies; Symphonie des danses; vocal symphony Epithalame

- concerto for bassoon, harp, piano and strings; 2 cello concertos; ; concerto for flute and strings (Flute Concerto No.1); concerto for flute and percussion (Flute Concerto No.2); concerto for harp and chamber orch.; ondes martenon concerto; piano concerto; concerto for soprano and orchestra (Songe à nouveau rêvé, The Dream once more dreamt); trumpet concerto (Trumpet Concerto No.2); 2 violin concertos; concertino for trumpet, piano and strings (Trumpet Concerto No.1)

- Cinq danses rituelles (Five Ritual Dances, also piano version), Cosmogonie (also piano version) and other works for orch.

- Andante and Adagio for strings; Twelve Inventions for wind quintet, trumpet, trombone, and string quintet; Suite Delphique for 12 instruments

- Cinq incantations for solo flute; flute sonata; flute and cello sonatina; oboe and bassoon sonatina; Suite en concert for flute and 4 percussion; Cérémonial, Homage à Varèse for 6 percussion and other chamber works; Rhapsodie à 7 for wind and string septet

- Cinq danses rituelles (Five Ritual Dances, also orchestra version), Cosmogonie (also orchestra version), Mana, 2 sonatas, and other works for piano

- Hymne à l'univers (Hymn to the Universe) and Mandala for organ

- oratorio La vérité de Jean (The Truth of Joan) and other vocal works; song cycles

- ballets Ariadne, Guignol et Pandore, L'inconnue (The Unknown Woman), Marines and Les quatres vérités

- operas Bogomil (unfinished) and Dolorès ou Le miracle de la femme laide (Dolores or the ugly woman's miracle); 2 marionette plays

- large output of incidental and music for educational use


recommended works:-

Andante for String Orchestra (1934)

Ascèses for solo flute (1967)

Cello Concerto No.1 (1962)

Cello Concerto No.2 (1966)

Dances rituelles (1939, orch.1940-1941) for orchestra

vocal symphony Ephithalame (1953)

Flute concerto (1949

Cinq incantations for solo flute (1936)

Piano Sonata No.1 (1945)

Suite delphique (1942) for chamber ensemble

Symphony No.3 (1964)

Trumpet Concerto No.2 (1954)



H.Jolivet Avec André Jolivet, 1978



born 27th November 1867 at Paris

died 31st December 1950 at Le Canadel


The music of Charles Koechlin is currently something of an enigma. His very large output (some 350 works, and over 225 opus numbers) includes almost every idiom except stage works (with one exception), but he has been chiefly remembered as a famous teacher (his pupils included Milhaud and Poulenc), and as a considerable theorist and writer on music. Part of the neglect of his music was due to his reluctance to publish or perform his compositions. However, there are signs that his work is currently undergoing a general re-evaluation, and readers may expect to encounter relatively more of his works than has been the case.

Like his teacher and mentor Fauré, his early reputation was based on his songs and his choral music, and of all Koechlin's output it is the songs that are currently the most likely to be heard. The earliest songs belong to Romanticism, but the precise clarity of the first two sets of Rondels (op.1 and op.8, 1890-1895) herald later developments in French music. These settings, of poems by Théodore de Banville that anthropomorphize nature, are very attractive and very direct, from the metronomic regularity of the accompaniment to L'hiver op.8 No.2 (Winter) that is merely an icicle phrase running up and down, to the lyric freedom of Le thé op.1 No.3 with its delicate rippling accompaniments. By 1905 he had started to use a subdued polytonality in his songs (influencing such French composers as Milhaud).

Koechlin's harmonic idioms are as eclectic as the inspiration for his works, which are almost invariably extra-musical. They range from elements of Impressionism to polytonality, moments of atonality and the use of modes or polymodality that, in conjunction with a pleasure in counterpoint, give an archaic feel to a modern idiom. Often there is a tint of exoticism to the melodic line. Similarly his aesthetic ranges from the subdued Germanic Romanticism and modal scales of the rather attractive Ballade op.50 (1919) for piano and orchestra, whose overall effect does not match the interest of some of the details, to the neo-classicism of the Partita (1945) for chamber orchestra, echoing the stately dances of the time of Louis XIV, pleasant but unremarkable. Koechlin had a reputation for mastery of orchestration. Of the orchestral works, the most widely known is the cycle of symphonic poems on Kipling's Jungle Book (1899-1940; the first is for soloists, chorus and orchestra). Of these, Les Bandar-Log parodies the techniques of Debussy, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, but transforms each parody into personal music.

Koechlin was also noted in France for his choral music, which left behind the choral conventions of the 19th century; here his use of modal ideas and chant-like melodies is most marked. Among these is the large-scale L'Abbaye (The Abbey, 1899-1908), a `religious suite' in two parts. The chamber music most often encountered includes an attractive but lugubrious six-movement Wind Quintet op.165 (1943), and cello, violin and viola sonatas. Apart from his own film music, Koechlin was also fascinated by film stars, reflected in another work occasionally encountered, the Seven Stars Symphony op.132 (1933) - less a symphony than seven unrelated tone portraits of seven film stars, in a contemplative style rather than brash Hollywood pictures, and using a wide range of harmonic devices as well as the ondes martenot, of which Koechlin was one of the early exponents. It is a strange work, from the Impressionistic and oriental sinuousness of `Douglas Fairbanks' to the lengthy final portrait of Chaplin, integrating jerky ideas reminiscent of piano accompaniments to silent films. But again, if there are some pleasant touches (such as the appearance of the ondes martenot in `Greta Garbo') and the portraits are clear enough, the Seven Stars Symphony seems uninspired and uninspiring, its gestures conventional and unmemorable.

Even more curious is the final song cycle Sept chansons pour Gladys op.151 (1935), which celebrates the film star Lilian Harvey (he also wrote 113 short piano pieces in her honour). A strange juxtaposition of contemplative music and semi-serious words (undifferentiating between real and screen presence), its long vocal lines have an archaic quality that recall sad southern troubadour's songs, perhaps unwittingly expressing that confusion of object-worship of the heroine that was one of the essences of the cinema. Quite apart from the curiosity of the subject-matter and the words, this is a tender, gentle and very French song-cycle, rhythmically almost improvisatory, its tone that of contemplative love songs, even if in idiom they could have been written two decades earlier. Indeed, much of Koechlin's music seems to have had a luminous and contemplative feel, combined with what a number of commentators have suggested are moments of brilliant academicism. There have recently been strong claims for the quality of Koechlin's works; perhaps as more of them emerge from obscurity those claims will be justified. Currently, the songs apart, such claims seem exaggerated, as so often happens when the works of an eccentric composer are re-examined. Koechlin was co-founder of the Société Musicale Indépendante in 1909, and, as a supporter of communism, president of the Fédération Musicale Populaire from 1937.


works include (over 225 opus numbers: those marked are based on Kipling's Jungle Book):

- 2 numbered symphonies; Symphony of Hymns; Seven Stars Symphony

- En mer la nuit, Les bandar-Log, Le buisson ardent, La course de printemps, Études antiques, Le forêt, Les heures persanes, La loi de la jungle, La méditation de Purun, Nuit de Walpurgis classique, Rhapsodie sur des chansons françaises and Les Saisons for orch.; Partita for chamber orch.

- Ballade for piano and orch.; sonatas for bassoon; cello; clarinet; flute; horn; oboe; violin; and viola and other works for solo instrument and piano; sonata for two flutes; trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon; 3 string quartets; piano quintet; wind septet Ancienne maison de campagne, Douze petites pièces, Paysages et marines, Portrait of Daisy Hamilton and other works for piano; Sonatines françaises for piano duet

- Trois poèmes for soloists, chorus and orch.; Night Song of the Jungle for contralto, bass and women's chorus; The Seal's Lullaby for mezzo and woman's chorus; Song of Kala Nag for tenor solo and tenor chorus

- ballet La Divine Vesprée; `biblical pastoral' Jacob chez Laban


recommended works:

song cycle Chansons pour Gladys op.151 (1935)

song cycles Rondels opp.1 & 8 (1890/1895)

symphonic cycle Jungle Book (1926-1940)



R.Orledge Charles Koechlin (1867-1950): His Life and Works, London, 1990



born 18th February 1915 at Pont L'Abbé (Finistère)

died 23rd December 1999


The grandson of the French violinist-composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881), and the son of the sculptor Paul Landowski, Marcel Landowski has been an important figure in French administrative musical circles, but his own work, essentially conservative in idiom, has suffered from the French vogue for the avant-garde and for serialism. He himself was involved for many years in academic arguments over the merits of respective schools, although he later supported all forms of contemporary music when appointed music director at the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 1966. He once tongue-in-cheek described his music as "Centre-Right".

Within conventional forms, his music is characterised by a strict, sometimes over-meticulous sense of logic supported by powerful rhythmic momentum. In the symphonies and concertos the intention is the disciplined depiction of powerful human emotions; there is little improvisatory feel, the harmonic language is rarely dissonant, and slow movements are lyrical. His orchestration creates dense soundscapes with broad changes of sometimes unusual colour; a favourite device is a strong contrast between themes that involve brighter, fast-moving material against slower, grander ideas. His symphonies display a powerful sense of purpose, with philosophical inspirations. The most immediate is perhaps the Symphony No.1 `Jean de la peur' (1949), with an atmospheric opening where bright, twittering and insistent ostinati are pitted against broader ideas that gradually become more noble, with a rugged momentum. It ends with a solo bassoon, answered by the woodwind that open a dance movement that turns grand, almost sinister. The final movement is dominated by a dark chorale, and eventually the opening ostinati return at a slower pace to close a most effective work. The Symphony No.3 `Des espaces' (1965) is in two movements, less arresting than it predecessor, somewhat turbulent, but the progression equally vital as it works towards a joyous close. The Symphony No.4 (1988) in five movements emerges as a deliberate return to the large post-Romantic symphony (there are moments reminiscent of the Vaughan Williams of the early 1950s, and a feeling of the continuation of the heritage of Honegger), and the elements of more modern sound world (such as the percussion in the furious second movement) are integrated into this general cast. It has another magical opening, contrasting the hushed and the grand, the former picked up and elaborated in the third movement. The fourth movement is full of bell sounds (it is titled `Les cloches de Bruges'); the broad final movement is the weakest part of the symphony until a turbulent passage evolves into calm and then triumph and calm again. Such attempts using an out-moded idiom usually fail (they lack the immediacy of their models), but the urgent vitality of this symphony, its beautifully layered orchestration, and its ability to change focus or open out into broad melody, make it much more effective than similar works from such composers as Tubin or Lloyd.

These orchestral works have a strong sense of atmosphere, but it is as a vocal composer that Landowski has shown a particularly powerful voice. His masterpiece is the three-act opera Le fou (The Madman, 1955-1956), which as music-drama was ahead of its time, and today probably seems more apposite than when it was written. The libretto by the composer combines the kind of half-mythical, half-imaginary setting at which opera excels: a state at war, in ruins, and about to be defeated. The time is not specified; indeed, it could be any time. The central character, the scientist Peter Bel, has invented a nuclear device. He knows that it can save his country. He also knows what it will do to humankind, and the opera is the story of his internal struggle between these two pulls. He refuses to divulge his secrets, and dies in his refusal. This intentionally abstract background is divided into a number of layers, including Paul's internal torment reflected in voices and distant chorus, the wasteland and depravity of the ruined town and its despairing people, and between them the archetypal figures of those who organize and rule: the Prince, Paul's wife, and the Prince's hard-line official. The musical idiom is founded on a spartan tonal lyricism, dark in its colours, but heavily attenuated by colouristic and expressive effects: percussion, vocal techniques from Sprechgesang to high, flowing anguished lines, and especially electronic effects (one of the first operas to use them). The ondes martenot is included in the orchestra, and the chilling opening to the second scene in the ruined city is set against tape. All these musical devices, from the conventional to the more unusual, are used to underline and expand the actual text, to considerable effect. With its central moral messages and its exploration of loyalty and betrayal and the responsibility of the scientist, it seems surprising that this powerful piece of music-theatre is not better known.

The Messe de l'aurore (Dawn Mass, 1977) for tenor, soprano, bass, chorus and orchestra, was written for the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Orchestre de Paris, for which Landowski was responsible. It sets poems by Pierre Emmanuel that parallel the movements of the Catholic Mass with more universal spiritual ideas, packed with imagery. Landowski's settings are equally dense, making the work seem over-heavy (in part from the lack of strong contrasts between sections in both music and words), but it has an insistent fervour, with the ondes martenot adding other-worldly effects at important moments, and is worth hearing. Among his more recent works are a pair of effective song-cycles written for the singer, Galina Vishnievskaya, and her husband, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Un enfant appelle (A Child is Calling, 1979) for soprano, cello and orchestra, is actually subtitled a `concerto-cantata', and in it the cello solo parts, though infrequent, do comment and add another emotional layer. Landowski had attempted such a fusion of genres earlier, in Le rire de Nils Halerius (1944-1948), whose first act is an opera, the second a ballet, and the third an oratorio; the combination can be performed in sequence, or each Act performed separately. In Un enfant appelle the sense of orchestral layers, observable in Landowski's earlier music, is extended: tense string clusters and double layers of the rhythmic ostinati (moving at different speeds) are added to the approachable but dark idiom, matching the expression of anguish and experience, innocence and its renewal, in the texts. La prison (1981), subtitled an `opera-concerto', is a music theatre piece for soprano, cello and orchestra to a text by the composer. The protagonists are the singer, representing the victim of political oppression and moving from waiting for arrest to interrogation to the prison; the cello, lyrically associated with her happier memories and hopes; and the percussive small orchestra representing Force. It is starkly naturalistic, a portrait of internal aloneness, and most effective, suggesting that his idiom has responded to some of the mainstream developments in European symphonic music.

Landowski was director of the conservatory at Boulogne-sur-Seine (1959-1962), music director at the Comédie Française (1962-1965), and was appointed inspector-general for music education in 1965. His own writings include a book on Honegger (1957).


works include:

- 4 symphonies (No.1 Jean de la peur, No.3 Des espaces)

- bassoon concerto; flute concerto; ondes martenot concerto; 2 piano concertos (No.1 Poème); trumpet concerto

- Edina, L'horloge, L'orage, La passant, Le petit poucet, Trois histoires de la prairie and other orchestral works

- Quatre préludes for percussion and piano; trio for horn, trumpet and piano and other chamber works

- Sonatine and other piano music

- oratorios La quête sans fin and Rhymes du monde; Messe de l'aurore for tenor, soprano, bass, chorus and orch.; cantatas, song cycles and songs; Notes de nuit for children's speaking voices and chamber orch.; `cantata-concerto' Un enfant appelle for soprano, cello and orchestra

- ballet Die Tiefe; opera-ballet-oratorio Le rire de Nils Halerius

- `opera-concerto' La prison for soprano, cello and orchestra

- operas Le Fou and Le ventriloque; `drames lyriques' Les adieux and L'opéra de poussire; incidental music and film scores


recommended works:

opera Le Fou (1955-1956)

`opera-concerto' La prison (1981)

Symphony No.1 (Jean de la Peur) (1949)

Symphony No.4 (1988) (see text)

`cantata-concerto' L'enfant appelle (1978) for soprano, cello and orchestra



A. Gola Marcel Landowski, Paris, 1969 (in French)


MÂCHE François-Bernard

born 4th April 1935 at Clermont-Ferrand


François-Bernard Mâche has concentrated on the mixing of natural sounds from a wide variety of sources, but often including speech, with electronic sounds. From his earliest works, such as Volumes (1960) for chamber orchestra and 12-track tape, he has used electronic means.

A series of works in the 1960s (La peau du silence, 1962-1966, for orchestra, Le son d'une voix, 1964, and Nuit blanche, 1966, for speaker and 2-track tape) used written text by breaking it down into phonemes, and using them as the base material. In the late 1960s he was involved with the Groupe de Researches Musicales of French radio, producing the effective Synergies (1968) for orchestra with tape for the `concert collectif', with low shifting waves of electronic sonorities, that turn to percussive effects, the piece drawing on initial themes and ideas provided by the collective of composers.

