About this Recording
8.225300 - TACONET: Fourteen Songs / Violin Sonata in D Minor
English  French 

Georges Taconet (1889-1962)
Songs • Sonata in D minor for violin and piano

At a time when the values of regionalism are beginning to re-emerge in an increasingly globalised cultural context, it is worth looking back over musical life in the French provinces in the early twentieth century.

Normandy was home to a wide range of musical activities, based around both schools of music and enterprising local concert societies. Indeed the province produced a galaxy of musical stars, including Erik Satie from Honfleur, André Caplet, Arthur Honegger and Jacques Leguerney from Le Havre, Marcel Dupré from Rouen, and Maurice Duruflé from Louviers, as well as being the chosen home of Camille Saint-Saëns and Albert Roussel.

Le Havre was a regular concert venue for international soloists and ensembles, such as Jacques Thibaud, Pablo Casals, Alfred Cortot, the Pro Arte Quartet, George Enescu, Marguerite Long, Pierre Fournier and Robert Casadesus. The musicologist and composer Henry Woollett (1864–1936) regularly took part in and helped organize concerts held in Le Havre, while Darius Milhaud, André Caplet, Albert Roussel, Charles Koechlin, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc and Florent Schmitt all had performances of their works there. The Le Havre Philharmonic Society, established in 1909, gave concerts of modern works and pieces by local composers, and between 1924 and 1939 the city had its own branch of the Schola Cantorum, directed by Henry Woollett, with Vincent d’Indy its honorary President.

It was in this environment that Georges Taconet made his name as a composer and pianist. Born on 17th August 1889 in Mont-Saint-Aignan, he was the youngest in a family of three. His grandfather, Eugène Taconet, was a journalist who had worked with the Catholic writer Louis Veuillot (1813–1883), while his father Pierre was a ship-owner who later became an insurance adviser. Georges studied harmony and composition with René Vierne (1878–1917), brother of the organist and composer Louis Vierne, and with Paul Fauchet (1881–1937), who went on to teach harmony at the Paris Conservatoire between 1927 and 1937.

Like many composers of his generation, Taconet was involved in the horrors of the First World War and his friendship with André Caplet dated from those years.

His name appears alongside that of Arthur Honegger in a programme for a concert given on 27th May 1923 in Le Havre, and dedicated to composers from the city. Honegger accompanied his own works on the piano, and Taconet performed three of his songs with Germaine Cernay, who went on to play Geneviève in the memorable recording of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande conducted by Roger Désormière.

Some of Taconet’s works appear to have been performed in Paris from 1924 onwards at the Grand Palais. The orchestral version of his triptych L’Attente mystique was played at the Le Havre Philharmonic Society on 27th February 1927, then with piano accompaniment on 20th May the same year at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. After the première of Taconet’s Piano Quintet on 9th January 1932 at the Société Nationale de Musique, his fellow-composer Paul Le Flem reviewed the work for Comoedia (25th January 1932), praising its “utterly classical, wellbalanced structure, reminiscent of Fauré in its writing and melodic charm”.

The greater part of Taconet’s catalogue comprises a corpus of around sixty songs. The poets he chose reflect the prevailing tastes of musicians at the turn of the twentieth century: Verlaine, Sully Prud’homme, Henri de Régnier, Leconte de Lisle and Albert Samain. There are, however, some less familiar names, such as Georges Audigier, a friend of the family whose work was also set by Saint-Saëns, Charles Guérin, a poet of the Lorraine region and a friend of the composer Ropartz, and the poet and priest Louis Le Cardonnel, whose own works are rich in mysticism. Dating Taconet’s songs with any precision is a difficult task, however, since for the most part he did not date his own manuscripts.

Sully Prud’homme’s poem Au bord de l’eau (By the water) had earlier been set by Fauré in one of his best-known songs. He had treated the text with a gentle melancholy, using a minor key. Taconet’s G major gives the song a more carefree and engaging air.

L’Attente mystique I (Mystical Expectation I), to a poem by Louis Le Cardonnel, reflects the composer’s spiritual aspirations. All the elements of this work, its tonal plan, melodic motifs, registers, the song-like nature of the piano-writing, the strong relationship between the voice and the piano, and expressive contrasts, are masterfully controlled and organized by thought and emotion, all the while leaving an impression of great freedom. The song ends with a powerful expressive gesture, almost desperate and imploring in feeling, worthy of Duparc’s Lamento. This song, with its tightly focused musical construction, is without doubt one of the composer’s greatest and as such, should be counted as one of the great French mélodies.

It would be interesting to be able to date the Chanson aux éternels murmures (Song of Eternal Murmuring) which sets a poem by Georges Audigier. The harmonic style, still quite simple, would suggest that this is an early work, yet certain more mature characteristics make it seem likely that this is not in fact the case. The melodic line, pure and limpid, is accompanied by a rich texture in the piano, at times reminiscent of Rachmaninov.

Hier on parlait de choses et d’autres (Yesterday we spoke of one thing and another) from Verlaine’s collection La Bonne Chanson, but not used by Fauré in his cycle based on the same collection, is dedicated to Taconet’s future wife. This song, published in 1916, is punctuated with chromaticisms and bold harmonic sequences which bear witness to the composer’s sophisticated ear.

