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5.110065 - CANTELOUBE: Chants d'Auvergne
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Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957): Chants d’Auvergne

The mountainous province of Auvergne, its name derived from the Gallic tribe of the Arverni, victorious under Vercingétorix in resistance to Julius Caesar, has held an important position in the history of France, from its conquest in 1190 by Philippe Auguste. In the Middle Ages there remained a careful balance of power between local feudal lords, until Auvergne became crown territory in the sixteenth century. The region has its own patois and its own cultural traditions. It was from Auvergne that the family of Marie-Joseph Canteloube de Malaret stemmed. He himself was born in 1879 at Annonay and spent his childhood in the countryside of Malaret, in the south of Auvergne. It was there that he found his first interest in folk-song. As he later wrote ‘Les chants paysans s’élèvent bien souvent au niveau de l’art le plus pur, par le sentiment et l’expression, sinon par la forme’ (The songs of the peasants very often reach the level of the purest art in feeling and expression, if not in form). In 1900, after the death of his mother, he went to Paris, where he had piano lessons with Amélie Daetzer, a pupil of Chopin. Two years later he began his study of counterpoint with César Franck’s pupil Vincent d’Indy, later entering the Schola Cantorum that d’Indy had established, an institution of sound musical principles, but one that deliberately avoided the regulations and formalities of the Conservatoire. The Schola Cantorum gave particular encouragement to the development of regional musical traditions, an aim that was to suit very well the views of the monarchist Charles Maurras and Action française. Here Canteloube studied fugue, composition and orchestration, meeting another disciple of Franck, Charles Bordes, whose mismanagement of the affairs of the Schola later led to his own bankruptcy and resignation, and the composer Déodat de Séverac, a regional composer of similar ambitions to his own. He was later to write biographies of both Vincent d’Indy and Déodat de Séverac.

Joseph Canteloube never won any great outstanding success as a composer, although his music was heard in Paris. Among his first compositions was a setting of Verlaine’s Colloque sentimental, for voice and string quartet, followed by other works for voice and instrumental ensemble. His opera Le Mas, largely written by 1913, was staged in Paris only in 1929, a second stage work remained incomplete, and a third, Vercingétorix, had a prompter staging in Paris in 1933. He wrote a relatively small number of orchestral works and chamber music, devoting time increasingly to his folk-song researches. During the Occupation he was in Vichy, working for the Pétain Government on the revival of interest in folk-music, an aim that had, for him, and for others associated with Action française, an ethical, social and political importance.

Since his death in 1957 Canteloube has become widely known for his folk-song arrangements, in particular his Chants d’Auvergne for voice and instrumental ensemble, a series of five publications, the first two written in 1924, the third and fourth in 1927 and 1930, respectively, and the last in 1955. These settings, which have won increasing popularity, aptly present the original songs, with orchestral accompaniments that often suggest the instruments of the countryside. The songs, enhanced rather than damaged by their setting, speak for themselves.

Keith Anderson


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