Then in 1972 he started a cycle of works entitled Melanesia, reflecting the rituals and myths of Melanesia. The first of these was a tape composition, Agiba (1972), made up entirely of natural sounds, from the elements to animals, and including the sounds of the Southern African Xhosa language, which is full of rhythmic clicking. The second, Kowar (1972) for harpsichord and tape, starts with the Xhosa language, overlaid with electronic sounds and joined by the harpsichord, the rhythms of the accompanying sounds matching and emphasizing the natural lie of the speech. Gradually the voice falls away, to be replaced by other natural sounds, bird calls and the noises of pigs, manipulated to maintain the same basic rhythmic feel, eventually leading to a dramatic climax. A Kowar is a New-Guinean container for a skull covered in clay; subsequent works in the cycle referred to other cult skull-objects, including Rambaramb (1972-1973) for piano, orchestra and tape, and Temes Nevinbür (1973) for two pianos, two percussionists and tape. The atmospheric Temes Nevinbür utilizes the deeper sonorities of the two pianos and delicate percussive touches and piano cluster swirls, and the natural sounds are allowed to stand alone, the pianos and percussion providing a contrasting layer rather than pointing up the natural rhythms. In all these works the basis of the tape was drawn from Agiba, and thus they become a kind of variation on a sound-source. Of the further works in the cycle, Le jonc à trois glumes (1974) is for orchestra alone, while Naluan (1974) for piano, chamber ensemble and tape and Maraé (1974) for six percussionists and tape used new taped material.

Of his works without electronics, Canzone II (1963) for brass quintet is Mâche's only serial work, a virtuoso piece of very short contrasting sections that explores various acoustical and mute effects, including the first use of the percussive effect of striking the mouthpiece of the brass instrument. Kemit (1970) for darbouka or zarb solo is a virtuoso percussion transcription of material recorded in Nubia. Of his more recent works, Styx (1984) for two pianos, eight hands, is especially effective in its initial tone-painting, the addition of sonorities to a rippling climax (material then being thrown around between the pianists), its tone-clusters, the suggestions of Minimalist influence, pedal effects and its return to the opening mood.

Mâche graduated in classical literature and Greek archaeology, and has taught contemporary poetry and Greek as well as musical theory.


works include:

- Le jonc à trois glumes and La peau du silence for orch.; Synergies and Volumes for orch. and tape

- Armargos for sea waves and 12 instruments; Maraé (1974) for six percussionists and tape; Naluan (1974) for piano, chamber ensemble and tape; Rambaramb for piano, orch. and tape; Rituel d'Oubli for winds, percussion and tape; Temes Nevinbür for two pianos, two percussionists and tape

- Eridan for string quartet; Canzone II for brass quintet

- Styx for two pianos, eight hands

- Danaé for 12 voices and percussion

- tape Agiba; Nuit blanche for speaker and 2-track tape


recommended works:

Canzone II (1963) for brass quintet

Temes Nevinbür (1973) for two pianos, two percussionists and tape

Styx (1984) for two pianos, eight hands


MESSIAEN Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles

born 10th December 1908 at Avignon

died 28th April 1992 at Paris


When the 20th century is long gone, it may well be that Mahler and Olivier Messiaen will be seen as the colossi of the century, in the same way as Beethoven and Wagner are now viewed. Often vilified, and to this day often misunderstood, Messiaen's music occupies a different plane from every other major 20th-century composer. Its purpose is the glory of creation, and through the creation the glory of God; its theme is the cosmos, and the mysteries of the cosmos, life and death, creation and destruction, the wonder of nature. For Messiaen the theological foundation and the mode of thought for the expression of the cosmos was that of the Catholic Church, not the church of social rules and behaviour, but that closer to the theological and especially the Christian mystic. In the interrelation of man, the cosmos, and God he comes close to Eastern religions, particularly Hindu and Buddhist (as do the Christian mystics), and the language to express his contemplation of these vast philosophical questions was music.

Using this language, Messiaen is one of the most profound spiritual contemplators of any age. His roots in the Catholic church reflect his own geographical sources, and are in one sense incidental to appreciating his work, for the subjects of his spiritual contemplation are universal, and merely given through the particular symbolism of those roots. Necessarily, many of his works are vast in duration and often in scale, the more so because a major component of that cosmic contemplation is the realization that time as we experience it is an illusion of the material (again, in common with much Eastern philosophy), and consequently Messiaen's music increasingly operates on different time-scales than those normally associated with music. This is most obvious in the sense of the static (though it is an inadequate word), without development, for in such a time-scale the ending is contained in the beginning and vice versa.

At the same time, Messiaen was one of the major technical innovators of the 20th century, in part to find the means of expression for this meditation on the cosmos. In this, following Varèse and initially in common with Jolivet (who was associated with Messiaen and others in founding the group `La Jeune France' in 1936), Messiaen was the chief figure in turning French music radically away from the neo-classicism and tradition of charm and often flippancy that had dominated French music between the World Wars. The first innovation was harmonic, in what he termed `modes of limited transposition'. This refers to a mode, or a scale of notes, in which the intervals between the notes are so designed that there are only a limited number of times that the scale can be transposed, maintaining those intervals, before the pitches of the notes are repeated. The obvious example of this is the whole-tone scale, utilized by Debussy but not overtly by Messiaen, of a scale of seven notes, which has an interval of a major second between each note. This Messiaen designated as the `first mode'1. Messiaen designated seven of these modes (the `second mode' could be transposed twice, the third three times, and so on), and they each have the characteristic that they divide the octave symmetrically, but in different places2. Harmonic progression using these limited transpositions and symmetrical shapes creates a very static feel, often moving in block-like fashion; Messiaen used these modes vertically as well as horizontally (i.e. in chord construction as well as melodic series) and they influence Messiaen's distinctive melodic shapes, which may utilize the notes of a particular mode with its intervals. Chords derived from the modes create `added resonance' (Messiaen's `chord of resonance', taken from mode 3, creates a fundamental note and a tower of natural harmonics). When used quietly over another chord or note, or emphatically below, this creates the sense of depth and resonance endemic to Messiaen's style. The soundscapes that such harmonic devices created have been become a normal currency of subsequent 20th-century composition for composers of a wide range of styles and procedures, even though they are rarely arrived at with the systematic technical means used by Messiaen. The second innovation was rhythmic. Messiaen introduced the widespread use of rhythmic patterns based on Eastern musical traditions, particularly those of Indian classical music, where rhythmic events unfold on two simultaneous time-scales, that of a pattern or phrase of beats which is itself repeated in a larger pattern, and those of Balinese gamelan music, with its regular repetitive patterns of irregular rhythms. To this he added the influence of ancient Greek and medieval metres. He also utilized two important rhythmic concepts drawn from the Western tradition. The first was `additive rhythms', in which a rhythmic note or pattern is lengthened by the addition of half its value, and the second `non-retrogradable rhythms' in which a rhythmic idea is symmetrical, and therefore its retrograde is identical. The effect of these techniques is to create continuity of patterns, within which the additive rhythms allow proportional irregularities. Rhythms thus become a systematic element, and Messiaen used them much as he used his harmonic modes; this was of crucial import to the development of music, for it showed such composers as Boulez that the other elements of music could be systematized in the same fashion as harmony, and when this principle was applied using analogies to the 12-tone inheritance of Webern it produced `total serialism'.

Similarly, Messiaen treated colours with the same kind of systematic approach, for of all the musical elements colour was perhaps the most important to Messiaen, and changes of colour take on added significance in musical progression when the harmonic structures are largely static; in this Messiaen had the example of Varèse. Messiaen `saw' colours when he was composing, and timbre and tone-colour, and their combinations, were as crucial as pitch or duration to his idiom.

A major characteristic of Messiaen's music, one so thoroughly explored that it has become virtually impossible for any other composer to emulate it, was the influence and inspiration of bird-song. It fascinated Messiaen from an early age, and provides the basis for much of his melodic ideas throughout his career, and especially in the early 1950s. On a philosophical level, bird-song represents the aspect of the natural in the cosmos, the musical representation of Nature around us. He remains generally true to the originals, transposing them into the range of the instrument sounding them, and mixing their rhythmic patterns with his own rhythmic idiom. Equally important to his overall aesthetic, the organ occupies a central place in Messiaen's output, and he elevated writing for the organ to a position it had not held since the 18th century; before Messiaen organ composers had been peripheral, and organ works in the output of major composers had been equally peripheral. It is impossible to divorce the experience of the organ from Messiaen's entire oeuvre, as they mutually interact. In the organ the spiritual, the religious and the earthly combine on a symbolic as well as musical level. The huge, glorious instruments which Messiaen played have an enormous range of colour and timbral effect, partly explaining his preoccupation with colour. The huge acoustic of the buildings that housed them tends towards the large-scale expression of the vastness of the cosmos, and the tradition of improvisation (continued by Messiaen) influences the element of spontaneity within strict technical parameters that is part of Messiaen's idiom.

All the technical devices, fascinating and influential though they are, are strictly means to the affective end, and knowledge of Messiaen's technique is not necessary to feel the impact of his music. Indeed, there is a completely different way of considering Messiaen's idiom. Messiaen himself said that all his music was influenced by the landscape of the French Alps, and there is a sense that his music is an invocation of the feelings of vastness, impersonal power, unadulterated nature, and an awareness of the spiritual and the scale of the cosmos that many experience when entering mountains. For Messiaen music itself was a means to a non-musical end, the metaphysical, the spiritual and the theological, arrived at through the spiritual and the aural impact.

His output can be divided into fairly distinct periods, though there is a strong continuity of voice throughout. In his works to around 1935 Messiaen forged his idiom, and this period shows lingering traces of his early influences. From 1935 to 1950 he developed the spiritual and religious content, the rhythmic aspects of his music, and the use of large-scale cycles. This period includes a trilogy of works (the song-cycle Harawi, Cinq rechants for chorus, and the Turangalîla-Symphonie; Messiaen called them his `Tristan' triptych, though they were not planned as a trilogy) where the subject is love within the theological cosmos. From 1950 to 1960 he developed the technical aspects of his music (in the early 1950s coming closest to serialism), and this period includes a foray into electronic music, a collaboration with Pierre Henry (Timbres-durées, 1952). Here are also to be found the three works that thoroughly explore the possibilities of bird-song (Réveil des oiseaux and Oiseaux exotiques, both for piano and orchestral forces, and Catalogue d'oiseaux for piano). The works of the 1960s consolidated these technical advances (culminating in La Transfiguration de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ for chorus and orchestra, that heralds his last works). Then from 1970 to his death he wrote four huge works (Des canyons aux étoiles for piano, horn and orchestra, the opera Saint François d'Assise, and the two organ cycles Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte-Trinité and Livre du Saint Sacrement) in which he utilized all his previous experience in a language often more luminous and simplified, though this apparent simplicity is often achieved by elongation of the time-scale of events, stretching out the textures and the rhythmic flow as if in a new dimension. Combined with this is a spiritual understanding that is both more rarefied and more profound in its unity.

Messiaen became organist of St.Trinité in Paris in 1930, and remained there for over 40 years, but already he had written the set of eight Préludes (1928-1929) for piano. These lovely, sometimes mysterious pieces owe something to the piano music of Debussy (and surely the opening two have the potential for an equal popularity, were they better known), but also show unmistakable Messiaen mannerisms. Birdsong is not used directly, but there is a definite suggestion of it in the use of trills and answering calls, and much of the impact of the pieces is achieved through the emphasis on changing colours and sonorities. The hints of exoticism and typical melodic casts of phrase are in part created by the use of modes, and more particularly `modes of limited transposition', which Messiaen here specifically associated with actual colours, and built the juxtapositions of the pieces accordingly (the dominating colours are, apparently, violet, orange and purple). The Préludes make a suitable place for those new to Messiaen to ease into his idiom.

Messiaen's development is most easily followed in the organ works. The Le banquet céleste (1928) occupies a similar place in Messiaen's organ output to that of the Préludes in his piano music, and is an equally good starting point for new listeners, rather than the more conventional Diptyque (1930) for organ. It is a meditation on the Holy Communion, and the slow overall movement, the subtly unfolding swathes of changing colours and timbres, the addition of a high voice with a new layer of colour and short phrases, as if suspended over the general sound, all these were retained throughout Messiaen's organ music. Apparition de l'Eglise Éternelle (Vision of the Church Eternal, 1932) initiates the strand of the revelation of the glorious in Messiaen's organ music. L'Ascension (1932-1933), in four movements, each a meditation on Biblical quotations, was originally written for orchestra, but is much better known in its organ version. The slow, vast textures of its first movement show a typical Messiaen trait, lifting moments of light (by the use of a major chord) from the darkness, and the transcendental last movement (sometimes played on its own, as is the third) has a lucid, magical beauty. It is still a transitional work, the rhythms relatively conventional; the mighty opening of the third movement recalls an earlier French Romantic tradition. In La Nativité du Seigneur (The Birth of Our Lord, 1935) these more conventional elements are discarded. It is cast in nine sections meditating not on the events of Christmas but on the Word of God among humans and the maternity of the Blessed Virgin. Modes of limited transposition and irregular additive rhythms are used, and the rhythms are influenced by his study of classical Indian rhythms. The effect is more ethereal, more haunted, and more personal than L'Ascension, and this cycle is one of Messiaen's best-known works, although it is not as fine as some of his later organ music. Messiaen's third organ cycle, Les corps glorieux (The Bodies in Glory, 1939), subtitled `seven short visions of the Life of the Resurrected', is very wide-ranging in mood, from the delicate wraiths of `L'Ange aux parfums' (`The Angel of the Perfumes') to the titanic `Combat de la Mort et la Vie' (`The Combat between Life and Death'), a section sometimes heard on its own, divided into two moods, the first the gigantic struggle, the second densely meditative.

War interrupted Messiaen's access to the organ from 1941 to 1943, and the next organ work did not appear until 1950. The Messe de la Pentecôte (1949-1950), divided into five sections, started a phase in Messiaen's output where the technical developments were joined with more exotic and programmatic elements. In it Messiaen uses unusually proportioned rhythms (3:2, 5:4) and Hindu rhythms, exotic modes and colours, and unusual, clear-textured colours. The moods are restrained, exploratory, and throughout emulate external, natural sounds: bird calls, drops of water, the fierce wind and the songs of the lark in the closing `sortie'. In the Livre d'Orgue (Organ Book, 1951), perhaps Messiaen's most difficult organ work, he concentrated on the technical aspects of his music rather than the spiritual goal which informs the other organ works (hence the title). The largely abstract sections are the closest Messiaen came to serialism, and only the fourth piece, `Chant d'oiseaux' (`Bird-calls') is deliberately evocative, and even that has an element of the exploration of technique in the integration of this musical source. Then, apart from the Verset pour la Fête de la Dédicace (1960), written as a Conservatory piece, Messiaen wrote no organ music until the huge Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte-Trinité (1969). The thematic basis of this cycle is created by assigning a sound, a pitch, and a duration to each letter of the alphabet, and then building themes from the texts chosen, omitting minor words but using other themes to indicate grammatical contexts. There is a different sense of the overall progression of time to this work, as if working in a different spiritual dimension (most obviously realized in the long held sonorities and chords), and a refinement of his language. The end of the second section has a distillation of his customary delicacy, and the contrasts of the colour-associations, rhythms and dynamics of the different bird-calls in the fourth section represent a summation of this strand in Messiaen's work, matched by the luminosity of the endings to the fifth and eighth sections, a single bird song heard over deep held sonorities, all the world hushed for the one songster. The liturgical and the birdsong, and this new sense of time, were also joined in Messiaen's last and perhaps finest organ work, the Livre du Saint-Sacrement (1984). This huge set of eighteen pieces for organ is divided into three groups - acts of adoration, the Mysteries from Christ's life, and the Blessed Sacraments - and is a major simplification of Messiaen's language, tonally direct, mostly in slow tempi, stunning in its (musically) spare unfolding of the spiritual landscape, from the delicacy of the peace of the desert, through the extraordinary series of great stepping-stone chords to Christ's Resurrection, to the gigantic depiction of the walls of water in the crossing of the Red Sea, mostly peopled with birdsong (of Middle-Eastern birds), but without many of Messiaen's more detailed idiomatic characteristics. As music to transport the listener into a different spiritual realm it is overwhelming.

Messiaen's orchestral works show the same development and stylistic traits as the organ music, and many include the piano as a solo instrument (his second wife was the celebrated pianist Yvonne Loriod). The first orchestral work to achieve international recognition (and controversy) was the massive Turangalîla-Symphonie for piano, ondes martenot and orchestra (1946-1948). The title is a compound Sanskrit word referring to motion - time, rhythm - and action, in terms of all the actions of the cosmos from creation to destruction. The symphony is divided into ten sections, united by four themes that recur; the orchestration gives prominence to the two instruments acting as soloists, the ethereal colours and long lines of the ondes martenot contrasting with the more brittle piano writing, revolving around clusters and bird-song. A large percussion section emphasizes the varied rhythmic effects, and the writing for tuned percussion was influenced by Balinese gamelan music. It presents a sound world unlike any other large-scale orchestral work (though its antecedents come from Varèse), sometimes on a vast scale, more often with individual orchestral components creating a chamber-like atmosphere, ranging in mood from the mystical to the violent. Its rhythms are invariably untraditional and dynamic, pointed by the instrumentation; the ondes martenot weaves a thread of the ethereal, hauntingly beautiful, qualities of love, the brass expresses its physical excitement, and the piano weaves a web between both these extremes. It is music that seems to have lifted away from the earth to occupy some space in the heavens, and it is one of those works to which it is very difficult to remain neutral: it usually provokes either a transcendental experience or deep loathing in its audience.

