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8.223531 - AUBERT: Orchestral Works
Louis Aubert (1887-1968)
When due consideration is given to that true golden age of French music that marked the beginning of the twentieth century, the oblivion that has obscured the work of Louis Aubert remains an inexplicable injustice, of which his scandalous and puzzling omission from Grove's Dictionary is additional evidence. This neglect must be placed alongside that accorded to Charles Koechlin and Florent Schmitt, among those significant figures whose rediscovery should allow a better appreciation and perspective on the evolution of French music of the present century. In common with his two great contemporaries, Aubert was one of the pupils of Fauré: the high quality of his work, of a marked individuality, is evidence of the value of teaching that was able to reconcile the perfect acquisition of a craft with the development of the personality of each pupil.
Aubert displayed the precocious gifts of a prodigy. He was born at Paramé near Saint-Malo, where he was taught by his father, a talented musician. Passing through Saint-Malo, the pianist Steiger detected the child's extraordinary talents and recommended him to Lavignac: soon entering the Paris Conservatoire, Aubert won there, from year to year, all the prizes. He studied the piano with Louis Diémer, harmony with Lavignac and composition with Fauré. At the same time he pursued his classical studies at the College Sainte-Croix at Neuilly. This classical educational background explains the sureness of literary judgement exercised by Aubert in his choice of texts for musical setting. His career began in this field. Gifted as a singer himself, as a boy he took treble solo parts at the Madeleine and the Trinity and took part in the first performance of Fauré's Requiem. A piano virtuoso, expert in playing orchestral scores at sight, Aubert was later chosen by Ravel to give the first performance of his Valses nobles et sentimentales. Having adopted the Basque country as a second motherland, and closely drawn to Spain, Aubert showed certain undeniable affinities with Ravel, while a more marked preference for impressionist effects betrayed his fascination with Debussy. An aristocratic temperament carried to an extreme of harmonic and orchestral refinement is evident in his first masterpiece, La forêt bleue, a lyrical tale bringing to the stage the fairy world of children's stories (1904). This important item of French lyric theatre had its first triumph in Boston in 1911, before being mounted at the Opéra-Comique in 1924. Aubert's very considerable talent was then further strengthened in a production that above all confirmed his interest in the voice. His Nuit mauresque or the Six poèmes arabes exploit the genre of works for voices and orchestra with a refined emotion and a sense of exotic colour comparable to those of Ravel's Shéherazade. The three great sea-pieces under the title Sillages, written in 1911, may be reckoned among the greatest of impressionist piano music. In the second part, Aubert already gives way to the sensual rhythm of the habanera, which a few years later, in orchestral form, would assure him his most lasting fame. Greeted with a brilliant triumph, his Habanera (1919), his first at tempt in the realm of the symphonic poem, proved a masterpiece. This work, which was widely performed abroad, brought him a degree of fame. His career thereafter was marked by ambitious symphonic compositions, to which this first compact disc bears witness. This great artist, whose physical attraction corresponded with the aristocratic refinement of his music, died in Paris in 1968 in relative obscurity.
The short symphonic piece Offrande is dedicated to the memory of the heroes and all the victims of the war. It makes use of two elements, a trumpet-call for the dead, answered by the noble and poignant mourning of the strings. This melody takes its full form in the unfolding of a passacaglia moving forward in its developing progress. The meditation of the cor anglais brightens little by little until it gives way to a radiant hymn, in which modal writing brings together both sweetness and majesty. Sadness gradually gives place to a feeling of recognition for those who sacrificed themselves and who can now sleep in peace. The superimposition of the fanfare on the hymn motif gives birth to a feeling that is both deep and peaceful. The sober refinement of lines, engraved on bronze, have the noble gravity and inspiration of Fauré.
Cinéma. Tableaux Symphoniques (1956)
The symphonic suite Cinéma is taken from a ballet first staged at the Opéra on 12th March 1953. Each episode shows a moment in the history of film, from Arroseur arrosé to the last Chaplin films, by way of Westerns and stories of vamps. This symphonic suite should be set beside the Seven Stars Symphony of Charles Koechlin. As usual Aubert prefers subtle suggestion of the mood of this or that film rather than the depiction or description of various dramatic situations. Elegantly stylized music echoes a waltz of the belle époque or a music-hall saxophone, as necessary, with a wealth of inspiration in more than choreographic terms.
