About this Recording
8.554720 - IBERT: Piano Music (Complete)

Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)

Piano Music

The French composer Jacques Ibert spent much of his career as director of the Académie de France in Rome. His own earlier education was at the Collège Rollin and he taught in Paul Mounet's Conservatoire classes for dramatic declamation before becoming a student of harmony there under Ravel's former teacher, Emile Pessard, and under Gédalge and Paul Vidal. His studies at the Paris Conservatoire were interrupted by war service in 1914 as a naval officer but on his return in 1919, with the encouragement of Nadia Boulanger and Roger-Ducasse, he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Le poète et la fée (‘The Poet and the Fairy’). Ibert's compositions in Rome included an orchestral work based on Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol, performed at the Colonne concerts in 1922, and the symphonic suite Escales, later arranged for solo piano, the result of travel not only in Italy, but also in Spain and Tunis. Among the works he submitted from Rome, in accordance with the terms of the prize, were an opera, Persée et Androméde, based on Jules Laforgue.

On his return to Paris Ibert enjoyed an active career as a composer, writing music for the theatre and cinema, chamber music and orchestral compositions, some of the last adapted for concert performance from earlier incidental music. In 1937 he returned to Rome to take charge of the Académie de France, retaining the same position until 1960, even with the important appointment in 1955 as Administrator General of the French National Lyric Theatres, a position relinquished the following year. A versatile and prolific composer, he combined technical assurance with a certain elegance and precision and with prolific versatility. He has much in common with the group of composers known in the 1920s as Les Six, in his piano music often seeming to share in an idiom familiar from the music of Poulenc and other contemporaries.>

The Scherzetto of 1917 is a work of characteristic charm, followed here by the aptly named Pièce romantique, building up to a romantic climax. The 1929 Toccata sur le nom d'Alhert Roussel (‘Toccata on the Name of Albert Roussel’) is a brief tribute to that composer, dominated by its opening motif.

L'espiègle au village de Lilliput (‘The Prankster in the Village of Lilliput’), dedicated to the distinguished pianist Marguerite Long, was written for the Great Exhibition of 1937, one of a series to which seven other composers contributed, including Poulenc, Auric and Milhaud. Française, written in 1926, was originally for guitar, as is apparent from its figuration. It is followed by the evocative Le vent sur les ruines (‘The Wind over the Ruins’), written in 1915 in Champagne, during Ibert's war service.

Ibert's Petite Suite en quinze images (‘Little Suite in Fifteen Pictures’) was written in 1943, during the course of a second war. It opens with a Prélude of simple texture, followed by Ronde, in clear tripartite form. Le gai vigneron (‘The Gay Wine-Grower’) is suitably cheerful, relaxing into Berceuse aux étoile, (Lullaby under the Stars). Le cavalier Sans-Souci (‘Carefree Knight’) prances happily away, while Parade brings a little march. The seventh piece, La promenade en traîneau (‘Sleigh Ride’) moves swiftly on, Romance is in a smoothly expressive A major almost suggesting Schumann, and Quadrille recalls the music-hall as much as the ball-room. Sérénade sur l'eau (‘Serenade on the Water’) has a gentle sway to it, La machine á coudre (‘The Sewing-Machine’) buzzes on and L'Adieu bids a tender farewell. Les crocus (‘The Crocus’) has a charm of its own, Premier bal (‘First Ball’) is an attractively syncopated little waltz and the work ends with a cheerfully emphatic Danse du cocher (‘Cabman's Dance’).

Histoires, written in 1922, is a set of ten character pieces. The first of these, La meneuse de tortues d'or, (‘The Leader of the Golden Tortoises’) moves slowly on to the well known Le petit âne blanc (‘The Little White Donkey’), with its musical braying. To this Le vieux mendiant (‘The Old Beggar’) provides a contrast of mood, while what Ibert describes as an English sentimental romance is reflected in A giddy girl. Dans la maison triste (‘In the Sad House’) at first offers a plaintive melody over a sustained pedal-note, before its gentle chords and sombre, hushed ending. There is a certain faded grandeur about Le palais abandonné (‘The Abandoned Palace’) and the Spanish title of Bajo la mesa (‘Under the Table’) suggests at once its mood and idiom. The delicate La cage de cristal (‘The Glass Cage’) leads to La marchande d'eau fraîche (‘The Fresh Water Seller’), in a now familiar toccata style and the work ends with the informal nonchalance of Cortège de Balkis (‘Procession of Balkis’), jaunty rather than formal, before it skips away.

Les rencontres, petite suite en forme de ballet (‘Encounters, Little Suite in the Form of a Ballet’), written in 1924, served as the score for a ballet by Nijinska in the following year. The first movement of the suite, Les bouquetières (‘The Flower Girls’), carries the direction in a Second Empire ballet style and is dominated by its characteristic opening rhythm. It is followed by Les créoles (‘The Creoles’), with its mysterious central section, framed by music marked by a recurrent rhythmic figure. Les mignardes (‘The Precious Girls’) gives initial prominence to the open chords of the left hand, decorated by delicate embroidery above, in music that seems to continue the tradition of Debussy. Les bergères (‘The Shepherdesses’) offers simpler textures and the suite ends with Les bavardes (‘The Chatterboxes’), its staccato figuration framing grander gestures.

Keith Anderson

Close the window