Réveil des oiseaux (Dawn-chorus, 1953) for piano and orchestra, and Oiseaux exotiques (1955-1956) for piano, eleven wind and six percussionists, turned to detailed exploration of the musical possibilities of bird-song. Réveil des oiseaux opens with lean textures, the different bird calls given to the different instruments in almost pointillistic fashion, the colours sharply contrasted. It then builds into a climactic overlay of calls, a babble of bird-song where the musical continuity is created by complex rhythms with an underlying progression: this of course matches the progression of events in the dawn chorus, and is highly evocative. The dawn having arrived, solo birds take over again, initially in a long piano cadenza, and then with less harsh colours from the orchestra. Oiseaux exotiques includes the calls of 40 different birds metamorphosed into Messiaen's idiom, overlapping and cross-calling in brilliant dense textures of sparkling plumage, the complex kaleidoscope of rhythms creating a jungle of patterns, almost impossible to unravel unaided, but setting up a continuous momentum of patterns that is felt rather than perceived. The title of Chronochromie (1960) for large orchestra is drawn from the Greek words for time and colour, indicating the preoccupations of the work, and Messiaen used an ordered scale of 32 `durations' from a demisemiquaver (32nd note) to a semibreve (whole note) to systematize the rhythmic elements; bird song is again included, as well as the sound of Alpine rivers. With Couleurs de la Cité Céleste (1963) for piano, thirteen wind and six percussionists, Messiaen placed the spiritual meditation in an orchestral context, based on five quotations from Revelations. The musical elements, notably bird-song and Indian and Greek rhythms, are designed to evoke the colours of the title. Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (And I await the raising of the dead, 1964) for 34 wind and three percussionists, was designed for large open-air spaces or churches, its five sections headed by Biblical quotations. It is slow-moving (to suit the acoustics of large spaces), but within these blocks of movement, differentiated by texture and colour, ritualistically dramatic; the gamelan influence, and that of temple gongs, is to the fore. The huge Des canyons aux étoiles (From the canyon to the stars, 1971-1975) for piano and 43 instruments was inspired by the Grand Canyon, and is in three parts with a total of twelve sections. It subjects are both the natural landscape and the religious associations, encompassing the vastness of the Canyon landscape and that of the night sky; bird-song, using birds of the American West, is extensively used, and the wide range of colours is reinforced by the addition of desert sounds created by the wind-machine and the sand-machine. This enormous work has a transparency, a fluidity and a time-scale that is characteristic of Messiaen's late works, and is the summation of his orchestral writing.

Messiaen wrote very little chamber music, but his major chamber work is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time, 1940-1941) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano was written for his fellow inmates in a German prisoner-of-war camp; it was first played complete to an audience of 5,000 prisoners. The inspiration for the eight sections is from the Apocalypse in the Biblical Revelations, and the different sections use different instrumental combinations; the third, `Abyss of the birds', one of the earlier extended appearances of bird-song in Messiaen's music, is for clarinet alone. Much of the work is slow-moving and meditative, the traditional progress of musical time dissolved by the lack of any sense of bar-line, and by long periods of held colours. It combines Messiaen's technically advanced language (as in the sixth section) with echoes of a more conventional sound: the fourth section, Interlude, is a little dance connecting Messiaen to earlier French music, and the following `praise to the eternity of Jesus' a beautifully limpid cello solo over piano chorus, whose simplicity and harmonic cast has been echoed in some of the chamber works of Pärt.

Of his piano music after the Préludes, the major works are Visions de l'amen for two pianos, Vingt regards sur l'Enfant Jésus, Quatre études de rythme, and Catalogue d'oiseaux. Visions de l'amen (1943) is in seven sections, each contemplating an amen connected with a religious theme (from creation through Jesus's agony to the Saints and consummation). Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (Twenty watches over the infant Jesus, 1944) is an enormous cycle of 20 works each descriptive of a contemplation (by the concrete, such as the Virgin, the theological, such as the angels, the symbolic, such as the cross, or the abstract, such as the Spirit of Joy) of the holy child. Although one of his lesser-known works, it is one of the finest, with its clearly focused but visionary philosophical base and magical piano effects, often expressing qualities of light, and best summed up by Messiaen himself: "I have looked here for a language of mystical love, to be varied, powerful and tender, sometimes brutal, responding to multi-coloured commands." Quatre études de rythme (Four Studies of Rhythm, 1949) includes the Modes de valeurs et d'intensités, a seminal work in the history of 20th-century music. Each aspect of the music is governed by a `mode': one containing 36 pitches, one containing 24 durations, one containing 12 types of attack, and one with 7 types of intensity (volume); the independent use of these modes, integrated into a larger structure, paved the way in particular for serialism (`total serialism'), by showing the possibilities of simultaneous structurings of parameters, although here those structures are not derived from the principles of 12-tone music. In addition, its sound world, where these four major elements become sharply differentiated, deeply influenced Stockhausen, who quickly moved away from serialism, and Xenakis, who was interested in the mathematical permutations. Catalogue d'oiseaux (Bird Catalogue, 1956-1958) is exactly what its title implies: a large musical catalogue in a cycle of thirteen pieces in seven books of the songs of French birds, the musical background including an evocation of the appropriate habitat and the sounds of other birds of the area. Messiaen included detailed written introductions to the sounds, the context, and the musical constructions; this marvellous collection is best dipped into, as one would a visual catalogue.

Messiaen wrote three major song-cycles, all to his own texts, utilizing his idiomatic techniques, but without bird-song. Poèmes pour Mi (1936, orchestrated 1937) for soprano and piano or orchestra and divided into two books, combines earthly love, in the sacrament of marriage (`Mi' referring to his first wife, the composer Claire Delbois), with its heavenly counterpart. Chants de terre et de ciel (1938) for soprano and orchestra turn to fatherhood (both earthly and heavenly) and to resurrection. More unusual than either of these is Harawi (1945) for soprano and piano, part of Messiaen's `Tristan triptych'. Its title is a Peruvian Quechua word describing a lovers' song that ends in death, and the cycle of twelve songs is subtitled `song of love and death'. In it, using texts that include phonetic word-patterns without literal sense, love becomes related to the cosmos in the symbolic association of love and death and the ecstatic ascent to heaven; it ends with the image of a sleeping town unaware of the personal-cosmos drama that it has witnessed. The piano writing, largely independent of the vocal line, is especially vivid; the intense, almost surrealistic cycle abounds in rhythmic and onomatopoeic effects. Messiaen's major work for chorus is La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1965-1969) for piano, flute, clarinet, cello, vibraphone, marimba, xylorimba, large choir and large orchestra. It is divided into two parts, each of seven movements with texts drawn from the Bible, St. Thomas Aquinas, and from Catholic rites. The first part of this vast work, over an hour-and-a-half long, is concerned with the Transfiguration as light, the second the relationship of humankind with God through the Transfiguration. In many respects it is an equivalent of the Turangalîla-Symphonie in verbal and religious form, with similar use of ritualistic percussion and sudden vast vistas. The choral lines have the gravity of Gregorian chant or expand into dense textures, and to this are added chorales of the kind of luminosity and simplicity found in the Livre du Saint-Sacrement.

Messiaen's only opera was one of his last works, and characteristically it observes little of the traditional theatrical or operatic parameters. Saint François d'Assise (1975-1983) is a huge meditation on the life of St.Francis of Assisi, in three acts and eight scenes lasting some three hours, not including intermissions. To approach it with any kind of conventional theatrical expectation is doomed to failure; with only seven characters (St.Francis, his fellow monks, and an Angel), each of whom is assigned a theme and a bird-song, and a chorus which is used to symbolize the voice of Christ, it is virtually devoid of action other than the curing of the leper, the appearance of the angel, and St.Francis's death, and is intentionally slow-moving. Instead, it is a culmination of Messiaen's spiritual and musical beliefs expressed in the gradual ascent of St.Francis to a state of grace. The simplification of Messiaen's later style is evident, but so is the fluidity of his idiom, often with haunting or startling musical effects (such as the other-worldly sounds accompanying the knocking of the Angel at the door and at the receiving of the Stigmata) and an extraordinary luminosity and spirituality that suspends the sense of time. Messiaen's life-long love affair with bird-song is encapsulated in the sermon to the birds that forms the sixth scene. It is a remarkable, transcendentally beautiful work which has to be approached on its own terms.

The importance of Messiaen as a teacher, and the very high calibre of his students, has already been indicated. He taught at the École Normale de Musique and at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, and widely outside Europe in the late 1940s. He was appointed professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire on his release from prisoner-of-war camp in 1941, and a class for analysis was specially created for him there.


works include:

- Turangalîla-Symphonie

- Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyon to the Stars) for piano, horn and orch.; Oiseaux exotiques (Exotic Birds) for piano ,11 wind and 7 percussion; Réveil des Oiseaux (Dawn-Chorus) for piano and orch.

- L'Ascension (orch. from organ with new third movement), Chronochromie, Couleurs de la cité céleste (Colours of the Celestial City), Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (And in expectation of the Resurrection of the Body), Sept haïkaï (Seven Haikai) for orch.

- Thème et variations for violin and piano; Le merle noir for flute and piano; Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano

- Catalogue d'oiseaux (Catalogue of birds), Études de rythme, Préludes pour Piano, Vingt regards sur l'Enfant Jésus (Ten Meditations on the Infant Jesus) for piano; Visions de l'Amen for two pianos

- Apparition de l'Eglise éternelle (The Vision of the Eternal Church), L'Ascension, Le banquet céleste (The Heavenly Banquet), Le Corps Glorieux (The Glorious Body), Diptych, Livre d'Orgue (Organ Book), Livre du Saint Sacrement (Book of Saint Sacrement), Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité, Messe de la Pentecôte, La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of Our Saviour) for organ

- song cycles Chants de terre et de ciel (Songs of Earth and Sky), Harawi and Poèmes pour Mi; Cinq rechants for a cappella choir; La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ and Trois petits Liturgies de la Présence Divine for chorus and orch.

- opera St. François d'Assise (St. Francis of Assisi)


recommended works:

All of Messiaen's works are recommended. Those new to his music might consider starting at the beginning and the end of his output, with the Préludes pour piano (1928-1929) and the earlier organ works, and sampling the Livre du Sainte Sacrement (1984), especially the 8th, 9th and 10th sections; in addition, the Quatuor pour le fin de temps is an excellent introduction to Messiaen's mature sound-world and techniques. Otherwise, it is suggested that the listeners moves inward chronologically from these ends, leaving the works of the 1950s (the bird-song works apart), which are technically the most difficult, until last.



O.Messiaen Technique of my Musical Language, 1944, English translation 1957

P.Griffiths Olivier Messiaen and the Music of Time, 1985

R.S.Johnson Messiaen, 1975

R.Nichols Messiaen, 1975



born 4th September 1892 at Aix-en-Provence

died 22nd June 1974 at Geneva


The works of Darius Milhaud still remain one of the unassessed quantities of 20th-century music. For as one of its most prolific composers (around 450 works), the quality of his music is so patently uneven that the reputation for the banal and the shallow has masked what is or might be (given the paucity of performances) both inspired and fascinating. He was one of the members of the group, active between 1917 and the early 1920s, that was dominated by the aesthetic of Jean Cocteau, and which became known as `Les Six' (the others were Auric, Durey, Honegger, Poulenc, and Tailleferre), which added to his reputation as a modern, although the group was more a conjunction of friends than musical comrades.

His reputation was secured by his early music, where he showed both a typically French sense of wit and elegance, and a predilection for the ultra-modern. His incidental music to Les choéphores (The Libation Bearers, 1915) includes chorus whistling and hissing, and shows an early fascination with percussion and bitonality. A period in Brazil (1917-1918) with Paul Claudel, diplomat, poet, and the composer's close collaborator, led to the addition of South American colour and influences to his innovative effects. The ballet L'homme et son désir (Man and his Desire, 1917) for wordless voices and including a large percussion section, was inspired in its evocative opening by the Brazilian forest, and makes use of cross-metres. Saudades de Brasil (1920, originally for piano, and then extended and orchestrated) is a set of dances picturing Rio de Janeiro and inspired by folk music. The ballet Le boeuf sur le toit, (The Ox on the Roof, 1919, subtitled in English The Nothing-Doing Bar), again uses Spanish-American dance rhythms, combined with experimental dissonant effects, and is one of Milhaud's most often-heard works. Most of these pieces caused furores when they were first performed.

With the addition of the influence of jazz (which Milhaud had heard in Harlem in 1922) in the ballet La création du monde (1923, discussed below) and the bitonality of Le carnaval d'Aix (1926) for piano and orchestra (based on ballet music Salade, 1924), the major features of Milhaud's style had appeared, and if added to, were to remain largely unchanged through the course of his life. Aside from his extraordinary facility, chief among these was bitonality: the use of two keys simultaneously. Although his teacher Koechlin had already developed its use before Milhaud, it was the latter who conspicuously developed and extended it to polytonality (largely to the ends of the simultaneous sounding of melodies, and already apparent in such works as the Sonata for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano, 1918), with considerable influence on his generation. His rhythms, emphasized by his extensive use of percussion (of which he was an early large-scale exponent, including such works as the Percussion Concerto, 1929), owe much to jazz and Spanish-American music, both novel influences in the 1920s. The Six little symphonies (1917-1923) for different chamber ensembles, added neo-classicism and a mastery of counterpoint to this palette.

This period also saw Milhaud toy with the cult of brevity, not only in the Six little symphonies, but in such works as the three opéras-minutes (L'abandon d'Ariane, L'enlèvement d'Europa and La déliverance de Théséé, 1927), each lasting under ten minutes. The Suite provençale (1936), based on themes from his own region, confirmed another aspect of Milhaud's character, the lyrically pastoral, which had appeared in the middle movements of such works as the Little Symphony No.2 or, flanked by the influence of jazz, in the neo-classical Viola Concerto (1929) for fifteen instruments (originally full orchestra) written for Hindemith. Similar moods recur throughout Milhaud's works, from the melodic Clarinet Concerto (1941) to the Sonatine pastorale (1960), the opening of the Symphony No.6 (1955) or the Violin Sonata No.2. Similarly, some of his vocal works show a charming simplicity (for example the Quatre valaisans for unaccompanied choir). The sense of the Mediterranean sun has been repeatedly noted by both critics and admirers, and is evident in such works as the baroque-inspired Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord (1945), the twelve-minute Piano Concerto No.2 (1941), with its brilliant colours, sometimes bouncy good-humour, and languid slow movement, or the Suite française (1944). This sunny quality became more evident after Milhaud's move to the U.S.A. (1940), with the development of a more abstract language in which the various disparate elements become more integrated, and, generally, less inventive and interesting, exemplified in the genial Suite Cisalpine sur des airs populaires Piemontais (1954) for cello and orchestra.

His chamber music includes eighteen string quartets (Milhaud was determined to write one more than Beethoven), many of which are on a small scale, and which show Milhaud's strengths (his great command as a technician) and his weaknesses (a lack of distinctiveness). They range from neo-classicism (including the tuneful No.6, 1922), through the lyricism of the opening of No.9 (1935), the overt polytonality of No.10 (1940, subtitled Birthday Quartet), the Mexican evocation of the finale of No.13 (1946), to Nos.14 and 15 (1949) which can be played together to form a rather brutish octet. They will be of interest to devotees of the 20th-century string quartet, but are unlikely to find a regular place in the repertoire. The rest of Milhaud's extensive chamber output covers the range of his styles, including elements of controlled chance in the late Septet for Strings (1964).

