line of inspiration drawn from exotic climes, legends and
philosophy stretches from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes
to Florent Schmitt, Jean Cras, Maurice Delage, and Roussel's Evocations
a work which, in interview with the composer Thierry
Escaich, Charpentier recommends strongly.
Koechlin’s Oriental pieces and Henri Tomasi's desperately
neglected Far Eastern orchestral exotics. Messiaen’s Turangalila
very well known but what of the music of Messiaen pupil
Jacques Charpentier and his Homeric cycle for solo piano:
the seventy-two Etudes Karnatiques
cycle was not the only Charpentier work
to open itself to Oriental modes. Over three decades
ago the French company Barclays Inédit issued an LP of
Charpentier’s Symphony No. 3 Shiva Nataraja
its satellite the Récitatif
for violin and orchestra
(Devy Erlih, violin, Orchestre Philharmonique ORTF conducted
by the composer. 995 009). Sadly this has never made
its way to CD. It’s a while since I heard the symphony
but the sleeve-note indicates that Karnatic modes and
Hindu rhythms are used in a timeless dance depicting
the five aspects of Divinity: creation; preservation;
destruction, incarnation and freedom. The genesis of
the symphony came in 1956 but the Paris premiere took
place on 2 March 1969.
I owe it
whose discographies are one of this site’s great
strengths that I know that Charpentier has written seven
symphonies: No. 1 (Symphonie Breve
1958), No. 2 (Sinfonia Sacra pour le Jour de Pâques
Strings, 1965), No. 4 (Brasil
, 1975), No. 5 (Et
l'Imaginaire se Mit à Danser
, 1977) and No. 7 (Idylles
, 1985). There are also more than ten concertos
and concertinos. His Symphony No. 6 for orchestra and organ
(1979) was once available on Erato LP STU 71509 issued
circa 1980: Marie-Claire Alain (organ), Danish Radio Symphony
Orchestra/Tamás Vetö. Again this has not been reissued
Charpentier, in 1956, won a first prize for his Music Philosophy
thesis Introduction to the Music of India
. His teachers
at the Paris Conservatoire were Tony Aubin and Olivier
Messiaen. He had spent most of 1953 in Calcutta learning
his subject. This interacted with his Messiaen studies
and his fascination with the elder composer's Turangalila
Charpentier has never used Oriental materials for mere
local colour. He is preoccupied by the substance of the
music, its meaning, its effect and how it can interact
with his own creative process.
than 150 works to his name, Jacques Charpentier - no relation
to France's other Charpentiers - has made a major contribution
to French music. this has not stopped his music and standing
being eclipsed by those who found their inspiration in
the wilder avant-garde.
scattering of his works can be heard on CD. Solstice recorded
the composer playing his own Messe pour tous les temps
- Livre d'Orgue
on SOCD220. He wrote the hour-long Livre
1973 for the 700th anniversary of the death of Saint Thomas
Aquinas. His Gavambodi 2
for sax and piano is on
Globe GLO6049 played by Arno Bornkamp and Ivo Janssen.
The Pour Syrinx
is played by Bridget Douglas (flute)
and Rachel Thomson (piano) on Morrison Music Trust MMT2039.
There are some other works as well but isolated amid anthology
, massively ambitious in concept and execution,
were not written to any timetable apart from the composer's
own. There was no commissioning 'master' and no unholy
rush. It was written over a period of almost thirty years.
It stands alongside Sorabji's 100 Etudes and Niels Viggo
Bentzon's Det Tempererede Klaver
not to mention
Conlon Nancarrow’s player-piano cycles. Indeed Nancarrow's
writing is echoed - presumably unknowingly - in the Sarasangi
of the Fifth Cycle (CD2 tr. 3) and the 'railroad' thunder
(CD2 tr. 17), the penultimate item of
the Seventh Cycle.
system relates to the musical culture of Southern India.
The procedure organises the octave into different scales.
