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8.223463 - SAUGUET: Symphony No. 1

Henri Sauguet (1901 -1989) Symphony No

Henri Sauguet (1901-1989)

Symphony No. 1 "Expiatoire"


There was no particular influence that suggested that Henri Sauguet, born in the provinces into a family of modest background, would become a famous composer and member of the Insttitut de France. The talent was his own. Certainly, his mother loved music and started him on the piano: he also sang plainchant in his parish church, but none of this was enough to determine a vocation, still less to produce a body of work. The war prevented his admission to the Conservatoire, a concession he had won from his parents. With his father at the front, he had to earn a living and the trivial round brings its own trivial difficulties. Yet he did not turn his back on music. In 1916 he became organist in the little church at Floirac, near Bordeaux, accompanying weddings and funerals. Here he found that, unbelievably, he could invent music and would inevitably be a composer.


On the return of his father after the war, Sauguet managed to move to Montauban to study with Joseph Canteloube, who found his first composition sketches worthy of interest and graciously offered to teach him. In Bordeaux once more, he established, with two friends, the musician J.M. Lizotte and the poet Louis Emie, the Groupe des Trois. They had the ambition to become the new Groupe des Six and presented to a relatively uncultivated public concerts of contemporary music, with compositions by Milhaud, Poulenc, Satie and themselves. His father already saw his name involved in the enterprise and the young man found his mother's name more euphonious. From Henri Poupard he changed his name to Henri Sauguet. A young man of voracious artistic appetite, with a ready imagination and particular sensibility, in which all joy was tinged with melancholy, he was ready for the future.


Sauguet wrote to Milhaud, who was always ready to show an interest in new talent and invited him to spend a few days in Paris. Inventing an excuse to his parents, and who has not done so?, he found himself in the middle of intense artistic activity, with the Groupe des Six, the Wiener Concerts (Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire seemed to him dated) and the Swedish Ballet (Milhaud's L'homme et san désir and Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel) winning his enthusiasm.


This escapade was only a prelude to Sauguet's definitive departure for Paris some months later. On his father's recommendation he joined Paris France, where a certain Max Jacob had shown a similar lack of ability as a salesman. As he left home, his father made him promise no more music, which he mentally translated as no more music than now.


In a new environment, Sauguet took on and left jobs that would never suit him, always rejecting music as a mere spare-time activity. Music had to be his reward. He moved lodgings frequently, always attracted to Montmartre and to Milhaud. He now composed and sometimes revised his first works, written in Bordeaux, Trois françaises for piano, Les animaux et leurs hommes on poems by Paul Eluard and Trois poésies de Jean Cocteau.


In 1923, thanks to the encouragement of Darius Milhaud, he founded with Maxime Jacob, Cliquet-Pleyel and Roger Désormière the Ecole d'Arcueil, explicitly under the influence of Erik Satie, a compromising choice, in view of the critical mockery of Satie, known as the Master of Arcueil, a reference to unfashionable suburb, where Satie had chosen to live.


Sauguet's first triumph came in 1924 with his comic opera Le plumet du Colonel, staged at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées with Stravinsky's Histoire du soldat. He had his first concerts, at the Sorbonne and the Atelier, with musicians such as Marcelle Meyer and Ricardo Viñes, and his first important friendships, with Christian Bérard and Max Jacob. In 1927, after barely five years in Paris artistic circles, he won acceptance by the Ballets Russes with his score La chatte, on a libretto by Boris Kochno. The choreographer was also making his début, a certain Balanchine, with the young dancer who would dazzle Monte Carlo and then Paris, Serge Lifar. Little Sauguet, however, was not in Dyagilev's good books. He committed the crime of lèse-directeur by not dedicating the score of the ballet he had commissioned to Dyagilev and was not invited to the traditional dinner that followed important first performances in Paris. He went back home alone, happy, but unhappy, on foot along the embankment. The next morning he went back to work again as a clerk. Living among people, yet very much alone, he established a relationship with Christian Hardouin, whose suicide brought the first tragedy into his life. It was for him that Sauguet wrote his Quatre poèmes de Schiller.


Sauguet composed and composed. For the stage he wrote the comic opera La contrebasse, for the ballet of Ida Rubinstein David, with another, La nuit for the Cochran Review. The latter brought fruitful artistic contact with Christian Bérard and La nuit was soon heard again in concert. For the piano he wrote a sonata, a Romance in C and two collections of Pièces poétiques. Les jeux de l¡¦amour et du hasard for two pianos was first performed by Sauguet and Poulenc at the house of the Princess de Polignac, with Six sonnets de Louise Labé and a cantata, La voyante performed at Hyères at the house of the Comte de Noailles. In 1934 his first Piano Concerto was given, with Clara Haskill as soloist, followed in 1938 by his Six mélodies des poètes symbolistes.


Over a period of ten years, from 1927 to 1937, he wrote his opera La Chartreuse de Parme, returning time and again to the work, as time allowed. He exercised his craft as a composer in every field, without any condescension, going from Jean Cocteau's Chanson de marin to his Petite messe pastorale. For him it was all music, not a question of good or bad kinds of music. In 1939 La Chartreuse de Parme was mounted at the Paris Opéra with décor by Jacques Dupont, marking the beginning of their long collaboration and unfailing friendship.