Among the considerable amount of choral music are a number of liturgical works that reflect Milhaud's Jewish faith and that generally show a more diatonic harmonic language. Chief among these is the Sacred Service, but the range of music inspired by his faith includes such stylistic mishmashes as the large-scale orchestral Opus Americanum No.2 `Moses', and culminated in the opera David (1953). The intense Christophe Colomb (Christopher Columbus, 1929), considered by some to be Milhaud's masterpiece, is the most important of his six large-scale operas, and is now receiving wider attention. In two parts with 27 tableaux, it uses film projection and rhythmically spoken narration set against percussion to mix reality, symbolism and dreams. The libretto is by Paul Claudel, who collaborated on 29 different works with Milhaud between 1912 and 1970; the religious is intertwined with the history, with a play on Columbus' name (Christ, and Colombe = dove). The story of Columbus discovering America serves only as a backdrop to the psychological exploration of the character of Columbus (especially as an old man) and those around him, and the moral, social and political ramifications of his actions and discoveries, including the destructive effects on native Americans. In its final version, the two halves of the opera were switched around, to end with the actual discovery, and placing the later events first. With its short sections, and extensive use of chorus, its sense of immediacy, dry orchestration and lively rhythmical power, this highly effective work has also been performed as an oratorio (with the composer's approval), but its montage format is an antidote to the usual Romantic structures of grand opera. In his lifetime, the most successful of his operas, large or small, was the half-hour Le pauvre matelot (The Poor Sailor, 1927, in version for both full orchestra and a reduced instrumental ensemble), to a Cocteau text, that mixes the music-hall with sea shanties (including Blow the man down as the wife kills her sailor husband).

This very wide disparity of quality and styles creates problems for those unfamiliar with his music and who wish to explore it. The vacuousness of which Milhaud was so all too easily capable is exemplified in the appalling Kentuckiana for orchestra, where he tries to add spurious spice to folk tunes by playing them simultaneously, or in the even worse Globetrotter Suite - music that never rises above the level of background music for outdoor public occasions. His best works probably come from the 1920s, when his invention was fresh, and the small scale of both instrumental forces and musical forms most suited his imagination.

Among the most successful works, and the most likely to be encountered, is the delightful suite for two pianos, Scaramouche (1937, reworked like a number of Milhaud scores from earlier material). Its brilliant first movement has an infectious precociousness and gentle polytonal colours, matched by the Latin American influences of the boisterous `Brazileira' finale, while the middle movement exemplifies Milhaud's lyricism and capacity for classical feel. Les quatres saisons (The Four Seasons), cast like those of Vivaldi as a series of four concertos, are sometimes revived, especially the first (Printemps [Spring]). The Suite for violin, clarinet and piano (1936, again, drawn from earlier incidental music) exemplifies Milhaud's sense of fantasy and his various influences, from Brazilian dance rhythms to jazz. Among his later works the Second Concerto for two pianos (1961), with its sparse orchestration and a slow movement that combines a classical delicacy with a stubborn harmonic restlessness, is an interesting example of his later style, where the Gallic wit is sometimes made more acid by the harmonies and the polytonality.

However, Milhaud's masterpiece is the music for the ballet La création du monde (The Creation of the World, 1923), the first major score to use jazz (and still one of the most successful), which entirely succeeds in the composer's stated intention to combine a jazz style with a purely classical feel. It has the brilliance and spontaneity of jazz, but the larger impression is created by the clarity of the instrumentation, the simultaneous use of major and minor keys, and the counterpoint to match the enthusiasm of the score with a deeply satisfying sense of the containment of form. There is a version for large orchestra; that for the original ensemble is much more effective.

As important as Milhaud's compositions was his influence as a teacher, at Mills College, Oakland, California (from 1940) and then from 1947 to 1971 alternating his teaching there with his post as Professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Among his pupils were Bolcom, Reich, Subotnick and the jazz composer and player Dave Brubeck. Milhaud himself was an accomplished violist who took part in the first performance of Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola and harp. He was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1933.


works include: (from over 450 works)

- 12 symphonies (No.3 Hymnus Ambrosianus for chorus and orch., No.4 1898, No.8 Rhodanienne); 6 chamber symphonies

- 2 cello concertos; clarinet concerto; harp concerto; harpsichord concerto; oboe concerto; marimba and vibraphone concerto; 5 piano concertos; concerto for two pianos and orch.; 3 violin concertos; Suite anglais for harmonica and orch.; Suite Cisalpine sur des airs populaires Piemontais for cello and orchestra; Music pour Boston for violin and orch.

- Globetrotter Suite, Kentuckiana, Music for Ars Nova, Music for Boston, Music for Graz, Music for Indiana, Music for Lisbon, Music for New Orleans, Music for Prague, Music for San Francisco, Musique pour l'univers Claudélien, Ode pour Jerusalem, Opus Americanum No.2 `Moses', Stanford Serenade, Suite in G, 2 Suites symphoniques (No.2 Protée), Suite français, Suite provençale, dance suite Saudades de Brasil for orch.

- harp sonata; violin sonata; Printemps for violin and piano; piano trio; Suite for violin, clarinet and piano; 18 string quartets (No.10 Birthday Quartet, No.12 In Memory of Fauré, No.14 and No.15 designed to be also played as an octet); Sonata for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano; King Rene's Chimney for wind quartet; piano quintet; string septet; Elégie pour Pierre for viola and percussion and other chamber music; The Seven-branched Candelabra and other piano works; Scaramouche for two pianos

- song cycle Chansons de Ronsard; Cantata de la paix; Pacem in terris for chorus and orch.; Cantata de Job for chorus and organ; Les Momies d'Egypte and Promesse de Dieu for unaccompanied chorus; many other vocal and choral works and songs

- ballets The Bells, Le boeuf sur le toit, Le création du monde, Madame Miroir, Le Train Bleu and Saladez.

- operas Bolivar, Christophe Colomb, David, Les Malheurs d'Orphée (The Misfortunes of Orpheus), Maximilien, Médée, Le pauvre matelot (The Poor Sailor); chamber operas L'abandon d'Ariane, La déliverance de Théséé and L'enlèvement d'Europa; incidental music; children's music


recommended works:

ballet Le boeuf sur le toit op.58 (1919)

opera Christophe Colomb (1929)

ballet La création du monde (1923)

Scaramouche op.165 (1937) for two pianos

Saudades do Brasil (1920-1921) for orchestra

Suite for violin, clarinet and piano (1936)



D.Milhaud Notes without Music 1952

P.Collaer Darius Milhaud, trans. J.H.Galante, 1988



born 7th January 1899 at Paris

died 30th January 1963 at Paris


The French composer who above all others took the tradition of French charm, wit, delicacy and colourful fun, and sometimes imbued it with an underlying genius and restrained passion that lifts it above the merely entertaining into music of lasting power and effect, is Francis Poulenc. The style that is usually associated with Poulenc is an elusive one, as it uses the commonplace, the gauche, and the ingenuous as the basic material for a deeper reflection of a certain aspect of the human spirit. In addition, Poulenc subscribed to no systems or theoretical models at all; his art is one of the usage of whatever was suitable to the task in hand, including many stylistic borrowings which could be integrated into his quite distinctive and sometimes self-deprecating voice, that often seems to be standing apart from its subject and commenting on it. But there is also a more obviously serious and personal side to Poulenc's musical character that gradually surfaced in the concertos and some of the song-cycles and reached its clearest culmination in the religious works. In the earlier works the style often seems flippant, as if Poulenc was deliberately masking his own character; that in itself can produce a very entertaining gloss. In some of the song cycles, and especially in the later works with orchestra and in the religious works, a meditative, simple (but rarely simplistic) voice emerges from behind the mask, looking at the world with a kind of celebratory innocence. These works often include a very recognizable orchestral combination of strings, dark underpinning, brass punctuation, and timpani with a favourite figure of a rising major third. One of the oddities of Poulenc's output is that inspirations and sometimes styles often took decades to materialize in an actual work, so that, for example, his major venture into the surrealist, Le bal masqué, appeared some years after surrealism had had its vogue.

He first came to prominence with his songs, and the song remained a major factor in his output, fostered by his deep love of poetry. His vocal music is his especial achievement, including perhaps the finest body of French songs since Fauré. He is particularly associated with the poetry of Apollinaire and Max Jacob. His first setting of Apollinaire was the cycle of six songs describing animals with different human characteristics, Le bestiare (1917) for baritone and chamber orchestra, typically light in the orchestration, and with a deft and lyrical sense of humour. But it was the Rhapsodie négre (1917) for baritone, piano and chamber ensemble in five movements (only one of which is sung) that brought Poulenc notoriety; the vocal setting was of a nonsense hoax poet, purportedly a Liberian. It has an undercurrent of primitivism and exoticism, especially in the rhythms and in the artless baritone song, with shades of Satie and Stravinsky. The same year saw the establishment with Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud and Tailleferre, of the group (more a collection of friends than like-minded composers), active between 1917 and the early 1920s, which became known as `Les Six'. The aesthetic domination of Jean Cocteau on Les Six is reflected in the Poulenc's setting of Cocteau texts, Cocardes (1919), evoking Paris of the street musicians and recalling Satie.

Much more personal are the Chansons gaillardes (Bawdy songs, 1925-1926), to 17th-century texts, full of a piquant humour, a combination of the delicate and the coarse, and with a modal cast to the second song. The intentional artlessness that Poulenc could sometimes employ surfaces in the 1930s settings of Apollinaire and Max Jacob. The Trois poèmes de Louise Lalanne (1931) are settings of three Apollinaire poems ostensibly by the fictitious Louise Lalanne, the first sung very fast with no change of tempo, and the second based on the rhythms of children's patter. Artlessness of a different kind is incorporated into the Quatre poèmes d'Apollinaire (1931): the first is a rollicking drinking song celebrating one of Poulenc's favourite subjects, Paris, here the seedier side of Montmartre. The third makes fun of fashionable word-snobbery. The Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob (1931), drawn from the poetry collection Chants Bretons, reflect the artless simplicity of the peasant girl who sings them, with a certain amused but kindly comment in the piano accompaniment; in the second song she has lost her lover, in the third she superstitiously prays to ward off devils, the fourth is a cradle song, her mother at church, her father in the bar, and the last is a nonsense song.

Max Jacob was also the inspiration behind the secular cantata Le bal masqué (1932) for baritone or mezzo-soprano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, cello, percussion and a prominent piano. The three poems, divided by two instrumental interludes, evoke carnival time in the Paris suburbs; they contain a kind of sophisticated naïveté, with incongruous images and word play with surrealist overtones. The musical setting is Poulenc in what might be described as his `Mickey Mouse' mood, since the idiom was picked up by the Hollywood short cartoon, and the humour is not dissimilar; `wrong' notes, silly tunes and perky humour abound. The instrumental contribution is as important as the vocal, and the cycle is light, humorous, incisive and fun, sometimes with a jazzy feel, sometimes with exotic touches. Le bal masqué, though, does require a corresponding mood from the listener; without such a mood, it can appear infuriatingly farcical.

Around 1935 there is a discernable change in Poulenc's vocal output, though its seeds are to be found in many earlier works. In place of the overtly ironic or satirical there appears a subdued lyricism, an increasing sense of the spiritual. The immediate catalysts were the death of a close friend in 1935, Poulenc's discovery of the poetry of Paul Éluard, celebrating love and liberty, and his rediscovery of Monteverdi and the Renaissance polyphonists. The change is reflected in the Sept chansons (1936) for unaccompanied choir, setting five poems by Éluard, and, for lighter relief, two by Apollinaire. Inspired by Monteverdi, their effective polyphonic writing has something of the mystical. In one of his finest song-cycle, Tel jour, telle nuit (1936-1937) Poulenc found the combination of refined delicacy, restrained lyricism, transparent textures, and easy flow that exactly suited Éluard's poems of love, both between lovers and between people in general; in addition, the moments of passion that arise from this general cast are spontaneous and natural. The Trois poèmes de Louise Valmorin (1937) continues this idiom, but with a more forward liveliness. The delicate writing of Fiançailles pour rire (1939), another setting of Valmorin, covers a wide range of poetry subjects, including the lament of one who has died for love, a self-portrait of a statue, and flowers in winter.

During the Second World War Poulenc expressed his political awareness both by being a member of the French resistance and through a number of musical works, including the moving Violin Sonata (1943), dedicated to Lorca. The secular cantata La figure humaine (The Human Face, 1943) for double unaccompanied chorus, sets eight poems by Éluard expressing the horrors of war and passionately extolling liberty, certain that the human spirit will ultimately triumph; the poetry collection had been circulated among the underground, and dropped by the R.A.F.. The chamber cantata Un soir de neige (1944) for unaccompanied choir sets four poems by Éluard describing nature in the grip of winter, symbolic of the occupation of the Nazis. The song cycle Calligrames (1948), based on seven poems by Apollinaire, recounts the poet's experience in the First World War, and includes the famous poem Rain, written in vertical falling lines. There is a poignancy and surface simplicity to this affecting cycle, a more flexible rhythmic variety and change of mood, especially in the piano writing, and more plastic vocal lines, that makes it one of the most effective of Poulenc's song cycles. It might well appeal to those who enjoy Britten's song cycles.

The strength of feeling combined with a simplicity and sometimes luminosity that emerged in La figure humaine came to fruition in the late religious works, combining warm with joyous affection, a sense of personal supplication, and dramatic elements, especially in driving rhythms and the punctuation of brass. The Stabat mater (1950) for soprano, chorus and orchestra is built on slow evolving sonorities emphasized by the largely homophonic choral writing, the flow often driven by plucked string basses, its warm but limited meld of colours dominated by the strings. The overall mood is of a restrained and joyful ecstasy. The wonderful Gloria (1959) for soprano, chorus and orchestra, continues this general framework, but in a less restrained fashion, the fervour that is added to the luminosity exemplified by the memorable opening.

Orchestral music forms only a small portion of Poulenc's output. His first major orchestral success (and one of his most familiar scores) was the high-spirited ballet, set in a house-party, Les biches (1924, later orchestral suite) which pits a gently lyrical innocence against the sexual atmosphere of the music of Parisian nightlife. The mood of the melodic line is infectious, and a Poulenc hallmark makes its appearance in falling and rising brass fanfare phrases answered by strings alone. The Suite française (1935) for small orchestra, originally written as incidental music, is an odd combination of the style of medieval dances and a modern gloss: each section initially presented in quasi-authentic fashion and then in both Poulenc's ironic, semi-farcical style and his more lyrical, pastoral vein. The ballet Les animaux modèles (1942) was designed to lift the French spirit during the war, and is based on La Fontaine fables; its suite is enjoyable music in a lighter vein. The Sinfonietta (1947) is a work of charm and grace, and lightweight, leaning more towards a divertissement than its four-movement symphonic form would suggest.

Poulenc wrote three important concertos. The Concerto champêtre (1927-1928) for harpsichord and orchestra came from a period of Poulenc's life when he was much better known for his more daring and farcical idioms, and its considerable value has been rather overlooked. Pastoral moments creep into all three movements, the first being Poulenc in extrovert mood, but with the orchestral colours muted to match the scale of the harpsichord, the second having the grace of a slow dance, the third a largely neo-classical cast. Few modern composers have dared to place the harpsichord in such extrovert surroundings. Perhaps the most extraordinary of the concertos is the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1932), combining a riot of themes and ideas, a very French piquancy, a strong melodic element, and a classical sense of proportion and grace. The middle movement is an exceptionally delicate, beautiful and sometimes quirky pastiche of Mozart, while the outer ones display sparkling brilliance, drama, gentle lyricism and a humorous delight in the trite. The Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings (1938) is one of Poulenc's masterpieces, and on the face of it an unlikely one. It seems composed of borrowings, the emphatic organ opening (the work opens and closes with the same G major chord) from Bach and much of the dancing sections from Mozart, although the rhythmic exuberance is entirely Poulenc's. Part of the secret is the scoring, which is anything but traditional: it shows three facets of Poulenc's personality, the organ the bold and near-violent, the timpani the rhythmically emphatic, almost brash, the strings the more graceful and luminous. In addition, the atmosphere of the work evokes the combination of the spiritual with the secular that marks Poulenc's later works. On the surface the work seems deceptively simple, its stylistic borrowings too obvious, but underneath, the proportions between the sections, between the moods of eruptive violence and graceful withdrawal, are near perfectly balanced. The styles have become blended into Poulenc's voice, and because the sense of uplifting joy and praise is so memorable and so triumphant, it entirely succeeds.

Poulenc also wrote three major operas, and they perhaps best demonstrate his abilities. Les mamelles de Tirésias (1944) is based on a surrealist play by Apollinaire whose premiere Poulenc had attended in 1917. The semi-farcical subject brought out that side of Poulenc that delighted in the satirically absurd. The underlying theme is that the French must have more children: in Zanzibar Thérèse and her husband change sex, Thérèse becoming Tirésias. In the second of two scenes their progeny are scattered around the stage: gendarmes, a journalist, the people of Zanzibar, with various minor characters providing the backdrop. Poulenc takes full advantage of this slim plot, drawing on dance forms, creating a tension between humour and lyricism that takes the comic opera beyond mere farce. La voix humaine (1958) is a more daring and more satisfying work. Its basis is a play by Cocteau; there is only one character, a woman who has been jilted by her lover, who is about to marry another. The entire action takes place in her room, as a telephone conversation with that lover. As a capsule of the kaleidoscope of emotions that the woman traverses, from denial to acceptance, from pain to anger, from hope to resignation, the text is brilliant; throughout we understand the twin tugs of her love and her rejection. Poulenc wisely decided to create a largely declamatory style for this text, the music often subtly pointing up the emotions, and maintaining its own layer of psychological progress. The result is unusual for an opera (much of its effect is dependent on the skills of the singer) but almost perfectly captures one aspect of the human emotional experience. Poulenc's only full-scale opera is also perhaps his finest work. Dialogues des carmélites (1953-1956), based on a play (originally a screenplay) by Georges Bernados, itself taken from a novel by Gertrud von Le Fort, is set against the backdrop of the French revolution, but as context rather than stage action. Its central character, Blanche, becomes a Carmelite nun; her convent is disbanded, and eventually the nuns chose martyrdom at the guillotine. The concentration is on the psychology and spirituality of Blanche and the nuns; its underlying theme is the study of fear (and the fear of death) and its relationship with spirituality and faith. Consequently it is a largely abstract opera, its focus on metaphysical questions and their relationship to the psyche rather than on the plot; contrast is provided by Blanch's aristocratic family. Poulenc's score is restrained but luminous, the clarity of the vocal line paramount. The style is arioso, with no doubling of voices unless multiple voices would occur naturally; the opera has been criticized for its lack of dramatic variety, but this suits its subject-matter, and follows a French tradition of meditative opera. It is one of those works whose thoughtful virtues increase in stature with familiarity.

Poulenc's chamber music is often encountered, in part because it is so enjoyable to play, though he is more successful in writing for wind, where he has a happy nonchalance, than for strings. His nine sonatas for various instrumental ensembles range from the sinuous Sonata for two clarinets (1918, revised 1945) to the jovial wit of the Sonata for horn, trombone and trumpet (1922), and include Poulenc's chamber masterpiece, the very lyrical Flute Sonata (1956), with an unforgettable haunting opening. The Sextet (1932-1939) for piano and wind contrasts the more lyrical piano with boisterous winds, dripping with a sorrowful charm in the slow movement, while the attractive Trio (1926) for oboe, bassoon and piano has a charming simplicity, music for relaxation, its models Haydn, Mozart and Saint-Saëns in the three movements. The best of his piano writing is to be found in the songs, but the Mouvements perpétuels (1918) brought Poulenc notoriety and has remained one of his most popular works, for its acid opening harmonies, rhythms that keep unravelling like a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and its lyrical humour.

Poulenc served in the First World War in an anti-aircraft battery, returning to similar duties in 1939, and after the fall of France he was active in the French Resistance.


works include:

- sinfonietta

- Concerto champêtre for harpsichord & orch.; concerto for organ, timpani and strings; piano concerto; concerto for two pianos

- Suite française for orch.

- cello sonata; clarinet sonata; flute sonata; horn sonata; oboe sonata; violin sonata; sonata for two clarinets; sonata for clarinet and bassoon; sonata for horn, trombone and trumpet; trio for oboe, bassoon and piano; string quartet; sextet for piano and wind

- song cycles Le bestiaire for voice, flute, clarinet, bassoon and string quartet (also piano version) and Chansons villageoises for voice, and instrumental ensemble (also piano version); Rhapsodie nègre for baritone, piano, string quartet and clarinet; song cycles with piano Airs chantés, Banalités, Calligrammes, Chansons gaillardes, Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob, Deux poèmes de Apollinaire, Fiançailles pour rire, La frâicheur et le feu, Huit chansons polonaises, Métamorphoses, Parisiana, Poèmes de Ronsard, Quatre chansons pour enfants, Quatre poèmes d'Apollinaire, Un soir de neige, Tel jour, telle nuit, Le travail du peintre, Trois chansons de Lorca, Trois poèmes de Louise de Valmorin; many songs

- cantatas Le bal masqué, Figure humaine, Sécheresses, Un soir de neige; Litanies à la Vierge Noire for women's or children's voices and organ; Gloria for soprano, chorus and orch.; Mass for choir; Stabat Mater for soprano, chorus and orch.; Sept répons de ténèbres for child soprano, chorus and orch.; Chanson à boire, Laudes de St. Antoine de Padoue and Quatre petites prières for male choir; Chansons françaises, Exultate Deo, Sept chansons for choir; other vocal works

- ballets Les animaux modèles, Les biches

- operas Dialogues des carmélites, Les mamelles de Tirésias and La Voix Humaine

- melodrama L'histoire de Babar


recommended works:

Le bal masqué (1932) for baritone or mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble

ballet suite Les biches (1923)

song cycle Calligrames (1948)

opera Dialogues des carmélites (1953-1956)

song cycle Fiançailles pour rire (1939)

Flute Sonata (1956)

Gloria (1959) for soprano, chorus and orchestra

opera Les mamelles de Tirésias (1944)

Mouvements Perpétuels (1918) for piano

Rhapsodie négre (1917) for baritone, piano and chamber ensemble

Stabat mater (1950) for soprano, chorus and orchestra

Trio (1926) for oboe, bassoon and piano

opera La voix humaine (1958)



P.Bernac Francis Poulenc: the man and his songs, 1978

W. Mellers Francis Poulenc, 1993


RAVEL (Joseph) Maurice

born 7th March 1875 at Ciboure (Basses-Pyrénées)

died 28th December 1937 at Paris


Maurice Ravel, so clearly a composer of the 20th century, nonetheless occupies a personal no-man's land between the Romanticism that his age was leaving behind, and the neo-classicism it was about to adopt. As a pupil of Fauré he was trained in a French school that was seen as an alternative to the Germanic post-Wagnerian tradition. With Debussy, he was one of the first composers whose rejection of a 19th-century aesthetic met with approval beyond a limited audience of composers, critics, or other musicians, to reach a wide public popularity that it retains to this day. In parallel with Debussy, he also initiated a musical style that was a counterpart to the Impressionism that had taken the artistic world by storm at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Unfortunately that association with the name of Debussy, originally perpetrated by critics antagonistic to the music of both composers and who could not understand the work of either, has persisted. For Ravel's is a very different musical temperament, attracted on the one hand to music that works on the emotions rather than the intellect, and on the other, through a paradoxical personal reluctance to express feelings, to forms that would contain such tendencies, mainly Classical in origin. It is the fusion of these two opposing pulls that gives Ravel's music its impact, and sets it aside from the main lines of development in modern music, the abstraction of the emotionally persuasive powers of music. He was of mixed Swiss and Basque parentage, and his music is a rare example of cultural stereotypes (the one mechanical, ordered, the other hot-blooded, expressive) having a metaphorical validity.

The result is a formidable mixture of technique and craftsmanship, expressed in a relatively small number of works, made even fewer by the virtual disappearance of such pieces as the three cantatas he wrote in an attempt to win the Prix de Rome. Now most celebrated as a supreme handler of the orchestra, he was first known for his piano works: it is an indication of his craftsmanship that there is little hint that many of his works started life at the piano, and his orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1922) was so brilliant that it virtually created a separate work, and few new to it would ever guess that the original is for piano. He preferred forms that aspire to the miniature, favouring dance structures drawn from many different traditions; longer works are usually the judicious arrangement of a series of these shorter forms rather than being based on an overall harmonic or thematic development. One of the consequences is that individual items are often unfortunately taken out of context and performed on their own. Within these forms, Ravel drew inspiration from a wide variety of sources, notably Spanish popular music and classical and pre-classical styles; the twin shadows of Mozart and Liszt also stand behind much of his music. Such anachronistic influences are not used directly, but assimilated into a modern idiom and transformed into Ravel's unique personal language. It is his conception of the source rather that its substance that is utilized, and Ravel anticipates the neo-Classicists rather than being counted among them.

The oblique use of influences is further tempered by the melodic and harmonic language. Melody predominates, but often built on irregular metrical schemes, and accompanied by ostinati or single repeated notes. Ravel's harmonies are firmly rooted in the traditional diatonic system, based on the use of Phrygian and Dorian modes (the later a major element of Basque music), and delighting in the use of 7ths, 9ths, and 11ths, and the movement in parallel motion that was a signature of the Impressionists but anathema to the Classicists. The ordinary classical major and minor scales rarely appear. To further disguise the traditional foundation, cadences often remain unresolved, and the frequent dissonances are created by the calculated and momentary application of unsympathetic notes to the underlying harmony.

Such is the craftsmanship of Ravel. He saw the major purpose of his music as one of `divertissement', and it rarely explores profound emotions and intentionally disguises any manifestation of Ravel's inner personality. Instead its characteristics are intellectual wit, clarity, the elegant evocation of idea or place, humour - often ironic - and occasional fantasy accompanied by tenderness. Yet from time to time a passion will elude the emotional control, the Basque heritage seeking expression.

That Ravel's music does not remain merely the art of the miniature is due to two principal factors. The first is his orchestration, indulging in large forces and exotic colours, exploring with great precision the extreme potential of instruments, sometimes with mawkish effects. It achieves individual clarity within complex densities, and creates momentum by changes of timbre. Most of the longer pieces were first written for piano, and most of the piano music and songs have orchestral equivalents. The second factor is the intrusion of sympathies that are less intellectual than sentimental: not only the exotic, or the evocation of the 18th century, but also affection for children and animals. It is these that have appealed to a general public, while it is the intellectual conceit and fastidiousness of craftsmanship that have continued to fascinate musicians and the more musically knowledgeable.

Although these characteristics remained consistent throughout his work, there is a gradual change of tone. The earliest works are dominated by Impressionism. Ravel came into prominence with a piano piece that is the first Impressionist work for the piano, preceding Debussy's earliest Impressionistic piano works. Jeux d'eau (Fountains, 1901), was inspired by the `sound of water and the music of fountains, waterfalls and streams'. Those images are conjured up by extended arpeggios pitted against dreamy harmonies, opening very quietly, by a cascade of sixteenth and thirty-second notes, and at the end a veritable waterfall of sixty-fourths, all laid out in a loose sonata form. Of all musical Impressionistic pieces, Jeux d'eau most echoes the interplay of light and water so beloved of the Impressionist painters, the keyboard transformed into a palette. It had been preceded by Pavane pour une Infante défunte (1899), best known in its 1910 orchestration, an evocation of old Spain that has a lazy Debussian sensuous flow, with a timeless sense imposed on the use of an old dance form. It was succeeded by the famous String Quartet (1902-1903), in which Ravel, in his own individual fashion, combined the colours and tone of Debussy's quartet with the more formal structures derived from his teacher Fauré. There is a hazy tenderness, a nostalgia inherent in much of this string quartet, combined with shimmering changes of colour and vista, as if the characteristic colours of the viola were the impetus, handed to the other instruments; this element is countered by a more incisive precision in faster passages, often played pizzicato to emphasize the contrast. The ravishingly beautiful song cycle Shéhérazade (1903) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra to verses by Tristan Klingsor (and not to be confused with the celebrated Rimsky-Korsakov tone-poem on the same subject) adds an exoticism to the Debussian sensuousness. The heady vocal line has considerable independence from the orchestra, floating over the luxuriant and warm orchestral hues; the flute of the second piece exemplifies the sensuous legacy of Debussy. The cycle of five piano pieces, Miroirs (1904-1905) continues the Impressionistic pianism, its mirrors conjuring up lazily moving waters, or the ripples, swells, and breaking waves of `Un barque sur le océan'. However, into this favourite imagery of the Impressionists is injected a new pictorial imagery in the fourth piece. Still glittering but much more direct, the brilliant Alborado del gracioso (`The jester's morning'), best known in its orchestral version (1919), launches into a bright, sharp, extrovert Spain, complete with castanets and pinpoints of sharply etched colours from all over the orchestra, with sudden emotive surges of climax. With this piece, the shifting, the hazy, the mysterious inherent in the Impressionistic style is brought into sharp focus, still using the same techniques, but to a different, incisive end. The mysterious, atmospheric opening of the celebrated Introduction and Allegro (1905) for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, with its pastoral shepherd flute moving into the rippling waves of the harp, immediately announces an Impressionistic piece, but this gentle and beautiful work, a kind of Arcadian dialogue between the instruments, has a purposeful rather than a hazy Impressionism created in part by the Classical organization of the work. The little Sonatine (1903-1905) for piano moves towards a different direction, for it harks back to the world of Mozart and Couperin, light in the opening movement, serene and reflective in the central minuet, bright-coloured, pianistic and joyful in the finale.

That evocation of Spanish colour, and the movement away from Impressionism, was taken a stage further in Ravel's first piece originally (except for one section) written for orchestra. The Rhapsody espagnole (1907-1908) for orchestra is in four sections, opening with a summoning of the murmurings of dusk, with motoric elements and marvellous counter-movements in the `Malagueña', and with the use of instrumental lines with vocal overtones in the final `Feria'. At the same time, Ravel embraced the Spanish trait more specifically in the short one-act opera L'heure espagnol (The Spanish Hour, 1907-1909) which tells, in farcical style, the adventures of a would-be adulterous clockmaker's wife. Ma Mère l'Oye (Mother Goose, 1908, orchestrated 1911, expanded into full ballet 1912) was originally a suite of pieces for piano duet written for children (rather than to be played by children), but is much better known in its orchestral, ballet form. The child-like aspect emerges in the fantasy of the pieces, drawing together various well-known fairy-tales, dressed in gorgeous orchestral colours, but the organization is precise, fantasy meeting artifice. The pianistic culmination of this period of Ravel's writing is the triptych Gaspard de la nuit (1908), inspired by the fantasy prose-poems of the 19th-century poet Aloysius Bertrand. The spirit behind this work is the virtuosity and fantastical imagination of Liszt; the first of the nocturnal visions is that of the water-nymph Ondine, who unhappily falls in love with a mortal, the second of a gibbet with a hanging skeleton, the third of the goblin who is always present, unseen, darting and shifting in Ravel's portrait. The writing has an uncanny ability to get behind these visions, almost as if they were major archetypes of Ravel's own psyche, so much so that they have a spontaneous, improvisatory feel (whereas in fact they are meticulously calculated) that adds a haunting and harrowing immediacy to the three pieces. Gaspard de la nuit makes great expressive and technical demands on the pianist, and has become one of the touchstones of the great pianist's art. The orchestral culmination of this period is very different. Ravel called the ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1909-1912) a `choreographic symphony'; it is based on the Greek legend, and was the longest work he wrote. The Greece he conjured up was that seen through the eyes of the late 18th-century French artists, an arcadian and earthy view. The result is electrifying, music steeped in pagan sensuousness. For the magic of the orchestration and for sheer evocation, nothing has yet rivalled the music for `lever du jour' (`Daybreak'), with its rippling flutes over the tinkling of the harp, its hush of a new dawn, the eddies of water, the calls of birds, the great swell of the rising sun into the dawn. Ravel made two suites (1911, 1913) from the ballet: the first suite uses the first third of the ballet score, and the second suite, which has become the form in which the music is most often heard, the last third. For these suites he provided instrumental alternatives to the wordless chorus of the original ballet, which is worth hearing in its entirety.