We are told that under this regime "the octave is
divided into two equal tetrachords; C-F and G-C arranged
in accordance with the twelve chromatic degrees." This
produces 72 modes: "The first class of these modes
includes the perfect fourth, giving 36 modes to which correspond
36 relative modes that contain the augmented fourth." The
same musical paradigm in 1972 also drew sets of etudes
for various solo wind instruments from another French composer
Eugène Bozza (1905-1991).
Etudes in Charpentier’s grand construction are organised
into twelve cycles which were written between April 1957
and January 1985. They have been published by Alphonse
Leduc. Each of the cycles comprises six Etudes. These are
listed at the foot of this review. Three of the twelve
cycles (2, 8, 12) are written to be played as a continuous
movement and here each occupies a single track. Within
that piece there are six named sections but played attacca
The other nine are each in six separately tracked movements
ranging from 0:57 to 6:33. Most of the Etudes are between
2 and 3½ minutes long.
style is tough yet intriguing. Charpentier writes with
an uncompromising gaze. His gestures are angular (as in Navanita
tr. 16). There is violence as in the Rupavati
of the second cycle 'comme un seul mouvement musical' and
movement of the fifth cycle.
The listener also encounters a stellar otherworldliness
CD1 tr. 8) equivalent to certain of
the piano solos of Urmis Sisask and in the piano part of
Finzi's song Channel Firing
does Charpentier touch on the obviously picturesque but
, the sixth movement of the Fifth
Cycle is an exception with its patterning reminiscent of
Godowsky's Java Suite
in collision with muscular jazzy syncopation appears in Vakhulabharna
tr. 9) and in the winged flight of Varunaprya
tr. 19). This is sometimes mixed with a chiselled Stravinskian
abrasion as in Suryakanta
(CD1 tr. 12). The Mararangi
tr. 1) is short and propulsive; terse and impatient. A
confiding jazzy hand can be discerned in the Yagaprya
the first section of the Sixth Cycle (CD2 tr. 7).
is also characterised by a willingness to allow time for
the piano's resonances to decay and flow. This happens
for instance in Jalavarali
(CD2 tr. 15) the third
item of the Seventh Cycle.
Cycle opens with the liquid arpeggiation of Canharadvani
tr. 14) alternated with percussively stony ritual violence. Kyravani
a fascinating essay with slow gruff angularities, sharp
violent gestures and xylophone-style 'whispers'.
4 CD1 tr. 15) and Gaurimanohari
(CD1 tr. 18) Charpentier
makes his closest approach to the angular ritual arcana
of Messiaen. It is as if the listener is forced to stare
into some incunabula of mysteries. The same effect can
be felt in Gangayabhusani
(cycle 6 No. 3 CD2 tr.
Cycle is in a single movement designated Quasi una Sonata
through Stravinskian percussive insistence (1:09) to crystalline
cascade ostinati (3.44, 13.22), cloud-hung foreboding (11.00)
and ending in a blitz of thunder.
The composer set down a selection of these Etudes on
Philips LP 102747 during the 1970s. It would be interesting
to compare that recording but in any event the present
complete cycle was recorded in the presence of the composer
and must be taken to have his imprimatur.
3-D box is rara avis
outside France and by no means
common even there. Technically the set which was first
issued in 1996 has been deleted although copies can still
be had at amazon.fr and delapage.fr. Now if only someone
would rescue the Symphonies 3 and 6 from vinyl purgatory
and begin recording the other symphonies and concertos.
of Etudes is a major work of the 20th century. Those who
are Messiaen converts need urgently to hear this music.
It is most unusual and will appeal to those with resilient
yet yielding sensibilities prepared to step out into the
unknown region. It would help if you are already at ease
with Messiaen and perhaps Nancarrow.
un seul mouvement musical) 9:54
una Sonata - comme un seul mouvement musical) 15:10
- comme un seul mouvement) [12:57]