Dryade. Tableau Symphonique (1924)
The tableau symphonique Dryade is part of a vein of paganism that flourished at the beginning of the twentieth century. This recovery of interest in antiquity and paganism is apparent in music in Debussy's L'après-midi d'un faune and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé. It has finds triumphant expression in symbolist painting and in certain writers, such as Pierre Louÿs. Dryade was originally intended as accompaniment to a film by Murphy, the plot of which is given at the head of the score. It deals with a wild land on the coast, where a maleficent god has transformed the fauns into trees, where the Dryads are kept prisoner. A young shepherd plays his flute, with notes so sweet and passionate that a cedar opens and lets its captive escape. He runs after her, but the Dryad disappears, recaptured by the enchanted tree. Above the confused sound of the water and of the forest, the voice of the Dryad rises, commanding and alluring. At her call the shepherd leaps from a high promontory to rejoin in eternity the nymph that he loved. At the beginning of the score the maleficent call of the god is heard in ascending chords of woodwind and brass above the trembling countryside (tremolo from the lower strings). The very expressive playing of the shepherd (cor anglais) is soon heard above the murmur of the strings (violin and viola tremolo). This melody further reveals all the passion that it had in reserve, at first in the strings, accompanied by tremolo woodwind and horns, then in a section where a chromatic progression is heightened by a pattern of sinuous triplet crotchets, familiar from the composer of Habanera. The music continues to follow closely the plot. Ascending scales (strings) and bursts of chords (woodwind) suggesting the pursuit make considerable use of the second mode. The sinister theme of the spell is heard again at the beginning of the final section, before the mounting series of massive chords that accompany the shepherd's sacrifice, after which there is heard over the peaceful countryside the echo of a distant pipe.
Feuille d'Images (1932)
Originally arranged for piano duet, the five pieces of Feuille d'Images offer a poetic view of the wonderful world of childhood. One may remark the restrained seriousness of Confidence, the charm of Chanson de route and the intense poetry of Pays Iointains, with the exotic languor of the habanera, a rhythm that has the force of a signature for Louis Aubert.
Tombeau de Chateaubriand (1948)
It is not surprising that the celebration of the centenary of the death of Chateaubriand provided an occasion for Louis Aubert to offer homage to his famous compatriot. The writer was from Saint-Malo and his proud tomb, as he wished, faces the sea on the island of Grand-Bé, near his native town. In fact Louis Aubert provides here a powerfully evocative sea fresco, certainly one of his only compositions directly influenced by his own country of Brittany. The symphonic poem Le tombeau de Chateaubriand is a convincing example of musical impressionism, aptly suggesting both the majesty of the ocean and the dream of distant horizons celebrated by the author of Natchez. Born in Saint-Malo, cradled to the sound of the waves, Chateaubriand left some of the finest evocations of the sea in all literature. Aubert's symphonic poem opens with the powerful attack of the waves and the tumult of spray and foam on the rocks, represented by a fanfare with tumultuous syncopation. This grandiose spectacle is resplendent under the sun, its climax announced clearly by the brass in ringing modal tones. The grandeur of the spectacle is reflected in the orchestra, with a tempo that never exceeds poco agitato and is, in fact, moderate. The thematic material is derived from the opening fanfare, its unity and the high degree of contrapuntal interweaving of its elements endow the whole with a remarkable cohesion. The work develops with pauses allowing the appearance of the moments of calm that predominate in the central part of the symphonic poem. Here Aubert has recourse to ostinato motifs of triplet crotchets, symbolizing the monotonous and unchanging rocking of the waves as far as the eye can see. Carried by the sound and swell, the poet's dream seems ready to set sail for far destinations, like this fanfare for muted horns, mingling later with the ascending scale of the woodwind, soon picked out by the crystalline sounds of the celesta. There are moments of rare magic, where the music sinks into the ecstatic contemplation of distant and inaccessible Edens (the landscapes of Meschacébé?). The motif of the ascending scale brings back the fanfares of the opening, floating then on the waves of the bass register, and the poet is left to his great meditation by the unchanging ocean. The harsh power hidden in the ocean depths and the exoticism of distant dreams owe much to the use of modal scales and harmonies (notably the second mode used by Messiaen) and to the important rôle of the interval of an augmented fifth. This symphonic poem offers a masterly transposition into sound of the art of Chateaubriand.
© 1994 Michel Fleury
(English version by Keith Anderson)
The Rheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic was founded in 1919 and is based in Ludwigshafen. Principal conductors have included Christoph Eschenbach, Leif Segerstam and, in 1991, Franz Welser-Möst, and guest conductors and soloists with the orchestra have included musicians of the greatest distinction, from Furtwängler and Richard Strauss onwards. The 100-strong orchestra has toured widely throughout Europe, with regular performances in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Cologne and many other cities and frequent recordings, broadcasts and appearances on television.
Leif Segerstam was born in 1944 in the historic Finnish town of Vaasa and studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, winning the Maj Lind piano competition in 1962, the year of his début as a violinist. After two years' study of the violin and of conducting at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, he returned to Finland, conducting for three seasons the Finnish National Opera before his appointment as conductor at the Stockholm Royal Opera, of which he became Musical Director in 1971. He has since then pursued a busy and distinguished career as a conductor and has been chief conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1989. Other engagements have included guest appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, the Teatro Colon and the Vienna State Opera. Leif Segerstam also enjoys a reputation as a composer, his works including some seventeen symphonies and 26 string quartets.
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