The avant-garde yet accessible music of Ernest Fanelli,
who is the featured composer on this disc, was a ‘blind date’ and a
fascinating one at that. Prior to receiving the disc I was unaware of
this composer and have been unable to trace any previous recordings
of his works.
Born in Paris in 1860 of Italian parentage Fanelli
studied at the Paris Conservatoire until an acute shortage of funds
forced him to leave and support himself as a rank and file orchestral
player. Although his teachers, for a time, included the luminaries Charles
Alkan and Léo Delibes he was largely self-taught and had begun
serious composition by his early twenties. In his role as an orchestral
player I can just imagine a bitter Fanelli burning with resentment at
having to play the music of composers that he considered inferior to
A lucky break came in 1912 when the influential composer-conductor
Gabriel Pierné fortuitously studied one of Fanelli’s 29 year
old compositions. Pierné was amazed and declared that it, "contained
all the principles and processes of modern music used by recognised
masters of today." Pierné commented that at the time of
Fanelli’s composition he himself had won a Prix de Rome, but
in those days, "our art was entirely different from that of Fanelli
…Wagner did not win recognition until a few years later and Debussy
was not talked about seriously until 1890. Thus one man had marvellously
foretold our whole epoch."
Pierné hurriedly arranged an orchestral concert
of ‘Thebes’ the first section of the Symphonic Pictures, to enthusiastic
acclaim. Performances of other Fanelli compositions quickly followed
but almost as swiftly as he became known he was forgotten and banished
to obscurity. Even Pierné his champion lost interest and Fanelli
became embittered and disillusioned. Although he was to live until 1917
Fanelli sadly did not compose more music after 1894. In spite of his
short composing career Fanelli certainly managed to rattle a few cages.
It is not clear how he came to know the music but the self-titled ‘bad
boy of music’ composer George Antheil is said to have described Fanelli
as, "one of the greatest inventors and musical iconoclasts of our
Fanelli based and subtitled the Symphonic Pictures
on Gaultier’s 1857 novel ‘The Romance of the Mummy’; a fashionable subject
so typical of the orientalism that was popular at that time. The work
is programmed in two distinct sections, each comprising three movements
which he called Tableaux or Pictures.
During the preparation for this recording of the Symphonic
Pictures the conductor Adriano learned that the first section ‘Thebes’
had been Fanelli’s only published orchestral work. After much research
the second section ‘Festivities in the Pharaohs Palace’ was discovered
by Adriano ten years ago in the music library of Radio France. Although
it is not stated in the booklet this must be the world premier recording
of the Symphonic Pictures.
It has never been claimed that the Symphonic Pictures:
‘The Romance of the Mummy’ is great music but it is fascinating and
well worth hearing. For example, there is arguably far less worthy music
being performed at this year’s Promenade Concerts. More than merely
novelty value the music has much significance for French musical history.
Ravel even suggested that Debussy’s impressionism had been highly influenced
by the 23 year old Fanelli.
Adriano the conductor discusses the various motifs
and identifies two recurring themes that run through the music. He holds
the opinion that this is, "perhaps the first example in French
music history in which sound and instrumental colour become principal
means of expression". In view of this it is fascinating that the
Symphonic Pictures predates the evocative imagery of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’
and Ravel’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe' by 19 and 26 years respectively. In
spite of Fanelli’s visionary credentials I also hear echoes of the sound-world
of Balakirev and Tchaikovsky whose music Fanelli may have known from
Paris concerts featuring the increasingly popular Russian music of the
day. Stravinsky-like pounding rhythms are also evident too, particularly
in the fifth Picture and Stravinsky was a composer whose music Fanelli
could not have known.
This is imaginative and varied fare, albeit with a
few rough edges here and there. It holds the interest from the first
note to the last. Conductor Adriano’s assured and subtle control brings
out the sonorities of this strongly atmospheric music. Fanelli’s wide
range of tone colours and brilliant orchestration are expertly balanced
by the fine playing from the Slovak RSO. Adriano displays a clear conviction
for this music resisting the temptation of self-indulgence. He expertly
communicates, through the orchestral playing, Fanelli’s individual language.
On occasions the music seemed to require slightly swifter tempos and
more incisive tuttis. Particularly successful is the pulsating yet atmospheric
first Picture ‘In front of the Tahoser Palace’, with the mezzo-soprano
soloist representing the plaintive vocalise of a slave-girl. Also impressive
is the way Fanelli likes to feature individual instruments, in turn,
over a backdrop of low sultry strings which can be best heard in the
wonderful second Picture ‘On the Nile’; which I feel is the highlight
of the disc. There is so much invention to explore in the Symphonic
Pictures. It would be remiss of me to not mention how frequently I was
reminded of the film music of Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa
particularly in the third and fifth Pictures. But how could that be?
