Marie Jaëll was
a significant pianist during the latter half of the 19th
century – she knew Liszt well and between 1892 and 1894 performed
a complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas. Until the last few
years, her compositions have been almost forgotten – the first
CD devoted to her music appeared only in 1998 and her discography
remains meagre. This disc juxtaposes her cello sonata with
some songs and provides a welcome opportunity to hear some
unjustly neglected music.
Marie Jaëll (née
Trautmann) was born into a family of farmers in Alsace. She
became a child prodigy, performing in public from the age
of nine and then studying with Henri Herz of the Paris Conservatoire.
When eventually admitted to the Conservatoire she won the
first prize for the piano in 1862. In 1866 she married Alfred
Jaëll, who was also an ex-child prodigy pianist but fifteen
years her senior. They toured Europe together, often performing
duets but Alfred developed health problems and she was widowed
at the age of 35. She first met Liszt in 1868 and he is reputed
to have said that she had “a philosopher’s brain and an artist’s
fingers”. Soon afterwards she began composing and produced
inter alia two piano concertos, an orchestral work
called Harmonies d’Alsace and a string quartet. For
more information about Marie Jaëll’s life and works, follow
the links below.
The disc opens
with five lieder for which Jaëll also wrote the texts. All
these songs are about love and, whilst they are sung in German,
the music is unmistakably French. The charming To you
is followed by a tempestuous storm which eventually burns
itself out, a hymn to the birds and an expression of the bliss
of eternal love. The cycle concludes sorrowfully with “The
cheek is pale”.
The cello sonata
was written soon after the lieder and just before the death
of her husband. It is a conventional but substantial work
in four movements with an elegiac slow movement placed third
and a second movement that is marked Presto but feels
more like an intermezzo than scherzo. The influences of Schumann
and Liszt are clear but again, Jaëll’s idiom remains French.
It seems that, despite travelling extensively, an attachment
to her roots was pervasive in her music. The repertoire is
not overloaded with cello sonatas from this period and, in
that context, this work seems an important addition. I have
not been able to find out about the stimulus for its composition
but no less an artist than David Popper gave the première.
Jaëll also wrote a cello concerto and I hope that it too will
be resurrected and recorded.
The Mélodies based
on Victor Hugo’s Orientales were written in the following
decade – the 1890s – but they lack a strong feeling of fin
du siècle decadence. Jaëll wrote very naturally for the
voice and these are powerful creations which seem comparable
in stature with Fauré’s mélodies. They embrace a great range
of moods and the second, Clair de Lune, opens with
a theme which has some resemblance to Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum
from Winterreise. The four mélodies which conclude
the disc are slighter works of obscure origin and remain unpublished.
Christian Fruchart speculates in the booklet that they were
written later still.
The artists all
have Strasbourg (i.e. local) connections and give highly committed
performances. Catherine Dubosc has the right voice for the
songs and is most eloquent. Lisa Erbès is more than equal
to the demands of the sonata and Lara Erbès accompanies expertly,
pretty much an equal partner in the sonata. The recorded sound
is faithful and realistic if slightly unrefined in places.
and documentation of this disc are excellent – a slimline
cardboard base and excellent booklet with good notes and full
texts of the songs in English, French and German. There are
pictures of Marie Jaëll, a reproduction of a page of her neat
manuscript of the cello sonata plus photographs of the artists
and recording team in action which do not seek to glamourise
This is a most
interesting and worthwhile disc. As a composer, Jaëll seems
to have been at least the equal of Chaminade - who was born
a decade later - and more recordings of her music would be
For more about
Marie Jaëll on the web go to: