My introduction to Ropartz came last year when a friend played me his Symphony No. 2
; I was impressed. Where had this
composer been all my life? Since then I’ve explored the other four
symphonies and the six string quartets. This is all thanks to the
enterprising French Label Timpani who are issuing, at a fairly constant
rate, the works of this relatively unknown composer – one of France’s best
kept secrets. A website dedicated to his music is here
latest release, titled ‘Volume 1’, explores three sonatas - for violin,
flute and cello, each with piano.
Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864-1955) lived a long life into his nineties.
Hailing from Northern France, he was born in
Guingamp, Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany. into a wealthy family.
He studied under the composers Theodore Dubois (harmony) and Jules Massenet
(composition) at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he became friends with
the Romanian composer Georges Enesco. He later studied the organ with César
Franck. In 1894 he was to travel to Nancy in the east of France, where he
would remain as the director of the Conservatory there for the next
twenty-five years. This was followed by a ten year stint (1919-29) in a
similar position in Strasbourg. Retiring in 1929, he went on composing until
1953, when he was struck down with blindness. He died two years later.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 was completed in 1918 when Ropartz was living in
Nancy. A large-scale work, over thirty-two minutes in length, it has echoes
of the Breton heathland throughout, a reminder of the composer’s origins and
roots. This open-air atmosphere permeates the first movement. Beautiful
expressive melody and pastoral romanticism characterize this upbeat opening.
It is followed by a relatively short extrovert ‘Vif’ or Scherzo.
The mood changes in the slow movement, which is melancholic and somewhat
pensive. It reflects the external circumstances contemporary with the
completion of the work – the bombardment of Nancy with the loss of 120
lives. An exuberant finale follows, which assuages the situation.
The application of cyclical principles is evident in this work, most
likely an influence of Franck. In effect it is a two-movement piece or
‘diptych’; movements one and two are linked without a break, and similarly
movements three and four. Unity is also established in that the Scherzo
derives from the opening theme of the first movement, and the finale takes
its main theme from the ‘Lent’. Throughout the work, the piano takes on an
equal role with the violin.
Eschewing the lush romanticism of the violin sonata, the Flute Sonata is
very much later Ropartz, composed in 1930. It is on a much smaller scale and
shows a more advanced compositional style. It was dedicated to the eminent
René Le Roy (1898-1985). Again cyclical elements pervade, linking the
movements thematically. The dances of the finale, deriving from the habañera
and cha-cha, find their origins in the previous movements. The whole canvas
is sparsely textured, characterized by luminosity, simplicity and
refinement. In the finale, the flute imitates birdsong to outstanding
Dating from around the time of the Violin Sonata, the Cello Sonata was
published a year later in 1919. Again smaller scaled like the flute sonata,
romantic, exuberant lyricism is an underlying feature. The slow movement is
tinged with sadness and nostalgia. It is a meditative and meandering song,
dark and world-weary. In the finale Ropartz revisits his roots with a dance
from Breton folklore. The work ends on a positive note with joy and
The sound quality of the CD is second to none, with ideal balance achieved
between the soloists and piano. Each of the three instrumentalists gives a
deeply committed performance, and the pianist, François Kerdoncuff, provides
sterling support. The warm acoustic of both venues allows all the detail to
register. With comprehensive booklet notes and detailed analysis of the
music, this all adds up to a very desirable release. I eagerly await volume