Déodat de Sévérac is a composer with whom
I can do business. In fact, if I had a couple of extra lives
I would dedicate time to studying his life and works. However,
I guess that some people may not be too familiar with this composer,
so a few biographical notes may be in order before I complete
a review of this excellent CD.
There is comparatively little written about Sévérac
- even the entry in Groves is less than a thousand words long.
However, the critical biographical facts are briefly told. Sévérac
was born in Saint-Félix-Caraman, now Saint-Félix-Lauragais,
Haute-Garonne in 1872. He was from an aristocratic family and
duly inherited the title of Baron de Sévérac,
Baron de Beauville. After lessons with his father, who was a
distinguished painter, he was enrolled as a pupil at the Toulouse
Conservatoire and then at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. Whilst
in Paris he came under the influence of César Franck,
Albéric Magnard and Vincent d’Indy. An important
friendship was made with the Spanish composer and pianist Isaac
Albéniz who gave him much advice about piano playing
and composition. Other friends at that time included Paul Dukas,
Albert Roussel, Joseph Canteloube, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice
Ravel and Pablo Picasso.
Around 1907 Sévérac left Paris and went back to
his birthplace where he entered into the life of the district.
He founded a brass band and served as a member of the local
council. In 1910, he moved to Céret in Pyrénées-Orientales
where he remained until the end of his life. This village was
an artistic centre dominated by artists such as Braque and Picasso.
During the Great War Sévérac had postings to Carcassonne,
Perpignan, St Pons and Prades. He composed little during this
time. After the cessation of hostilities, he wrote a number
of important works including his last major piano work Sousles
lauriers roses (1919) which is included on this present
CD. He died in Céret in 24 March 1921.
Although largely remembered for his piano music, he wrote four
operas of which Le Coeur du Moulin was given several
performances at the Opéra Comique in Paris. He completed
a number of tone poems for full orchestra, a good corpus of
choral music, many songs and some chamber works.
Conventional wisdom suggests that he was a ‘charming song
writer [who] composed some attractive, colourful and descriptive
pieces for pianoforte’. Pierre Guillot, the composer’s
biographer, submits that Sévérac’s reputation
suffered because of his move from Paris. He was deemed to have
become a ‘provincial’ composer and hence, in the
eyes of the Parisian establishment, a ‘second rate’
one. Another reason that has been suggested for his comparative
neglect is the fact that his music does not pose formidable
challenges in intellectual understanding or technical performance.
Baigneuses au soleil (Souvenir de Banyuls-sur-mer) (1908)
has been described as a ‘gem of impressionism.’
The work which was dedicated to the painter Alfred Cortot is
a musical evocation of girls ‘lying in the sun and bathing
in the sea at Banyuls-sur-mer’. There is colour, warmth
and sunshine in every bar. The work is composed in ternary form,
however the middle section develops the tune heard in the opening
section rather than creating a new theme. The opening tune returns
in sparkling manner. However the coda brings the piece to a
conclusion, with just the tiniest hint of sadness - or is it
I love the Les naïades et le faune indiscret (Danse
nocturne) which was apparently written in the same year as the
Baigneuses, but was not published until 1952 after being
discovered by the composer’s daughter. This is a beautifully
descriptive work that conjures up a classical scene transposed
to the Pyrénées-Orientales landscape. Often languorous,
this music reflects a complex, highly perfumed style of pianism.
However, it is far removed from the temperament of Debussy’s
Prélude à l'après-midid'unfaune
that also evokes the moods of a faun.
Sous les lauriers roses is an important and multi-faceted
work. It was composed in 1919 and was dedicated to ‘the
memory of the composer’s teachers, Emmanuel Chabrier,
Isaac Albéniz and Charles Bordes. The English translation
of the title means ‘Under the Oleanders’, however
it has an alternative - Soir de Carnaval sur la Côte
Catalane (Carnival Evening on the Catalan Coast). The liner-notes
detail the complex exposition of this piece and it is well-worth
reading before listening to the music. If I am honest, this
piece is a confection: there are musical evocations of drums,
flutes, paso dobles, valses and even a ‘playful cuckoo
Fughetta.’ In fact, all the noises and sounds that one
would expect at a carnival. Yet somehow in spite of all this
activity, the piece works well. The pianism is excellent and
the sound-world is once again sun-drenched. The three dedicatees
must have been delighted with the end-product.
The two sets of En Vacances (On Holiday) are described
as ‘a set of little romantic pieces of moderate difficulty,
each piece dedicated to a friend or relation.’ It is not
necessary to describe all eleven numbers detail. The listener
will be reminded of Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen
- not so much in the detail, but in the general mood. These
pieces are within the gift of an amateur pianist, but require
considerable skill with interpretation. I give an English translation
of the titles.
The first group begins with a little ‘Invocation to Schumann’.
It is followed by seven musical ‘descriptions’ suggesting
a day spent ‘In the Castle and in the Park’. Firstly,
the slow ‘Grandma’s Caresses’ and then a sprightly
‘The Little Girls from Next Door.’ The third piece
suggests ‘Toto dressed as a Beadle’ describing a
somewhat lugubrious parish dignitary. The next number is a charming,
classically inspired minuet entitled ‘Mimi dressed as
a ‘Marquise’’- or ‘In Powdered
wig and hoop-skirt’. The fifth piece is a surprisingly
slow-paced ‘Games in the Park’. Then we hear an
‘Old Music Box’ complete with drone bass and high
register. The final number in the first set is a delightfully
The second group of En Vacances was completed and compiled
by the pianist Blanche Selva. The most impressive piece is the
inevitably Chopinesque ‘Chopin’s Fountain’
which, in spite of the opening phrase is in fact a delicious
waltz. The other two pieces are equally attractive, with an
evocation of ‘The Dove Fountain’ and the fleeting
‘The Three Musketeers’.
The music of these short pieces is a concatenation of Schumann,
Fauré, Chabrier, Debussy and the salon works of Albéniz.
However, this is not pastiche or parody, but synthesis. Sévérac
entertains, engages and charms with these holiday-inspired pieces
and makes the miniatures his own creation.
I enjoyed all the pieces on this disc. The pianist Jordi Masó
has taken these works to his heart. He brings sunlight, blue
skies and a tang of the Mediterranean into virtually every bar.
His sympathy towards this music is clear to any listener. He
does not patronise whilst playing some of the more technically
I had to rely heavily on the liner-notes for this CD and typically
these are excellent. The CD sound quality is superb.
Finally, it would be good to have some of the songs and orchestral
music in the CD catalogues. Déodat de Sévérac
may not be a genius and most definitely he has not shaken the
pillars of musical composition, however he has written a body
of attractive, competent and entertaining works. He deserves
to be much better known.
See also review by Gary