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Emile GOUÉ (1904-1946)
Chamber Music - Volume 3
Sextuor à cordes, Op.33 (1942) [24:59]
Duo for violin and cello, Op.34 (1942) [11:38]
String Trio Op.22 (1939) [16:46]
Fleurs mortes for violin and piano (1934) [7:33]
Trois Mélodies, for tenor and string quartet, Op.36 (1942/3) [8:58]
L'Amitié, for tenor and string quartet [2:28]
Elmira Darvarova (violin); Kristi Helberg (violin); Ronald Carbone (viola); David Cerutti (viola); Samuel Magill (cello); Wendy Sutter (cello); Damien Top (tenor); Linda Hall (piano)
rec. Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, New York, 2012
AZUR AZC120 [73:09]

First let's have some information concerning Emile Goué. This may be needed since his name is not that familiar; the more so given that he died at the relatively early age of forty-two.

He was born in Châteauroux and his parents were teachers in various institutions. He was attracted both by his love of sciences which he later taught in his early adult life and of music which he practised fairly early although little is known about those childhood years. He had a brief stay at the Toulouse Music Conservatoire. He consulted some masters such as Canteloube. As a young teacher he was appointed in Bordeaux where he composed some of his first substantial works such as Pénombres Op.3 for piano (1930/1) which he orchestrated in 1942 when a POW and Ambiances Op.11 for piano (1935/6) as well as his Piano Trio Op.6 (1932), a symphonic poem Le vent dans nos âmes Op.7 (1933) and an opera Wanda Op.8 (1934). In 1935 he was promoted to the Buffon Lyceum in Paris. He then consulted Albert Roussel and took some lessons with Charles Koechlin while continuing composing on a fairly regular basis and slowly building a far from negligible output. The outbreak of the Second World War brought a temporary halt to his composing activities. He was enlisted as an artillery officer and after the invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France was taken prisoner and eventually landed in Oflag XB in Nienburg an der Weser where he remained until May 1945. He was not the only French musician to have been taken prisoner and sent to Germany. Messiaen was one of them and probably the best known but one may also add Henri Challan, Raymond Gallois-Montbrun (a composer who later became Head of the Paris Conservatoire), Maurice Thiriet who composed quite a lot of film music as well works for the concert and Jean Martinon (composer and conductor).

Goué came back to Paris in May 1945. He then completed his String Quartet No.3 Op.46, Thème et Variations Op.47 for piano (his last piano work) and his very last completed work Esquisse pour une inscription sur une stèle Op.48 for orchestra. He died of lung disease in October 1946.

The earliest work on this disc is the diptych Fleurs mortes for violin and piano, composed in 1934. At times this looks to earlier times but one may already spot a number of hallmarks of Goué's music-making, albeit in embryo. The first movement exudes some nostalgia devoid of any sentimentality whereas the second has the character of a children's rhyme that breathes fresh earthiness. The other pre-war work here is the String Trio Op.22 which is quite clearly a mature work by a composer who now knows what he wants to say and who knows how to say it best. Goué is now full master of his craft and his mastery of counterpoint is evident throughout a work that unfolds almost seamlessly and without effort. The string trio is one of the last works that Goué composed before the outbreak of World War II, the others being Trois chansons sur la pluie Op.23 and Horizons Op.24 for piano. By that time, too, Goué had been appointed to Louis-le-Grand in Paris.

The outbreak of the hostilities found him an artillery officer and, after some months of 'phoney war', he was taken prisoner to Oflag XB. There he composed quite a lot in spite of the hardship of the times and circumstances. Almost half of his output was composed there. Among the works written in captivity, one may mention Psaume CXXII Op.27 (tenor, men's choir and orchestra – 1940), the String quartet No.2 Op.29 (1941), the Piano Concerto Op.30 (1939/41), the Sonata Op.32 for violin and piano (1941), the second suite Ambiances Op.35 (1942), Prélude, Choral et Fugue Op.37 for piano (1943), the Second Symphony Op.39 (with violin – 1943) and the Piano Quintet Op.42 (1943/4) to mention some of the most important that have come to be known. One might also add a few works that were either unfinished or lost.

Both the String Sextet Op.33 and the Duo Op.34 for violin and cello were completed in 1942 but they differ greatly in many aspects. The sextet is a relatively large-scale work in which the composer seemed willing to – as it were - “simplify” his musical language which, he thought then, might have been too complicated or complex for his fellow inmates. So the language as such is somewhat simpler, less dissonant whereas the music unfolds more expansively. Damien Top who masterminds this ear-opening series of recordings is somewhat luke-warm about this piece but I find it quite attractive although maybe not at the same level of inspiration and realisation attained by some of Goué's finest. The Duo Op.34 on the other hand rubs shoulders with some similar works by masters such as Honegger, Schulhoff, Martinů and Ravel, and is another tightly worked-out, compact piece of music going straight to the point without any useless meandering. The Duo was performed in 1943 in Paris by Dany Brunschwig and Jean Brizard. Brunschwig had formed a string quartet and commissioned songs for voice and string quartet, and Goué was one of the commissioned composers. He completed his Trois mélodies Op.36 on words by Jean de la Ville de Mirmont, a friend of François Mauriac who was killed in September 1914 and whose verse had inspired Fauré's swan-song L'Horizon chimérique. In between Goué set a poem by Rilke. All three texts had a particular resonance within the context in which these songs were composed. The third song had been composed the preceding year for voice and piano and was reworked to fit into the short cycle. Unfortunately no texts are provided.

The final work here is another song for voice and string quartet L'Amitié that cannot be dated with certainty. Damien Top mentions that the theme is identical to that of the Prelude from the Petite suite facile Op.28 (string quartet – 1940).

I have come to know Emile Goué's music quite by chance and I must say that I was hooked by what I heard then; I think that it was the CD with Goué's three string quartets. I managed to hear more of it and, although I realise that there is still much more that I should hear, I am in no doubt that here is a major composer whose composing career was abruptly cut short at a time when he had still much to say. One cannot but think of other such composers whose career was cut short by the war: Walter Leigh, Jehan Alain and Maurice Jaubert who were killed in action.

This disc is recorded under the auspices of La Collection du Festival International Albert Roussel masterminded by Damien Top, a multi-faceted musician (tenor, organiser, musicologist), who deserves one's gratitude for such a brave venture. Performances and recorded sound are fine indeed. A slight drawback to this most desirable release is the absence of the sung texts in the otherwise well-informed booklet.

Emile Goué is a composer whose music deserves the widest exposure possible which these discs might help achieving. I urge anyone interested in some lesser-known byways of French music from the first half of the 20th century to investigate.

Hubert Culot