Élégie by Henri de Régnier is one of Taconet’s most pared-down works, and perhaps also one of his most sublime. The recitative style of the outer sections stands in contrast to the central episode, marked Un peu plus animé, echoing the poetic metaphor. The song ends in a mood verging on ecstasy, as the lovers seem to fuse with the natural elements around them. It seems astonishing that such a fine and moving work should have remained neglected among the composer’s papers: there is no evidence to suggest that this unpublished work has ever been performed in public. This recording is in all likelihood then its first public airing.

Les Sources (Springs), published in 1916, sets another poem by Henri de Régnier. The fluid writing for the left hand, in regular quavers, creates an undulating backdrop over which the right hand and the voice travel in almost total melodic autonomy.

Charles d’Orléans’ Rondel is given an appropriately archaic feel, and its hints of plucked stringed instruments (right-hand staccatos), wideinterval chords in the left hand, superimposed fifths and final plagal cadence give us a glimpse into a more objective world. The text had earlier been set by Debussy, in 1904, as one of his Trois Chansons de France.

The intentional monotony in the accompaniment of En regardant passer la vie (While watching life go by), which is almost entirely dominated by a continuous movement of quaver triplets, does not outweigh the beauty of the vocal curve with its varied inflections. Although not published, this song seems to have been one of those most frequently performed during Taconet’s lifetime.

L’Attente mystique II is the second in Taconet’s Louis Le Cardonnel triptych, and forms a contrast with the first in that it is even more severe in nature and spare in texture. A recitative style predominates, before the song ends in silence and nothingness.

Quand au matin je vois (When in the morning I see), to a poem by Charles Guérin, is another of Taconet’s musical successes. Ropartz had set the same text in 1913–14, in his collection Le Rêve sur le sable, entitling it Prière du matin (Morning Prayer). The hesitant accompaniment initially alternates triplets and binary division, allowing the vocal line to soar within a supple and variable time signature.

Soir (Evening) sets a poem by Albert Samain and acts as another link between Fauré and Taconet. It must be noted here that Fauré’s song is a nocturne, to whose harmonic sophistication Taconet cannot aspire with his clear tonal plan matching the different strophes of the poem. Unlike Fauré, who set only the first three strophes, Taconet adds the fourth, thereby creating a symmetry with the second by means of partial musical repetition.

Anges (Angels) is a fairly long poem by Le Cardonnel, only part of which was set by Taconet. This is one of his particularly well-elaborated songs; a mystical-artistic meditation rich in harmonies, during which the vocal and piano lines both develop with notable independence. The work ends with a wonderful piano postlude, whose breadth is worthy of Rachmaninov.

With Goûte, me dit le soir de juin (Savour, that June evening said to me), Taconet again uses words by Charles Guérin, and creates a melody in strophic form (ABCA). The prevailing mood here is one of peace, relaxation and innocence, in a sensory evocation which is perfectly controlled by means of his subtle shaping of musical phrases and motifs, and of a pure vocal line without any unnecessary adornment.

Chanson (Song) is stylistically related to the traditional French chanson, though closer to the territory of Canteloube than to the smoke-filled rooms of Montmartre, as visited from time to time by Satie, Debussy and Poulenc.

We do not know exactly when the Sonata in D minor for violin and piano was composed, although it was definitely earlier than 27th February 1927, as it is mentioned in a Le Havre Philharmonic Society concert programme of that date. It therefore takes its place in the rich history of the French sonata just before similar works by Ropartz (his Third Sonata) and Ravel, both of which date from 1927. The sonata was first performed in Le Havre on 8th December 1935 with the violinist Émile Damais, and the composer himself at the piano.

This is the most well-developed of Taconet’s three sonatas, and the only one in four movements. The D minor, sonata-form Allegro agitato ma moderato presents two themes. The first is introduced by the piano alone in a long opening section, the second, in F major, enters in a slighter quicker tempo than that of the main theme. The development section opens by transporting the first subject into a romantic, dream-like atmosphere, before moving on to a febrile, passionate treatment of the second subject. The movement comes to an end with an ethereal coda in the tonic major key. The lively, mercurial nature of the Scherzo, in F sharp major, means that it, of the four movements here, best represents that vein of spirited French music, with its short figurations, chromaticisms which are decorative rather than charged with expressive tension, and its rapid changes in colour as the violin switches between pizzicato and bowed notes. The 2/4 Trio in D flat creates a contrast with its more intrinsically romantic character, unfurling in long lyrical violin phrases and more stable, broader harmonic sonorities on the piano. The Andante is the expressive heart of the work; the modulating central section of its tripartite structure introduces a sense of menace into the predominantly meditative and introverted music, before the movement ends in an atmosphere steeped in dreaminess and serenity. The final Allegro vivace in D major is in sonata-rondo form (ABACABA), the first theme acting as the refrain. In accordance with the criteria of the day, the many relationships between the themes of the different movements show that unity and coherence are central to this work.

Gérald Hugon
English version: Susannah Howe

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