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ClassicsOnline Home » FRENCH FESTIVAL
French Festival offers a variety of French music, principally from the nineteenth century,
ranging from Offenbach, the Johann Strauss of Paris, to Debussy and Ravel.
Emmanuel Chabrier, composer of the Joyeuse
marche, was born in Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, in 1841, the son of a lawyer,
whose profession he was destined to follow. As a child he showed considerable
musical precocity, but followed the wishes of his family in his choice of
career, graduating as a lawyer in 1861, when he entered the Ministry of the
Interior. He continued a double career as a composer and as a civil servant
until 1880, when the impression made on him by hearing Wagner's Tristan und
Isolde led him to turn solely to music. Chabrier's works include piano
pieces and the popular orchestral rhapsody España, as well as a number
of dramatic works, by the last of which he set considerable store. The Joyeuse
marche was written in 1888 and originally intended for the piano. The final
version was dedicated to Vincent d'Indy and is scored for a large orchestra,
the music aptly expressing the emotion of the title.
Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante
défunte owed its title, if we believe the composer, to euphony rather than
to any particular dead Spanish princess. Composed for the piano in 1899, the
piece was dedicated to Princess Edmond de Polignac and orchestrated in 1910.
The Pavane reflects a certain fin de siècle melancholy that Ravel here
shares with his teacher at the conservatoire, Gabriel Fauré, and was written
the year after he had entered the latter's composition class. In spite of the
immense popularity of the piece and the growing reputation that Ravel enjoyed,
he was to lose in five attempts at the prestigious Prix de Rome, failing
to impress the academic judges of the musical establishment. He was to live to
enjoy an unrivalled reputation.
The Sicilienne, in origin a Baroque
pastoral dance, was to prove as popular a piece for Fauré as his pupil's Pavane.
It was written in 1893, scored for cello and piano and dedicated to the English
cellist W.H. Squire. The piece formed part of the incidental music for
performances of Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme in that year and was
later included, in Charles Koechlin's orchestration, in incidental music for
Maeterlinck's evocatively medieval Pelléas et Mélisande. Fauré's Pavane,
a work that deeply impressed Debussy, was written in 1887 and scored for a
small orchestra, with additional words in the manner of Verlaine for an
optional choir, which adds little to the music. It has about it an air of
nostalgia, yearning, as so often, for an idealised past, that is shared by the Berceuse
of 1878-9. Originally scored for violin and piano, but orchestrated in 1898.
The three pieces by Fauré, a pupil and close friend of Camille Saint-Saëns, who
taught him at the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris, are typical of his style, with
his gift for beauty of melody, charged with an intense yet gentle sadness.
The reputation of Benjamin Godard has
suffered in the course of time. In his day he was a distinguished viola-player
and won a reputation in Paris at first for salon music. His ambitions extended
beyond trivia of this kind, and he won contemporary triumph with his dramatic
symphony on the theme of Tasso, a poet whose misfortunes held a particular
appeal for the romantic imagination. Godard's operas enjoyed markedly less
success and Jocelyn, first performed in Brussels in 1888, is chiefly
remembered for the second act Berceuse, in which the hero, having taken
refuge in an eagles' cave, watches over his charge, the sleeping Laurence,
whose escape he has assisted.
Claude Debussy was to suffer from the
excessive popularity of Clair de lune, a short and evocative piano piece
that had formed the third item in his Suite Bergamasque, completed in
1905. Resenting the label Impressionist bestowed on him by contemporaries and
favoured by subsequent writers, he owed much to Chopin, whose delicacy of
nuance and harmonic innovations he continued. La terrasse des audiences au
clair de lune is taken from the second book of piano Préludes,
completed in 1912, and was suggested by an account of the great Indian durbar
of that year.
Erik Satie occupies a curious position in
French music at the turn of the century. The son of a French ship-broker father
and a Scottish mother, he exercised a considerable influence over a number of
young composers, perhaps through his very eccentricity.
His original cast of mind was exemplified
in his creation of a new religion, of which he was the sole adherent, although
demanding the support of some billions of acolytes for its rites. The
Metropolitan Art Church of Jesus the Conductor allowed Satie to issue decrees
of excommunication against those of whom he disapproved, which eventually
included le Tout-Paris. The beautifully evocative Gymnopédies of 1888
derive their title from the ritual dances and exercises performed by naked boys
in ancient Sparta and were inspired, according to the composer, by a reading of
Jacques Offenbach, son of a synagogue
cantor who had settled in Cologne, was a composer of a markedly different cast,
enjoying in Paris a position comparable to that of Johann Strauss in Vienna.
Offenbach won his first considerable success as a composer of operetta during
the year of the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and his popularity was to continue at
least until the 1867 Exhibition. His more substantial opera The Tales of
Hoffmann was left unfinished at his death in 1880, but in a version by
Guiraud has continued to hold a place in standard operatic repertoire. The
opera takes three stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann and turns these into amorous
episodes in the writer's own life. The Intermezzo, well known as a
concert excerpt, forms an entr'acte, while the even more famous Barcarole
assumes importance in the third act, set in Venice, appearing first as a duet
for Hoffmann's companion Nicklaus and the girl Giulietta.
Known to some as the French Mendelssohn,
Camille Saint-Saëns was a composer of extraordinary fertility and versatility.
Starting his career as an infant prodigy of astonishing powers of memory and
musicianship, he enjoyed considerable popularity at home and abroad, until
changing fashions, in his old age, branded him as a reactionary, after a life
during which he had done much to encourage younger musicians, such as his pupil
Fauré. The Danse macabre, with its rattling skeletons, was written in
1874 and constitutes a remarkable and characteristically witty re-creation of
the Dance of Death.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra
(Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at
the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the
sphere of music. The orchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductor
František Dyk and in the course of the past fifty years of its existence has
worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.
Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its
conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has recently given a number of successful
concerts both at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria,
Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain.
Keith Clark studied at the Vienna Academy
of Music and Tanglewood, was awarded diplomas and the conducting prize from the
Chigiana Academy in Italy, and received his Ph.D. degree with honors in
composition from the University of California in Los Angeles. From Vienna's
Musikverein to the Royal Philharmonic Hall and from Lucerne to Los Angeles,
Keith Clark has appeared widely as conductor of orchestras and opera. He has
participated in the Vienna, Bucharest and Siena Festivals as both conductor and
composer, conducted on BBC, Austrian, Hungarian and Netherlands radio and
television, and performed and recorded as conductor of the Vienna Chamber
Orchestra. Following nearly ten years abroad, he returned to California as
Founding Music Director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and in five years
has brought the orchestra to national prominence.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his
early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy
of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in
1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years
of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing
an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to
Lenard's work with the Czech Radio
Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed
Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe,
the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during
his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak
National Opera recorded for OPUS operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
Lenard has recently been appointed
Principal Guest Conductor of the Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra of Japan.
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