The works immediately following Daphnis et Chloé are smaller in scale, and concentrate on clearer textures and a more idiomatic melodic line. The shades of Schubert's Vienna stand at the shoulder of the suite of waltzes, Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911, orchestrated 1912); the suite is often heard in both the original piano and later orchestral settings. The Piano Trio (1914), with its suggestion of Spanish themes, hauntingly explores the contrasts of sonorities between the piano and the strings. The tendency to distil images of bygone eras reached its fulfilment in Le tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917), a set of six piano pieces, four of which were orchestrated and reordered in 1919, each with a dedication to a friend who had died in the war. In spite of the title, Ravel does not summon up the style of Couperin, but rather that of French 18th-century court dance music in a modern hue, creating what is to all intents and purposes a neo-classical work, with restrained, clean orchestration. Those expecting Ravel in a more sensuous, Impressionistic vein will be disappointed, but it displays all Ravel's powers of charm and grace and meticulous craftsmanship, a musical equivalent to the robust delicacy of 18th-century French furniture. As if to counter what he had initiated in Le tombeau de Couperin, the short ballet La Valse (1919-1920), now a regular orchestral piece in the concert hall, veers in a completely different direction. In contrast to the Schubertian sensitivity of the Valse nobles et sentimentales, this takes the world of Richard Strauss' Viennese waltz head-on, outscoring the German as it does so. The scale is huge - this is a waltz in a gigantic, glittering palace ballroom - but there is a disturbed ghostly undercurrent to the whole thing (partly caused by the swooping middle-ground voices of the orchestra), as if Ravel was looking back on pre-war Imperial Vienna through the horror of the trenches. The Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-1922), dedicated to the memory of Debussy, is a strange and under-appreciated work, one of the most intellectual Ravel wrote. The dialogue between the unusual instrumental combination is spartan and discursive, and may appeal to those who find Ravel's major works too sumptuous. In the Violin Sonata (1923-1927) - as it is known, though it was actually his second - the rather uneasy juxtaposition of the sparse lines and textures of the first movement and the bitter blues of the middle movement have perhaps inhibited a wider popularity. But the highpoint of this period of Ravel's output is the one-act opera L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Enchantments, 1920-1925). The brilliant, perfectly proportioned libretto by Colette tells of a boy who ignores his mother's warnings, maltreats a pet squirrel, is then tormented by the coming to life of all his toys (and the furnishings of his room), is transported into the nocturnal garden, and is then redeemed by all the animals of the garden. It is one of those rare works which appeal to both children and adults, and its episodic nature allows Ravel a wide range of styles in individual numbers, from the jazz spoof of the teapot and teacup to the glittering lyricism of the Princess. The cat's duet has become as famous as that of Rossini, and is atmospherically more effective. The range of orchestration, from chamber proportions to larger ensembles, is considerable and highly refined, and the moment when the room dissolves and the garden appears, complete with owls hooting and frogs croaking, is as magically evocative as anything in Daphnis et Chloé. This opera deserves to be much more widely known, as it is a masterpiece of its kind; stylistically, it is a kind of summary of the different facets of Ravel's compositional idioms.

Ravel's tendency to find inspiration in, and solace from, other musics, and his ability to transmute their idioms into his own, is exemplified in the short but virtuoso Tzigane (1924), which exists in versions for violin and piano and violin and orchestra, though the latter is much more effective. In it he invokes the spirit of Hungary, and especially of the Hungarian gypsy fiddlers. It opens with a long quasi-improvisatory extended solo, countered by an orchestral introduction that is a web of sounds dominated by a prominent harp. Thereafter Ravel darts around his various visions of the Hungarian spirit, including a spoof of the refined Hungarian orchestral dances that is surely a tribute to Liszt. There is humour in this work, as well as mystery in the high orchestral and solo moments that employ harmonics - it is the kind of unique piece that defies categorization. Ravel's best known work started as a request for a short ballet. Boléro (1928) for orchestra marries the Spanish influence, and a Spanish 3/4 dance rhythm, with the rigidity of modernity. It is a continuous ostinato, a reiterated linear repetition, a progression of awesome power and control. The propulsion is the menace of a sidedrum remorselessly beating out the rhythm, echoed by brass, and the progeny is the entry of the main theme no less than 18 times. Transformation is achieved by subtle orchestral colours that are piled up, iron-fisted, element by element. Yet the main theme is sensuous, Moorish, sinuous, and when nothing else could possibly seem to happen in this remorseless progression, the whole orchestra shifts from C major to E major, and on towards the blaze of triumph of the C major in which what Ravel called an `exercise' ends.

Irony finally conflicts with lyricism and virtuosity in the two piano concertos. Ravel worked on them simultaneously, and there could scarcely be more of a contrast between the two. The better-known Piano Concerto in G (1929-1931) is the more traditional, cast in three movements, and is of almost chamber proportions, looking back to the example of Mozart. That is most prominent in the delicate and beautiful little neo-classical slow movement, where the piano opens solo, gradually to be joined by other instruments until an almost bluesy tone is reached. The first movement opens with a clapper, which, it has been pointed out, sounds like the composer's ring-master whip as he is about to put the pianist through his or her paces in the brilliant, darting movement. The last movement has strong jazz influences, in the orchestration (notably the trombone slides and the scrawling clarinet) and in the rhythms. The dramatic Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-1930) is perhaps the finer work, for its explores greater depths, and in it Ravel set himself a far harder task. It was written for the one-handed pianist Wittgenstein (and is the best of the many works written for him), and in it Ravel returns to elements of the sensuous ecstasy of Daphnis et Chloé, though tempered by a more direct and cogent drive; something of the horror of the First World War (in which Wittgenstein lost his arm) lies behind this work. Cast in one movement, it is propelled inevitably and sometimes remorselessly from its extraordinary opening, the bassoon rising out of hushed lower strings, to its bitter-sweet end. Ravel employs a large orchestra, and within this overall progression are a series of almost episodic emotional surges, often propelled by the orchestra and pianist alternately, including a sardonic march as menacing as anything by Prokofiev. Not the least remarkable aspect of this remarkable and unconventional concerto is the piano writing: never once does it sound as if it is the left-hand alone playing, and it is ironic that if this concerto had been written for two hands (without a note being changed) it would probably now be far better known than it is.

Ravel was also important as a song writer, notable for the freedom of the vocal lines. Among his works in this genre, the Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913) for soprano and nine instruments are unusual in that Ravel intentionally used the same instrumental forces as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, although at the time he had only heard of the work, not heard it or seen a score. There are two sets of songs based on existing material, the Cinq mélodies populaires grècques and the Deux mélodies hébraïques (1914), the former based on ancient and recent Greek folk-songs, the latter on two Hebrew melodies. In both cases the importance and independence of the piano writing takes them out of their folk origins into the area of lieder, and the Greek set, with its illustrative, often sharp-coloured piano writing and natural vocal line, is especially effective. There is a combination of melancholy, sensuousness and (in the central song), bitterness in the three songs that make up Chansons Madécasses (1925-1926) for high voice, flute, cello and piano, to poetry by the 18th-century Creole poet Evarist Parny. There is little of Impressionism left here; instead the three instruments and the voice make a quartet, the writing is linear, the edges of the textures clear-cut, the repetitions adding a touch of primitivism, with a restrained eroticism in the interweaving of the four lines: a musical equivalent to Gauguin. His last work, the three songs of Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1932-1933) for baritone and piano or orchestra, combines the Spanish influence (with words by Paul Moran drawn from Cervantes) with a carefully poised and perfectly calculated sense of the character who is singing the songs. The first has piano writing that imitates the guitar, the second (the Knight's epic prayer) a modal feel recalling Spain's ancient noble past, that breaks out into a climax of pure light, the third a drinking-song whose rollicking, semi-flamenco nature hides an undercurrent of sadness appropriate to the character.

Ravel's art was too precise for easy emulation, though among his few pupils was the unlikely figure of the older Vaughan Williams, and the influence of the post-Impressionist Ravel is evident in the latter's work (for a Ravel work that has similarities, see the second song of Don Quichotte à Dulcinée). Ravel's failure to receive the Prix de Rome at his fourth attempt led to a scandal and extensive changes at the Conservatoire; because of that snub, he also later refused the Legion d'Honneur that was offered to him. He served in the First World War as a driver, and was afflicted by a brain disease (Pick's disease) in the last years of his life.

Ravel has sometimes been criticized for being too shallow: those unsympathetic to his aesthetic of intellectual and fastidious craftsmanship have seen in his music not an original approach, but the aimless manifestation of cultural decadence. He certainly created in his music a filter between his own inner feelings and the outward expression, refining them through his meticulous approach, but such a criticism is difficult to apply to works such as Daphnis et Chloé or the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. There is certainly a paradox in Ravel's musical personality, between the sumptuous but refined sensuousness of some of the scores, and the equally refined but much drier delight in technicality of others, notably the later chamber works. It is perhaps ironic that many unsympathetic to the former are unaware of the latter, but the sheer orchestral pleasure that Ravel provides in so many of the orchestral works is unlikely to be dimmed.


works include:

- piano concerto; piano concerto for the left-hand; Tzigane for violin and orchestra (or piano)

- Alborado del gracioso (from piano work), Fanfare pour `L'eventail de Jeanne', Menuet antique (from piano work), Pavane pour une Infante défunte (from piano work), Rhapsodie espagnole, Le tombeau de Couperin (from piano work), and Valses nobles et sentimentales (from piano work) for orch.

- Berceuse for violin and piano; 2 violin sonatas; sonata for cello and violin; piano trio; string quartet; Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet

- piano sonatina; À la manière de Borodin, À la manière de Chabrier, Jeux d'eau, Gaspard de la nuit, Menuet antique, Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn, Miroirs, Pavane pour une Infante défunte, Prelude, le Tombeau de Couperin, and Valses nobles et sentimentales for piano; Ma mère l'oye four piano four hands; Frontispiece for two pianos, five hands

- song cycles Cinq mélodies populaires grècques, Deux épigrammes de Clément Marot, Deux mélodies hébraïques, Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, Histoires naturelles, and Shéhérazade, most in versions for piano or orchestra and other songs; Chansons madécasses for high voice, flute, cello, and piano; Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé for high voice and nine instruments

- cantatas Alcyone, Alyssa, and Myrrha

- ballets Bolero, Daphnis et Chloé, Ma mère l'oye (from piano work) and La valse

- operas L'enfant et les sortilèges and L'heure espagnole

- orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition


recommended works:

Alborada del gracioso (1918 from 1904-1905) for orchestra

(ballet) Bolero (1928) for orchestra

song cycle Chansons madécasses (1925-1926)

ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1909-1912)

song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1932-1933)

opera L'enfant et les sortilèges (1920-1925)

Gaspard de la nuit (1908) for piano

Introduction and Allegro (1905) for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet

opera L'heure espagnole (1907-1909)

Jeux d'eau (1901) for piano

Miroirs (1904-1905) for piano

Pavane pour un Infante défunte (1899) for piano or for orchestra

Piano Concerto in G (1929-1931)

Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-1930)

song cycle Shéhérazade (1903)

String Quartet (1902-1903)

Le Tombeau de Couperin for piano or for orchestra

Tzigane (1924) for violin and piano or violin and orchestra

(ballet) La valse (1919-1920) for orchestra



R.Manuel Maurice Ravel (Eng. trans.), 1972

R.Nichols Ravel, 1977

- Ravel Remembered, 1987

A.Orenstein Ravel, Man and Music, 1975



born 5th April 1869 at Tourcoing

died 23rd August 1937 at Royan


Roussel pursued a career as a naval officer, until at the age of 25 he left to devote himself to music, apart from a period during the First World War when he joined the Red Cross and then served as a naval engineering officer. He occupies an important, if tangential, place in French music. Although his earlier works were influenced by Debussy's Impressionism (the opening of the symphonic suite from the ballet Le festin de l'araignée [The Spider's Feast], 1913, is an obvious example), he developed a very individual style of neo-classicism that was quite at odds with the mainstream of French music of the 1920s and 1930s.

The classicism is expressed in his adherence to the logic of traditional structures and in the fastidious craftsmanship, both a legacy from his teacher d'Indy, which give his mature works a sense of rugged order. This is reinforced by his emphasis on counterpoint, and by the occasional (and muted) use of a cyclical structure (a motto or idea that recurs throughout a work) that is a French tradition, from Berlioz via Franck and d'Indy. The personal brand of modernism arises from his harmonies, which are rooted in tonality, but branch out into unexpected directions and dissonances - partly because their progressions are generated by the counterpoint (harmony as a result rather than as a cause). In addition, a modern element is injected by the influence of eastern musics and their exotic colours, particularly Indian, which Roussel had assimilated on his naval travels and on his honeymoon tour in 1908. This also influenced his melodies, often modal and often using the tritone. If these melodies are usually not very striking (and sometimes downright weak), this is entirely counterbalanced by the chief characteristic of his music: his driving sense of rhythm, a motivating element that is similar to that of Prokofiev, and which combines with the counterpoint to produce a strong sense of impulse, energy, and sometimes grandeur. His orchestration has sometimes been described as thin, but although it is used sparingly and with great clarity, the effect is often rich and with a suggestion of the sensuous.

Central to his output are the four symphonies. The Symphony No.1, subtitled Le poème de la forêt (The Poem of the Forest, 1904-1906) is essentially a descriptive work, in spite of its classical forms, but the Symphony No.2 (1919-1921) established his classical style. The Symphony No.3 (1929-1930) and the Symphony No.4 (1934) are the most commonly encountered. The former shows all Roussel's personal style, from the vigour of the rhythms of the opening, the classical logic, the use of a motif phrase, the sometimes acerbic harmonies countered by the sensuousness of the violin solo part, the lilting rhythms of the slow movement (with strong similarities to Prokofiev), and a fugue, to the energetic scherzo and the echoes of Berlioz in the finale. In the fourth symphony, with its complex and impassioned slow movement, a mock-martial scherzo, and a very fine and concise finale, the element of the melancholic that is latent in Roussel's work is more obvious.

Of his other works, the Suite in F (1926) for orchestra heralded the move away from Impressionism, while the most overtly neo-classical work is the fine Sinfonietta (1934) for strings, austere in its discipline and rugged in its drive. The Piano Concerto (1927) integrates the soloist with the orchestra, while the little Concertino for Cello and Orchestra (1936), his last orchestral work, is neo-classical in feel, rather melancholy in sentiment. Of the chamber music, the finest works are the String Quartet (1932) and the spare String Trio (1937), though the Sérénade (1925) for flute, violin, viola, cello and harp is delightful, quickly moving away from any suggestion of Impressionism at its opening to a laughing neo-classicism, with cello rhythmic lines reminiscent of Stravinsky, happy dialogue between the instruments, and a mellow slow movement. An unsympathetic libretto (based on an Indian story) has probably prevented any revival of his `opera-ballet', Padmâvatí, (1914-1918), musically interesting for its rhythmic invention, the formality of its design and its use of Indian raga and Near East melody. The works which those unfamiliar with Roussel's music will find most immediately appealing are the ballet scores Le festin de l'araignée (1912), with its Impressionist feel, happy tunes, rhythmic felicity, and marvellously pointed small orchestra, and Bacchus et Ariane (1930). In the latter (turned into two orchestral suites) the voluptuousness is contained by the incisiveness of the writing and the surety of the flow and change of rhythmic dance, its suggestion of barbarity curbed by the sheer control of the musical thought and the deft precision of its often vivid orchestration, occasionally reminiscent of Prokofiev. A third ballet, Aenéas (1935), sung as well as danced, is more sparse.

Although he taught at the Schola Cantorum (1902-1914), Roussel has no obvious French followers, even if there are echoes of his aesthetic in the concertos and symphonies of Dutilleux and Jolivet. On one major composer, however, he did leave his mark. The later works of Martinů (Roussel's pupil from 1923-1924) clearly have the imprint of the combination of neo-classical form enlivened by a generating sense of rhythm exemplified in Roussel's Sinfonietta, as well as some of Roussel's division of orchestration, although all are further developed. Ironically, Martinů was not to turn to his mature style until the very last years of Roussel's life.

It is not difficult to see why Roussel's music has been relatively unpopular. Apart from its divergence from the general progression of French music, the balance between expressive tendencies countered by intellectual rigour, and craftsmanship and structure countered by the freer elements, is a particularly personal one. His many admirers attest to the success of that balance, and those readers unfamiliar with his style should certainly hear his music to judge for themselves.


works include:

- 4 symphonies (No.1 Le poème de la forêt); Sinfonietta for string orch.; piano concerto; concerto for small orchestra; cello concertino; Evocations, Pour un Fête de printemps, Resurrection and Rhapsodie flamande for orch.

- Andante and Scherzo and Joueurs de flûte for flute and piano; 2 violin sonatas; piano trio; string trio; string quartet; Sérénade for harp, flute, violin, viola and cello; Divertissement for piano and wind quintet and other chamber music Trois pièces, Prelude and Fugue, Rustiques, Suite in f sharp minor, and sonatina for piano; Ségovia for solo guitar

- songs and song cycles including Deux idylles, Deux mélodies de Ville, Deux poèmes chinois (3 sets), Deux poèmes de Ronsard for soprano and flute, Odes anacréontiques (2 sets), Quatre poèmes de Regnier (2 sets); Evocations for soloists, chorus and orch.; Psalm 80 for tenor, chorus and orch.

- ballets Bacchus et Ariane, Le festin de l'araignée (The Spider's Feast)

- opera Padmávatí


recommended works:

ballet Bacchus et Ariane op.43 (1930)

ballet Le festin de l'araignée op.17 (1913)

Sinfonietta for string orchestra op.52 (1934)

String Quartet op.45

Symphony No.3 op.42 (1930)

Symphony No.4 op.53 (1934)



B.Deane Albert Roussel, 1961


SATIE Erik Alfred Leslie

born 17th May 1866 at Honfleur

died 1st July 1925 at Paris


The place of Erik Satie's music has perhaps been exaggerated, in part because it enjoyed a vogue during the hippie period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Satie's unusual life-style and rebellious brand of anti-establishment humour found a ready audience. His ideas, though, have been of importance to later composers, and he has been described, with some justification, as a minor composer of major significance.

