Mel Bonis, another French
unknown rating our attention, came of non-musical and sternly
religious parents. Intercession by a relative allowed her
to attend the Paris Conservatoire when her musical talents
emerged. There she studied with Guiraud, Bazille and Franck.
Shortly after leaving the Conservatoire she married a 48
year old widowed factory owner. He had no interest in music
but she continued to write alongside bearing him four children.
There are some three hundred works, three piano quartets,
piano and organ solos, melodies and some choral and orchestral
works. They're listed at the Bonis website.
The Great War bore off most
of the musical world's interest in late-romantic effusions.
Romance had taken a fearful battering and what had it done
for the families and friends and lovers of tens of thousands
of soldiers, sailors and airmen never to return home?
Bonis however knew her art
and continued with determination to write songs that are
consonant, lyrical and naturally singable. That is exactly
what we hear on this precious collection. For Bonis there
was no mediation with jazz and dissonance; no compromise
with the Second Viennese school. The way may have been clear
for the young turks such as Les Six and in England, Bliss,
Lambert and Goossens but for Bons there was only the lyrical
The Bonis songs here may,
in general, lack the profundity of Duparc and Chausson but
they have great charm and a beguiling and coaxing quality.
Occasionally she hints at folk-music as in Viens.
Then again there are echoes of operetta as in Sauvez-moi
de l'amour. Songe however stands out as a superb
dreamy distillation of slow pulsed summer with just a hint
of operatic fire. Le Chat sur le toit is a witty song
in which the ivory polish skitter of the cat's claws can
be heard in the original piano part - a touch of Lord Berners
Madrigal and Epithalame are songs for three
voices in which the well known Balleys and the to me unknown
Gabail are joined by Astrid Farrer. Le Ruisseau is
for just two voices and the urgency of the text is well painted
in. Added to this is that liquid joie de vivre again
influenced by operetta. The same can be heard in the skip-and-canter
Iberian charm of Chanson d'amour. Elève-toi mon âme has
a roundedly melancholy cello obbligato to join the piano
and Balleys. Noël Pastoral is rather ordinary and Regina
Coeli is sickly sweet nothwithstanding the religious
Amid the songs there are two
breathlessly ardent and even lightly humorous mélodrames
(Sorrente and A Suzanne) in which the piano
is joined by a female speaker, presumably Balleys. Whenever
I have encountered melodrama I have been impressed by the
concordance of words and music and their power to magnify
the effect of each other. So it is here. Presumably Sorrente was
originally for voice with orchestra – certainly sounds that
way. More please.
The words of the songs are
printed in full but there are no translations into English
or any other language.
A mixed bag when it comes
to accomplishment and staying power. There are some extremely
fine songs here which deserve counting in the company of
the best from Chausson and Duparc. Equally there are a number
of tawdry and even humdrum items.
now want to hear the violin sonata and the piano quartets.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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