1940 found Sauguet called up, as he had not been before because of what was classified as "incurable weakness". The soldier Poupard, alias Sauguet, had his training, while the composer Sauguet, alias Poupard, despaired, not because of discomforts, the inevitable joking, the absurd fatigues, but as a man. It was in this perception of the folly of war that, without his knowing it, the first symphony, his Symphony of Expiation, was born.


At Auch Sauguet saw the last days of the republic: This morning, 14th July, before going to church to play the organ, a sergeant who did not like me angrily told me to carry out latrine fatigues, something I had up to then avoided thanks to the colonel who had promoted me to be head of music. Transfigured by the misfortunes of my country over which I was soon going to pour forth torrents of noble and serious chords, I carried out this horrible duty in due form, with broom and floor-cloth, wearing military overalls over my freshly ironed uniform. Life had already taught me that everything must be paid for in advance.


Approached by Radio Paris, Sauguet at first refused then accepted, since a friend had warned him that it was dangerous to refuse any longer. He wrote stage music and songs, among them the setting of an unsigned poem that seemed the work of Paul Eluard, Force et faiblesse. In 1944 he set for the first time texts by Max Jacob in Les pénitents en maillots roses, at the time when the poet was held in the camp at Drancy, where, unknown to Sauguet, he died. In 1945 he finished his Symphonie expiatoire that had occupied him for some five years, and, since he shared with Cocteau the ability to change register without making any concessions, wrote the incidenta1 music for La folle de Chaillot of Jean Giraudoux.


Sauguet's love of the theatre and of the comic persuaded him to undertake, for Marcel Herrand, the rôle of Madame Pernelle in Moliere's Tartuffe and it was in his dressing-room that he received Boris Kochno and Roland Petit, who brought him the subject of Les forains, a score he completed in a fortnight, including the orchestration, the masterpiece that, like its own characters, travellers, made its own world tour.


The Symphonie expiatoire and Les forains both in the same year? The proponents of the ivory tower, who keep up their position, may be surprised. Sauguet is multi-faceted and always completely free: Whatever kind of music I compose, whether frivolous or profound, I only seek to make use of everything I feel, everything I try to make felt. I write what I am asked to write, and I declare that I am one of those composers who have always sought - even as a young man - to be more themselves than they could. I have never sought a place in the avant-garde except insofaras I consider the avant-garde as being freedom ... I have tried to hold the position of a free man. It is for that reason that I have liked so much to follow the steps of Erik Satie and that I have listened so much to the advice of Debussy who, above all, gave musicians and the men of his time a great lesson in freedom.


1948 was an extraordinarily fruitful year, with a ballet, La rencontre, a second piano concerto, a second string quartet, one of the most beautiful song-cycles, Visions infernales, on poems by Max Jacob, Stèle symphonique, two film-scores, Les amoureux sont seuls au monde and Clochemerle. Nevertheless 1949 brought his second symphony, the Symphonie allegorique, three sets of incidental music, three film-scores, two works for radio. Add to this, in 1950, La cornette, for bass and orchestra.


1950 opened the period of dominance of twelve-note music, with its pronouncements, judgements and decisions. Condemned for his authenticity and truth to himself, Sauguet questioned his position and thought for a moment of keeping silent. In his ship's log he ¡§forgets¡¨ 1953. Luckily, music carried him forward, turning his attention to the radio and the stage. He continued his career unreservedly, without any illusion about the ephemeral nature of these scores:... When the curtain goes down on the last performance, they are no more than a little pile of music in a cupboard full of unpublished pieces...it is rather as if I found again, crumpled and stained, things once used to celebrate a holiday...gone with the wind, isn't it? There remain our symphonies with claims to immortality. The bitter-sweet smile of Sauguet as he utters these words maybe imagined.


In 1953 came the Concerto d'Orphée for violin and orchestra, and in 1954 the opera Les caprices de Marianne. In 1955 the third symphony was performed at the Venice Festival of Contemporary Music. Up to 1970 there were more than 150 opus numbers, ballets such as La dame aux camélias, La solitude, the As de coeur, the third piano concerto, the oratorio Chant pour une vieille meurtrie, the cantata L'oiseau a vu tout cela, music for the stage, for the cinema, for radio, for television and, of course, songs.


In 1971, at the age of seventy, Sauguet wrote his fourth symphony, which he called, with melancholy irony, a symphony "of the third age", a third age that was not sterile, far from it, but serenely fruitful. He wrote an opera, "my posthumous opera", Le pain d'autrui, in 1973, with a libretto by E. Kinds after Turgenev, a musical comedy Boule de suif, based on Maupassant, and a children's opera Tistou-les-pouces-verts in 1981, with a libretto by J.L. Tardieu after the story by Maurice Druon.


The final period, in which he saw the coming life as a life that was going, began with chamber music that reflected his thoughts, Oraisons for organ and saxophones, a third string quartet in 1978, piano pieces, the cantata Elisabeth la reine aux cheveux d'or, sonatas, the Sonate crépusculaire in 1981, Cantilène pastorale, Sonatine en deux chants et un intermède and Sonate d'église. Faithful as he always had been to the poets that he loved, understood and set, whether famous or unknown, he wrote his last songs.


In 1976 the under-rated composer was recognised. The composer reproached as self-taught, who had never made the Conservatoire, was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, taking the chair of his life-long friend Darius Milhaud. Sauguet died during the night of 21st June 1989, during a music festival: since childhood he had never done anything without music.


Raphaël Cluzel

(English translation by Keith Anderson)


Sauguet's Symphony No. 1, in expiation, the Symphonie expiatoire, was first performed in 1947. The composer wrote his own account of the work:


I had been very moved and distressed by the disaster, the bombing, the deaths in battle, deaths on the road, in houses, the piles of ruins, and I was ashamed to belong to the human race that behaved in such a bestial manner. It came to my mind to devote my time to the composition of a hymn in memory of the innocent victims, of those who had died without bearing arms. Little by little this hymn took on the manner of a symphony. Up to then I had never attempted this kind of work. It seemed to me that my style of writing ruled it out. Nevertheless it was indeed a symphony that was calling me. A great feeling came to me when, as a soldier in the countryside at Auch, I pretended combat with my machine-gun in my hands. Crawling through the grass, concealed by thickets, surrounded by the fragrant and delicate flowers of the field, with a splendid sky above me, bird-song accompanying my movements, I was impressed by the impassiveness of nature who, whatever one does against her, develops her natural life and offers her rich treasures. Nature seemed at once to defy me and to plead with me. I had sketched at this time some bars intended for a quartet. I had kept them and it is these that I used for the beginning of this symphony, that, to give it the right feeling and a reason for its composition, I decided to call an Expiatory Symphony, writing in introduction "Pardon us, Lord, for the use we have made of the life that you have given us". The music that I wanted came forth naturally. At first I wrote the second movement that as of its own accord became elegiac and lyrical, with great outbursts of melody.


When I wrote the music for La Chartreuse de Parme, I had composed an overture to represent the soul of Fabrice. I had abandoned this plan, since my opera was too long to have added a symphonic overture. I took up this overture again for the first movement of my Symphonie expiatoire, with its breathless, pulsating five-time, as of fate. A moto perpetuo, it begins the work as I wanted, implacable and stubborn. For the third movement I had the idea of setting against each other different styles of march, a French march, representing the departure for war of the soldiers of 1939, who seemed to be setting out on a happy outing, rapid and brilliant, but I saw them go with anguish and sadness; a German march such as I could hear every day on our avenues, war-like, heavy, with jingles and drums, broken by brutal rhythms, implacable; a Russian march in the style of Prokofiev, acid, with Slav rhythms and characteristic melancholy. I stopped at these three elements that I made conflict together by what I considered a clever use of counterpoint, and if from time to time one theme seemed to dominate another, there could be neither conqueror nor conquered but a painful confusion that I achieved in a tragic and moving coda. It occurred to me that its title, symphony in expiation, called for a fourth movement. I had composed some pages, when I had the feeling that I was writing music that was sad, tender and dramatic. I thought that the dead, whom I pitied, were soothing the living, those of us who had escaped from this misfortune to console us and bless us. It is in this way that my first symphony ends, written on the subject of the disaster of France and the memories that I kept in my heart of the war of 1914-1918. In doing this, I wanted to expiate the crime of having been a man alive during these appalling times that we had just been through without having been able to do anything to prevent such brutal human idiocy.


Henri Sauguet

(English translation by Keith Anderson)


Moscow Symphony Orchestra


The Moscow symphony Orchestra was established in 1989 and is under the direction of the distinguished French musician Antonio de Almeida. The members of the orchestra include prize-winners and laureates of International and Russian music competitions, graduates of the conservatories of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, who have played under conductors such as Svetlanov, Rozhdestvensky, Mravinsky and Ozawa, in Russia and throughout the world. The orchestra toured in 1991 to Finland and to England, where collaboration with a well known rock band demonstrated readiness for experiment. A British and Japanese commission has brought a series of twelve television programmes for international distribution and in 1993 there was a highly successful tour of Spain. The Moscow symphony Orchestra has a wide repertoire, with particular expertise in the performance of contemporary works.


Antonio de Almeida


Antonio de Almeida enjoys a distinguished career as a conductor, having appeared with the Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco orchestras in America, and the Berlin Philharmonic, and the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. He has to his credit a number of award-winning recordings, including a recent release of the major orchestral works of Joaquín Turina and an earlier recording of original unedited overtures and ballet music by Offenbach, a composer on whom he is acknowledged to be the leading authority today. His work on behalf of French music has brought him, among other distinctions, the award of the Légion d'honneur. Born in France, Antonio de Almeida studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University and started his career as a conductor with the Oporto symphony Orchestra in Portugal, later making his London début at the invitation of Sir Thomas Beecham with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. For Marco Polo he has recorded works by Glazunov, Malipiero, Sauguet and Tournemire.

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