Satie's personal reaction against Wagnerian late-Romanticism, and against the studied symbolism often present in Impressionism, was to deride and undermine the mantle of seriousness with which classical music has so often cloaked itself. One part of that response came from Satie's own eccentric sense of humour that mocked pretentiousness - it was typical that he numbered his first published pieces (Valse-Ballet and Fantaisie-Valse, 1885, both for piano) op.62. A second was to seek inspiration and images, and, later in his career, sound sources, outside those then associated with serious music. A third was to rebel against accepted forms and harmonic progressions, and to evolve his own plastic solutions to each piece. His major influences were unusual, those of Gregorian chant and medieval music and Gothic art, all of which he studied. To this was added from 1890 an interest in the mystical and the occult.

The problem for all composers abandoning traditional forms is inventing new ones, and these often initially emerge in small-scale works. Satie was no exception, and all his earlier works were short piano pieces; however, for Satie these small forms were temperamentally conducive, for he had the instincts of the miniaturist, for making precise, cogent and self-contained statements in small-scale forms. Ogives (1886), a set of four piano pieces, was imbued with the Gothic, and was followed by the three Sarabandes (1887) for piano, but it was the Gymnopédies (1888), a set of three slow dances for piano, that have become Satie's best known works, especially after Debussy orchestrated two of them. The title refers to ancient Greek ritual dances by naked boys, but the music has a limpid simplicity and beauty with haunting melodies which, together with the sense of progression or time hung in suspension, influenced musical Impressionism. The technique of a long melody over chord progressions has a extraordinary sense of relaxation which has endeared these pieces to later generations. The three Gnossiennes (1890) have a similar limpid feel, but with more abrupt harmonic shifts and right-hand melodies that wander in flights of delightful fancy. In these sets Satie was exploring new ideas, and they are in groups of three because each piece of a set essentially explores the same melodic and harmonic ideas from a different angle (hence the surface similarities of the three Gymnopédies). Harmonically, there is a strong modal cast (a reflection of Satie's medieval studies), and use of 7ths and 9ths that are unresolved. In Gnossiennes Satie removed bar-lines, emphasizing the free, plastic flow. There is often little sense of closure - these pieces emerge and fade away rather than having strong openings and endings. There is a conscious simplicity, a paring away of unnecessary content, that is one of the hallmarks of the miniaturist.

Gnossiennes marked the end of this period in Satie's output, for from Première pensée Rose + Croix (1891) until the Prélude de la porte héroïque du ciel of 1894 Satie wrote a series of piano pieces that reflected his involvement with the mystical Christian Rosicrucian movement, all written for imaginary ritual ceremonies. This period ended with the Messe des pauvres (1895) for chorus with organ or piano, and was followed by two years of silence, broken by the Pièces froides (1897) for piano, where the sense of hung suspension of the pre-Rosicrucian works has become a musing wandering, regularly returning to the main melodic ideas. Then, developing this idiom, his piano miniatures take on a new cast, still whimsical, but with the influence of popular French music-hall tunes, outrageous and sometimes misleading titles, such as Trois morceaux en forme de poire, (Three pieces in the shape of a pear, 1890-1903) for two pianos - there are actually seven pieces - and with equally quirky instructions in the score, such as suggesting the sound should be `like a nightingale with toothache.' Behind these eccentricities lay a serious intent. He continued to experiment with unusual harmonies in these piano pieces, his output reaching its zenith in 1913, after he had been championed by the famous pianist Ricardo Viñes. Within the miniature forms and the deliberate simplicity Satie was using humour to cock a snook at the received wisdom of the establishment; at the same time he was trying to forge an idiom that would find a wider popularity (hence the music-hall influence; Satie supported himself by playing popular piano). Satie called this `musique de tous les jours' (`everyday music').

Meanwhile, recognizing that his training and development had confined him to the miniature, Satie enrolled in the Schola Cantorum in 1905, studying with d'Indy and Roussel until 1908. Satie then felt he had the training for larger works with orchestra or instrumentation rather than piano, and these are of more substance and of more lasting interest than his better-known piano works. However, in them he lost none of his quirkiness or his deliberately unconventional way of looking at the world: the first, the satirical stage work Le piège de Méduse (1913) for actors and eight instruments, has an absurdist text, including a stuffed monkey that dances between the scenes. Then in 1916 Satie produced for Diaghilev the ballet Parade, with a scenario by Jean Cocteau, choreography by Massine, and costumes by Picasso. It created a sensation (Satie so insulted one of the critics that he was prosecuted for defamation of character, and received a suspended jail sentence), for in many ways it was a revolutionary work. In form it is a suite of small pieces (the favourite technique of the miniaturist seeking a larger form), it included such influences as ragtime, and it used unusual sound sources in its instrumentation: sirens, typewriters, revolvers, motors. The title refers to the excerpts that showmen at the fair display outside the performance tent in an attempt to attract an audience, and allowed Satie to parade such diverse characters as a Chinese Conjurer and the Little American Girl in brief appearances; ultimately the Manager fails, as the audience are quite satisfied by the snippets they have seen outside the tent. The vivid, down-to-earth, and completely unsentimental score has been compared to Cubism in its juxtaposition of blocks of ideas, themselves parodies of a multitude of sound sources from the two-step, through an Oriental exoticism and the rhythms of the typewriter, to the fugue that opens and closes the ballet.

Parade was followed by Satie's masterpiece, the symphonic drama Socrate (1918) for soprano or soprano, mezzo-soprano and orchestra. Based on Plato's Dialogues, it is divided into three parts: a portrait of Socrates by Alcibiades, the conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus on the pleasant banks of the Ilissus, and the death of Socrates related by Phaedo. Satie's idiom had always tended to the simple, but in Socrate it becomes deliberately spare, almost artless. The vocal lines follow the inflections of the reported speech, and are without any sense of bar-line; the subdued pulse is mostly provided by the orchestra, drained of most colours except those that lie around a warm middle register; the harmonies and melodic lines have the simplicity and the modality of plainchant. The critics at the first performance were baffled, thinking it another of Satie's jokes, but this sparse setting is gently mesmerizing, creating an atmosphere that presents an individual and convincing interpretation of Socrates, a kind of deliberate conviction combined with a completely unaggressive sense of pleasure (in the second part) and acceptance. Socrate is the least immediate and the most serious of Satie's works, but the courage to provide such a simplistic setting for such potent words was justified; each of the three sections uses the same harmonic and melodic idiom from a different angle, as in his early piano works, and the whole piece has the feel of the precise focus of the miniature expanded in a longer time-duration.

In 1920 Satie extended his concept of `everyday music' by creating `furniture music' (Matisse's term) designed to accompany a gallery exhibition and to be completely unobtrusive; Satie was annoyed when the gallery viewers stopped to listen to the result, entitled Musique d'ameublement for three clarinets, trombone and piano, and written in collaboration with Milhaud. This was an experiment of context, but then he wrote two further large-scale works of importance. The ballet Mercure (1924), in thirteen very compressed sections, caused another scandal, as the surrealists in the audience supported the designer Picasso, but not the composer; the choreography was again by Massine (at a later performance the wife of the Count who commissioned the ballet bought all of the seats to give her friends, but forgot to do so, and the theatre was virtually empty). The plot is based on Mercury's meeting with the Graces, but the idiom is drawn from country-fair music, bright and sometimes brash, again with a deliberately artless element, but constructed with Satie's customary care for self-containment and detail. The ballet Relâche (referring to a theatre that is `dark' or closed, 1924) was both a return to the ingredient of the absurd in Satie's aesthetic and experimentally daring, with elements of dadaism and surrealism: it includes a strip tease, dances with objects (such as wheel-barrows), and a film section with an unrelated musical accompaniment.

Satie's main accomplishment was to broaden the parameters within which serious music could take place, elevating parody and the absurd to a serious context, and he was a pioneer of the aesthetic of the humorous, the quirky, and the rebelliously surreal in music, idioms unthinkable in the 19th century but now commonplace. His concepts of simplicity and an assumed naïveté or direct artlessness that would appeal to a wider audience greatly influenced Jean Cocteau, both in his own writings and also in the aesthetic he transmitted to such composers as Milhaud, Honegger, and, briefly, Stravinsky. The modal shades of his harmonies and the lack of traditional resolution, creating a kind of blenched atmosphere, also had a subtle influence on later composers, even, distantly, such composers as Britten (audible in a comparison between the harmonic cast and decorative piano line of the Gnossiennes and such songs as Winter Words, No.6). Satie's concept of form having the possibility of little opening or closure (and, in the ballet Relâche, being partly predicated by duration), though not unique to Satie, has become generally accepted.


works include:

- La belle excentrique, Cinq grimaces and En habit de cheval for orch.

- Sonnerie pour reveiller le bon gros Roi des Singes for 2 trumpets; Choses vues à droite et à la gauche (sans lunettes) for violin and piano; Musique d'ameublement for 3 clarinets, trombone and piano (with Milhaud)

- Allegro, Avant-dernières pensées, Chapitres tournés en tous sens, Cinq nocturnes, Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois, Danses gothique, Descriptions automatiques, Deux préludes du Nazaréen, Embryons desséchés, Engantillages pittoresques, Fantaisie-valse, Fêtes donnée par des Chevaliers Normandes, Les filles des étoiles, Heures séculaires et instantanées, Jack-in-the-box, Menus propos enfantins, Modéré, Nouvelles pièces froides, Passacaille, les pantins dansent, Pecadilles importunes, Le Picadilly, Pièces froides, Poudre d'or, Le piège de méduse, Préludes d'Eginhard, Prélude de la porte héroïque du ciel, Prélude en tapisserie, Premier menuet, Première pensée Rose + Croix, Quatre ogives, Quatre préludes flasques, Réverie de l'enfance de Pantagruel, Sonatine bureaucratique, Sports et divertissements, Trois gnossiennes, Trois gymnopédies, Trois préludes, les trois valses du précieux dégoûté, Trois véritables préludes flasques, Trois sarabandes, Uspud, Valse-ballet, Vexations and Vieux sequins et vieilles cuirasses for piano

- song cycles Quatre petites mélodies, Trois mélodies, Trois poèmes d'amour and other songs; Socrate for four voices and orch.; Messe des pauvres for chorus and organ or piano

- ballets Mercure, Parade and Relâche

- stage work Le piège de Méduse for actors and 8 instruments; marionette opera Geneviève de Brabant for voices and piano


recommended works:

In addition to the works listed below, any sample of Satie's later piano music will include works of interest.

ballet Mercure (1924)

ballet Parade (1917)

ballet Relâche (1924)

symphonic drama Socrate (1918) for four voices and orchestra

Trois gnossiennes (1890) for piano

Trois gymnopédies (1888) for piano



E.Satie The Writings of Eric Satie (ed. N.Wilkins), 1976

A.M.Gillmor Erik Satie, 1988

R.Myers Erik Satie, 1948



born 18th May 1901 at Bordeaux

died June 22 1989 at Paris


Much better known inside France than outside, Sauguet's large output initially came under the influence of Satie, and he was a member of the group known as École d'Arceuil (1923-1925), the name of the district where Satie lived. That influence is (intentionally) obvious in Sauguet's best known score, the ballet Les Forains (The Strolling Players, 1945), a watered-down imitation of Satie's Parade, the idiosyncrasy if not the vivacity smoothed out - colourful, but more appropriate to the ballet stage than the concert platform. His earlier music is characterized by an effortless free-flowing lyricism and transparency of colour, the charm more marked than a strong individual idiom. Wistfulness is apparent even in more public works, such as the extended suite Tableau de Paris (1950) for orchestra, describing different sections of the French city from a dreamy mystical view to touches of jazz. Sauguet's idiom then gradually evolved into the use of more complex harmonic ideas, and by the 1960s became less tied to a tonal base. Of his earlier works, the Piano Concerto No.1 (1933-1934) with its clear-cut, if unremarkable outer movements, Romantic in feel, is sometimes encountered and deserves hearing for its beautiful and effective slow movement in which the echoes of Debussy stimulate a more direct and precise utterance. Of his later music, 12-note melodies (though not following any system) are used in the attractive cantata L'oiseau a vu tout cela (The Bird Saw All That, 1960) for baritone and string orchestra, with a haunting slow-moving atmosphere sometimes countered by busy textures in the instruments. His typical wistful charm is retained in such works as the Mélodie concertante (1964) for cello and orchestra. The Garden Concerto (1969) for harmonica and orchestra (also version for oboe and orchestra) has a lightness combined with Sauguet's later harmonic style, and meanders on a pleasant ramble. Of his chamber music, the String Quartet No.2 (1947-1948) and the String Quartet No.3 (1978) exemplify his preference for clothing a kind of lyrically sad serenity in more direct, conversational utterance. A large part of his output consists of works for the stage, and his first large success was the ballet La chatte (The Cat, 1927) for Diaghilev, based on an Aesop tale of a man who falls in love with a cat, obligingly turned into a woman by the goddess Aphrodite, until she sees a mouse, and reverts. The lively music is entertaining, with a Parisian joie-de-vivre touched with a dreamy lyricism. Among his operas, Les caprices de Marianne, with Bizet a distant model, was much admired when it appeared in 1954, and the most ambitious is La chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Palma, 1927-1936, revised 1968).


works include:

- 4 symphonies (No.1 Symphonie expiatoire, No.2 Symphonie des marches, No.3 INR, No.4 Troisième âge); 3 piano concertos (No.3 Concert des mondes souterrains); violin concerto (Concerto d'Orphée); Mélodie concertante for cello and orch.; Garden Concerto for harmonica and orch.; Sonata d'église for organ and orch.

- Tableaux de Paris and Les trois lys for orch.; Deux mouvements à la memoire de Paul Gilson for string orch.

- Sonata crépusculaire for violin and piano; 3 string quartets; trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon; Alentours saxophoniques for alto saxophone, wind ensemble and piano and many other chamber works

- cantatas L'Oiseau a vu tout cela and La Voyante; oratorio Chant pour une ville meutrie; song cycles including Les animaux et leurs hommes and Nièges and many other songs and vocal works

- ballets including L'as de coeur, La chatte (The Cat), Cordelia, Les Forains (The Strolling Players), L'imposteur ou Le Prince et le mendiant, Les mirages, Oedipus et la Sphinx, Paris, Paul et Virginie and Les roses

- operas Les caprices de Marianne, La chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Palma), Le Contrebasse, La gageure imprévue, Le pain des autres and Le plumet du colonel (The Colonel's Plume)

- incidental music, film and television scores


recommended works:

ballet La chatte (1927)

ballet Les Forains (1945)

cantata L'Oiseau a vu tout cela (1960)

Piano Concerto No.1 (1933-1934)



F.Y.Bril Henri Sauguet, Paris 1967 (in French)

M.Schneider Henri Sauguet, Paris 1959 (in French)



born August 14th 1910 at Nancy

died 19th August 1995


Pierre Schaeffer's name would probably be much better known had he not given up composing at the very end of the 1950s to concentrate on writing, on theory and as a novelist. Nonetheless, in the history of 20th-century music he occupies an important place, appreciation of which is likely to increase as electronic means become more and more woven into the general fabric of music-making. For after studying electrical engineering and working as a radio technician (as well as becoming a novelist), he founded `Jeune France' (`Young France', not to be confused with the group `La Jeune France', founded in 1936 and whose chief members were Jolivet and Messiaen) devoted to inter-arts experiments. These were extended when he co-founded the Studio d'Essai (Experimental Studio) in 1942, as part of French radio; it was a centre for the Resistance during the war. Then in 1948, taking up the theoretical ideas of Varèse, he started experimenting with the manipulation and editing of natural sounds, first on disc and then on tape, thus arriving at the concept of musique-concrète. This led to the formation of the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète (1951) with Jacques Poulin and Pierre Henry, and then, with François-Bernard Mâche and Luc Ferrari, to the creation of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (Group for Musical Research) with the RTF electronic studio. His particular interest has been collecting sounds and their classification, and it is in the distinguishing between the qualities of different sounds and their subsequent manipulation and juxtaposition that Schaeffer has been particularly influential. Chief among his own works are the series of Études (Studies, 1948-1959) for tape, noteworthy for their clean, simple, sparse textures, and the clarity of sounds (based on a wide variety of sources, including instruments and voices, as in the Étude aux sons animés, 1958). From 1953 to 1958 Schaeffer was active in the creation of the overseas services of French radio, and from 1958 he concentrated on theory, teaching electronic composition at the Paris Conservatoire from 1968. His novels include Prelude, Chorale et Fugue (1983)


works include: (all for tape alone):

Symphonie pour un homme seul (with Pierre Henry); Concertino-Diapason (with J.J.Grünewald); electronic Suite pour 14 instruments

- series of 9 Études

- Bidule en nuit (with Pierre Henry); Continuo (with Luc Ferrari); Exposition française à Londres (with Luc Ferrari); L'oiseau RAI; Phèdre; Simultané camerounais; Variations sur une flûte mexicaine

- electronic pantomime Toute la lyre (with Pierre Henry); electronic opera Orphée 53 (with Pierre Henry) incidental, film and radio scores


recommended works:

Symphonie pour un homme seul (with Pierre Henry) (1950)

Étude aux objets (1959)

Étude de bruits (1958)

Études aux allures (1958)

Études aux sons animés (1958)

L'oiseau RAI (1950)



P.Schaeffer À la recherche de la musique concrète, 1952

La musique concrète, 1967

S.Brunet Pierre Schaeffer, 1970 (in French)



born 28th September 1870 at Blamont (Meuthe-et-Moselle)

died 17th August 1958 at Neuilly-sur-Seine


In his lifetime, Florent Schmitt was as well known as an influential and perceptive music critic (for Le Temps from 1929 to 1939) as a composer, and is not to be confused with other composers of a similar name, notably his Austrian contemporary Franz Schmidt. His music shows the formal inheritance of his teacher Fauré, but against this is set a dreamy lyricism that has affinities with the Impressionist music of Debussy, combined with moments of powerful utterance, dynamic orchestration, and rhythmic power that place his style in the 20th century rather than in the period of Romanticism. Once he had established these elements of his style, it changed little apart from a gradually increasing use of chromaticism. Most of his later music is never encountered, and he remains a composer who may well prove to be worthy of greater exposure.