I must be mistaken? They were writing their great film scores some 70
The second composer on this CD is Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray
who unlike Fanelli had the advantage of a wealthy upbringing. Born
in Nantes in1840, Bourgault-Ducoudray became a composer after graduating
from music study at the Nantes Conservatoire, aged 19. After winning
a Prix de Rome, in 1882 he developed an eclectic taste in music
discovering the polyphony of Palastrina and developing a life-long interest
in world folk song. Bourgault-Ducoudray was instrumental in introducing
unfamiliar and often exotic music to French audiences including the
Paris premier of Balakirev’s tone poem ‘Tamara’. His appointment as
Professor of Music History at the Paris Conservatoire was the ideal
position for him to use his vast musical knowledge.
Bourgault-Ducoudray was reasonably active as a composer,
writing two operas and a considerable amount of chamber music, particularly
for the piano, and numerous songs. His orchestral output like that of
Fanelli is fairly small consisting mainly of a symphony and tone poems.
The two movement Cambodian Rhapsody was composed
in 1882. He gave the work the subtitle Khnenh Preavossa ‘The
Feast of Water’, which is also the name of the second movement that
follows a substantial introduction and tale. The Rhapsody contains melodies
of French Indo-China, in keeping with the passion of the day for things
oriental. The conductor Adriano considers the Rhapsody to be, "beautifully
orchestrated…. but not as impressive and avant-garde as Fanelli’s."
Adriano directs an assured and convincing performance
from his Slovak RSO who are now clearly well practised in playing rare
and interesting repertoire. The well-crafted score is a credit to the
composer but no matter how well the score is played by the enthusiastic
conductor and his orchestra the truth is that Bourgault-Ducoudray was
a very average composer who wrote unmemorable music.
The recording ambience varies between the two works,
which were most likely recorded on separate occasions. There is a slightly
muddy sound quality in the lower registers and some blurred edges in
the louder sections of Fanelli’s Symphonic Pictures. In Bourgault-Ducoudray’s
Cambodian Rhapsody a resonant acoustic in the Slovak Radio Concert Hall
is the only real drawback. However I feel that the recording is well
worth buying for the fascinating Fanelli work alone.
Translation of booklet titles into English by S.A.
Following Mr Cookson's review of the music
of Ernest Fanelli on Marco Polo, I thought
you might be interested to read the following
comments about the composer.
"My old teacher in Philadelphia, Constantine
von Sternberg, had not liked the Debussy-Ravel
schoold and had once attempted to discredit
them with me by claiming that they, including
Satie, had stolen their entire impressionistic
technique from an Italian, Ernest Fanelli.
Fanelli was an older composer living in Paris
during the 1880s.
I wondered now whether it was true, because,
if it were, it might mean that a young foreign-born
composer like myself, inventing a whole new
music such as I now intended to invent, might
easily find his work voraciously predevoured,
then reassimilated, finally to be given out
to the Parisian public under other names than
I decided to investigate the Fanelli case.
To see if any traces of him still remained
in Paris. Among the biographers of the French
musical impressionists I found little or nothing.
But in an old musical directory I found his
The address at least supplied me with a trail
which led me to his widow - for he was dead.
His son (my age) and the younger duaghter
also lived in the same apartment.
I explained to Mme. Fanelli that I was an
American music critic (a lie) anxious to write
an article on the true worth of Ernest Fanelli.
Whereupon they innocently took my into their
household, where I was permitted to peruse
Fanelli's manuscripts at leisure.
I soon discovered that Constantine von Sternberg
had been right, at least in one regard: the
works of Fanelli were pure "Afternoon
of a Faun" or "Daphnis and Chloë",
at least in technique, and they predated the
Debussy-Ravel-Satie works by many years.
But, as I also soon discovered, they were
not as talented as the works of the two slightly
younger men, although they had had the advantage
of being "firsts." In my recent
investigations I has somewhere read that young
Debussy, Satie, and Ravel had known old Falnelli
well, had visited him and even borrowed his
scores; I asked Mme. Fanelli if this was so.
"Oh yes," she said, "it was
so; young and nice Claude Debussy was very
enthusiastic about my poor husband's work!"
I left the Fanellis in quite a quandary. To
write an article about Fanelli now would be
to unbury a possible unpleasant body - who
in Paris wanted to hear such a thing! Besides,
frankly, the worth of Fanelli - his intrinsic
musical worth- hardly merited the sacrifice
this would quickly prove to be.
Debussy was the genius who had distilled Fanelli
into immortality ! For instance, I has asked
her when his "Tableaux Symphonique"
[sic] was written; I saw that the date of
publication was 1884.
"He wrote it around 1880", she said.
"And when was it first performed?"
Twenty-two years, during which time Debussy,
Ravel, and Satie had visited him, borrowed
Finally, out of bad conscience, I did write
an article about Fanelli. Shortly afterwards
Ford Maddox Ford published it in his Transatlantic
Review. (Collectors of rare magazine articles
may find it there still.) But it was a wishy-washy
article, said nothing about the score borrowing
- which, if it had, would have instantly made
me the most disliked fellow in Paris...
I did not feel like being hung for a principle
I had never believed in - the eternal question
of who invented what first.
Art is not a question of precedence, but of
This is excerpted from George Antheil's autobiography,
"Bad Boy of Music" (page 128 to
130 of the 1990 Samuel French Edition)