His idiom is well represented by the three works from just after the turn of the century that remain the best known of his large output (138 opus numbers). Psalm 47 op.38 (1904) for soprano, chorus, organ and orchestra is a huge and passionate setting, ranging from exultation and jubilation to a sensuous celebration of the mystery of the passion for God. The ballet La tragédie de Salomé op.50 (1907, revised as symphonic poem, 1910), with a symbolist version of the Salome story ending in an engulfing cataclysm, combines the languorousness of Impressionism (notably in the opening melodic lines, the central mysterious seascape, and the wordless female chorus, all reminiscent of Debussy) with grander, more powerful emotions in marvellous orchestral colours and with an occasional exotic turn. At times, its atmosphere of heady sensuousness, rich orchestration, and powerful rhythms provides something of a foretaste of Stravinsky's early ballets (Stravinsky himself greatly admired this work), especially in the violence of the final dance. Those who enjoy Debussy's La mer or the early Stravinsky ballets will find this an interesting alternative. The long three-movement Piano Quintet in B minor op.51 (1902-1908, revised 1919) is less immediately impressive than these two works, more clearly under the inheritance of Fauré. The writing is mostly dense and passionate, with the impression of extended, seamless lyrical melodic flow in the strings, either in consort with the piano or against a more decorated piano backcloth.

Schmitt was director of the Lyons Conservatory (1922-1924).


works include:

- 2 symphonies

- Çançunik, Kermesse, Musiques en plain air, Le palais hanté, Rêves, Ronde burlesque, Sélamik, Scènes de la vie moyenne and other works for orch.; Enfants for small orch.; Janiana for string orch.

- Symphonie concertante for piano and orch.; Légende for viola or violin or alto sax and orch.; Final, Introit, récit et congé for cello and orch. and Scherzo vif for violin and orch.

- Sonate libre en deux parties enchaînées for violin and piano; Sonatine en trio for flute, clarinet and piano or harpsichord (also piano trio arrangement); string trio; quartet for four flutes; Pour presque tous les temps for flute and piano trio; string quartet; saxophone quartet; piano quintet and many other chamber works, especially using wind

- large body of piano music for solo piano, piano four hands, and two pianos, much of it later orchestrated

- many songs and song cycles; Mass for four voice and organ; Le chant de nuit for soloists, chorus and orch.; Psalm 47 for soprano, chorus, organ and orch., and many other choral works, with orch., smaller instrumental ensembles, or unaccompanied

- ballets Oriane et le prince d'amour, La petit elfe ferme-l'oeil and La tragédie de Salomé

- incidental music to Antoine et Cléopatre; 2 film scores


recommended works:

Psalm 47 op.38 (1904) for soprano, chorus, organ and orchestra

ballet La tragédie de Salomé op.50 (1907)



Y. Hucher Florent Schmitt, 1953 (in French)



born 22nd December 1883 at Paris

died 6th November 1965 at New York


It has been said, with some justification, that the only two truly revolutionary composers producing an entirely new world of sound since the First World War have been Webern and Edgard Varèse (by coincidence, both their fathers were engineers). Certainly the most experimental composers since 1945 have been deeply indebted to the one or the other, and Edgard Varèse is one of the innovative geniuses of the modern age. His output consists of only fourteen complete surviving works, and it is extraordinary that, in comparison to similar figures in other artistic fields (e.e. cummings or Pollock, for example), Varèse's name, let alone his music, is still known only to relatively few.

Varèse was constantly looking for new sounds, ones "that had not been heard", that would of themselves be able to keep up with and reflect new thought and a new age. For it was the qualities of individual sounds that were central to his aesthetic: their colour, depth, resonance, emotional effect, the register of the instrument. His orchestration and instrumentation were a reflection of the interaction and combinations of the sounds he was using, hence his constant search for new instruments or instrumental combinations. He preferred instruments that could create distinct and harsh sounds, especially percussion, wind and brass, and avoided those with vibrato, such as strings. Harmony becomes secondary, the tone qualities producing harmonic combinations; as Gilles Tremblay has pointed out, this returns harmony to a primitive quality of resonance and timbre, and is often aggressively dissonant.

This concentration on the qualities of sounds throws two musical elements into sharper relief. First rhythm becomes important as a structural basis for the composition, and Varèse greatly developed the use of rhythm in modern music, in particular irregular and swiftly changing pulses and metres, and the interaction of different rhythms. Second, dynamics take on new importance, because the individual dynamics of an instrument change its sound, and the interaction of different dynamics alters the overall sound. This also becomes interrelated with rhythm, since the rhythm of changing dynamics can help shape the overall progression of a Varèse work. Varèse's plastic forms, as he himself observed, are a consequence of these concerns rather than following any traditional patterns; and the logic and seeming inevitability with which his works unfold is one of their remarkable features. The different sound-blocks or masses, often using silence as a component and often associated with different rhythms, overlap and interlink to create this flow.

Among his earliest works, all subsequently destroyed or lost, was a Straussian tone poem Bourgogne, which created a scandal when first performed in 1910, and a Prélude à la fin d'un jour for an orchestra of 120. He also worked on an opera, Oedipus and the Sphinx, with Hugo von Hofmannsthal. With his move to New York at the very end of 1915 he found a society filled with the excitement of the new, largely untrammelled by the weight of European tradition, that entirely suited his aesthetic. That break with Europe was expressed in his earliest surviving work, Amériques (1921, revised 1929). In its original version it was for a huge orchestra of 142 instruments, but he revised it for a still larger orchestra, whose most remarkable feature for the time was a battery of 21 percussion instruments with ten players. This massive work, generating excitement through its massed forces, the percussion permeating the orchestral sound as a separate block, is prophetic of Varèse's later work and of more recent orchestral developments. Ranging through the ritualistic, the mechanical, the primitive, it maintains a constant ferment of emotional expression through changes of colour and dynamics, and the sound of the siren, capturing the momentum he found in America, became a feature of Varèse's style. More transitional is Offrandes (1921) for soprano and small orchestra, setting poems by the Chilean Vicente Huidobiro and the Mexican José Juan Tablada. The orchestra provide the block effects, with rocking rhythms and clockwork percussion, against the lyrical long lines of the soloist.

But it was Hyperprism (1922-1923) for flute, clarinet, three horns, two trumpets, two trombones and sixteen percussion instruments that wrought the revolution. Its colours and its construction by blocks and rhythmic change were completely new, and it too caused a scandal on its first performance. Much of the writing is for unpitched percussion sounding and clashing against each other; in between, the pitched instruments create blocks of sound, in contrasting rhythms to the percussion, with the insistence on a repeated note that is another feature of Varèse's style. It is a short work, saying all it needs, no more and no less, and it evokes the power and rhythm and aggressive sounds of the urban jungle. Octandre (1923) for seven wind and double bass, is actually in three linked movements, a different wind instrument introducing each. It is a kind of nature equivalent to the urban insistence of Hyperprism, a raw primitive landscape or jungle, equally populated by blocks of sound, but with the textures of wind rather than the raucousness of percussion. Intégrales (1924-1925) for eleven wind and four percussion completes what amounts to a trilogy. With its different blocks moving at different speeds, its repetition of single notes and individual incident, and the impulse of the percussion, it has a primitive energy turning at its centre into a more lyrical moment, and gave rise to the expression `spatial music'.

Varèse then turned back to a large scale work for orchestra, Arcana (1925-1927), which has a quotation from Paracletus at the head of the score, referring to the order of stars. Its raw expression is based on a single idea of 11 notes, which provides the material for returning in many different shapes and moods, sound-blocks conflicting with each other, but with a quiet close added in 1960. He followed it with his most famous work, Ionisation (1929-1931) for thirteen percussion, written during a period in Paris (1928-1933). It took the earlier trilogy of short chamber works to its logical conclusion: the complete absence of any instruments other than percussion, and, until the use of tuned percussion, the complete absence of any pitched sounds apart from the variable wail of the siren, which opens the work and regularly returns. It has an extraordinary sense of forward motion, created by the rhythms and by the movement of percussive sounds and colours, and a mesmerizing sound-world of hard, sharp, incisive percussion. It is believed to be the first Western piece for percussion alone, and its demonstration of how unpitched material could create a musical piece has been extremely influential.

With Ecuatorial (1932-1934) for bass soloist or bass chorus, eight brass, piano, organ, two ondes martenots, and percussion, Varèse extended his available sounds by using voice and the then new ondes martenot, an early electronic instrument whose haunting sound has permeated much French music since Ecuatorial. Influenced by pre-Columbian art and setting a Mayan poem (in Spanish), it has an ethereal, incantatory ritualistic quality. The incantatory also permeates Density 21.5 (1936) for flute, commissioned for a flute made of platinum (whose density is 21.5). Its precursor, like so many 20th-century solo flute works, is Debussy's Syrinx, and it opens with a plaintive, pastoral flute unravelling a climbing melody, but it quickly moves into more ecstatic regions with wide leaps, regularly touching base with the pastoral source.

Apart from Étude pour Espace (1947) for chorus, two percussion and tape, Varèse remained silent until the gift of a tape recorder (then recently invented) opened up new possibilities of sounds and sound patterns. The result was his masterpiece Déserts (?1950-1954) for fourteen wind, piano, five percussion and tape, originally intended for a projected film showing the deserts in the landscape and the deserts in the mind, and the first work anywhere for orchestra and tape. The tape segments are inserted at three points in the score, and are of musique-concrète sounds, including modified instruments, lonely, isolated or echoing, their colours quite unlike anything possible from an orchestra. The piece progresses through opposing planes, and its overall tone is of suffering and of desolation; the first tape entry creates a moment of shock, its frightening, threatening sounds like distorted screams or cries divorced from the instrumental colours, but connected like a dark mirror or a shadow. It ends, though, with the deserts in quiet repose.

Nocturnal (1961) for soprano, bass chorus and orchestra is a bleak setting of a few phrases from Anaïs Nin's The House of Incest, the orchestra including two ondes martenots. Varèse started two companion works, Nocturnal II and Nuit for soprano and nine or ten instruments, both based on texts from the same source, but neither were completed. His final two completed works were both for tape, the short La procession de Vergès (1955), and the major Poème electronique (1957-1958). Commissioned for the Le Corbusier Philips pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Exposition (in which Xenakis was also involved), the latter used 400 loudspeakers sweeping the sound through the building. It is based on a wide variety of concrète and electronic sounds, including transformations of percussion instruments, Étude pour Espace, natural sounds, and a voice. Varèse said he wanted it to express tragedy or an inquisition, and it has extraordinary spatial effects, with elements of fury and loneliness, its ending launching into a harsh new world. It remains one of the most powerful of all electronic works, and at the Exposition it was heard by more than two million people.

Varèse was very active as a conductor and promoter of new music, especially during the earlier part of his career.


works surviving:

- Amériques and Arcana for orch.

- Density 21.5 for solo flute; Déserts for wind, piano, percussion and tape; Ecuatorial for bass, brass, piano, organ, ondes martenot and percussion; Hyperprism for wind and percussion; Intégrales for wind and percussion; Ionisation for percussion; Octandre for wind and double bass

- Étude pour Espace for chorus, pianos and percussion; Nocturnal for soprano, bass, chorus and orchestra (completed by Chou Wen-chung); song cycle Offrandes for soprano and ensemble

- Poème électronique for tape; electronic film score La procession de Vergès


recommended works:

All of Varèse's surviving works are recommended. Ionisation (1929-1931) makes a sensible place to start; for those new to his music, it is worth immediately repeating in on a first listening, as the impulse and the form then emerge over the shock of the new.



H.Jolivet Varèse, 1973 (in French)

F.Oulette Edgard Varèse, 1966, English trans. 1968

L.Varèse A Looking-glass Diary, York, 1972

O.Vivier Varèse, 1973



born 8th October 1870 at Poitiers

died 2nd June 1937 at Paris


Louis Vierne was one of the last major exponents of highly chromatic late-Romanticism, expressed in a series of symphonies for organ. The style of these works is partly predicated by the huge, powerful and sonorous late 19th-century organs for which he was writing, such as that at Notre-Dame, where Vierne was organist from 1900 to his death, and by the acoustics of the buildings in which they are housed. In these symphonies Vierne followed the cyclic principles of his teacher César Franck, where initial ideas permeate and unify an entire work through transformation. They are more obviously symphonically constructed than those of Widor, and most of them are cast in five movements each representing a contrasting mood. They are vivid works entirely married to the potential of the instrument, sometimes with power and sonority, often with a delicate playfulness. The Symphony No.3 op.28 (1912) is perhaps the most popular, the regal opening movement balanced by the fiery finale; the second and fourth movements are reflective, the former with a lyrical pastoral mood ending in a gentle murmur, the latter more ruminative. At the centre of this mirror structure is a lithe, angular little dance with quirky harmonic colours. The Symphony No.1 op.14 (1899) includes a thunderous toccata as its finale. The Symphony No.5 op.57 (1924) is the most introspective, and the most chromatically extreme, the Symphony No.6 (1930) the most difficult to play.

His other organ works include the 24 pièces en style libre op.31 (1913), which follow Bach in using all 24 major and minor keys. Of his choral music, the Messe Solennelle op.16 (1900) for chorus and two organs is an antiphonal Mass with an organ and divided choir at opposite ends of church.

Vierne was nearly blind from birth, and was celebrated for his playing and in particular for his improvisation. He died while actually playing in Notre-Dame. Organ-lovers will need no introduction to his work, but for others his symphonies are a major contribution to a genre of music often overlooked, and opportunities to experience one of these works in the large-scale settings for which they were intended are rare but should not be missed.


works include:

- symphony; 6 symphonies for organ

- Poème for piano and orch.

- Les djinns for orch.

- Marche triomphale pour le centenaire de Napoleon for organ, brass and timpani

- violin sonatas, string quartets, piano quintet and other chamber works

- Préludes, Silhouettes d'enfants, Suite bourguignonne, Trois nocturnes and other works for piano

- Messe basse pour les défunts, Pièces de fantaisie (4 vols.), Pièces en style libre (including Carillon de Westminster) and other organ works

- song cycle Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire and other songs; Messe Solennelle for choir and organ; Ave maria, Ave verum and other choral works


recommended works:

Organ Symphony No.3 op.28 (1912)

Pièces en style libre op.31 (1913) for organ


1  The traditional Western scale, starting on C, has the intervals 2-2-2-1-2-2-2-1 between the notes, where 2 is a major second (a tone), and 1 a minor second (a semitone). The whole-tone scale (Messiaen's `first mode') has the intervals 2-2-2-2-2-2-2.

2  The second mode has the intervals 2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1, the third 2-1-1-2-1-1-2-1-1, the fourth 3-1-1-1-3-1-1, the fifth 1-1-3-1-1-1-3-1, the sixth 2-2-1-1-2-2-1-1, and the seventh 1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-2-1, where 1 is a minor second (semitone), 2 is a major second (tone) and 3 a minor third.



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