Le Bal Masqué
Francis Poulenc / Vincent d'Indy / Charles Kœchlin / Albert Roussel

Le Bal Masqué

Viotta Ensemble

CCS 8595 - 0723385859529

Information GreatBrittain Germany

The French composers who were attracting attention around 1920, and who were given the collective title of the Groupe des Six by the critic Henri Collet, were united above all by negative characteristics: they were all in rebellion against the powerful influence of Wagner and against the (in their opinion) vagueness of symbolism and impressionism. In their battle they sometimes resorted to musical pranks which were a transitory characteristic, for example, of the music of Honegger and Milhaud, but which would remain characteristic for Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) for some years to come.

Poulencs cantata Le Bal Masqu is written to texts by the poet Max Jacob, whose work can be seen as closely approaching surrealism; it dates from 1932. The instrumentation is strongly reminiscent of Stravinskys LHistoire du Soldat: oboe, clarinet, bassoon, cornet a piston, piano, violin, cello, and percussion-the latter under the control of one single player. In addition, the composer has precisely specified the placement of the nine performers and the conductor on the podium. Poulenc considered the work as a sort of carnival which he had set up in collaboration with the poet. This makes the introduction of a blind lady acceptable, a device which would be in questionable taste outside of this absurdist setting. (Note: This cantata was composed on the eve of Hitlers Machtubername in Germany. 

The poet Max Jacob was a Jew, originally from Brittany, who had become a Catholic convert. Neither he nor Poulenc could have suspected in 1932 that conversion would not save him: Jacob died in the French concentration camp at Drancy in 1944.) Vincent DIndy (1851-1931), whose teachers included Csar Franck, was among the founders of the Socit Nationale de Musique, an expression of cultural consciousness after Frances defeat by Prussia. An interesting paradox of this movement is that the major exemplars for this group of composers were Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner, all of whom were of German origin. In 1896, DIndy, in collaboration with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant, founded the Schola Cantorum, the aim of which was to encourage interest in the music of the Renaissance and Baroque. DIndy was one of the first to recognize the greatness of Claudio Monteverdi, and he can never receive sufficient credit for this act alone. His publication in 1905 of a new edition of Monteverdis Orfeo remained unnoticed for decades, but that is certainly not his fault. The Suite dans le Style ancien is evidence of DIndys intense interest in the French music of earlier centuries. In this case it is Jean Philippe Rameau who is the source of inspiration. The unconventional instrumentation, two flutes, trumpet and string quintet (or string orchestra? the sources are not entirely clear on this point) is colorful, another characteristic shared with Rameau. The musical language bears hardly a trace of the eighteenth century, although one might hear a reference to the French music of that period in the rhythms of Sarabande, Menuet, and Rondo. The only truly ancien feature is the trumpet part, which makes exclusive use of notes in the natural harmonic series and is cleverly interwoven with the other instruments, occasionally contributing its own thematic part as well. The String Trio opus 58 is Albert Roussels (1869-1937) third work for three instruments. 
The first, a work for the classic ensemble of violin, cello, and piano, dates from an early period: it is his opus 2. Much later Roussel composed a trio for the unconventional setting of flute, viola, and cello (opus 40, 1929). This string trio was to be Roussels last completed work; Roussel was working on another trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon (Trio danches) until shortly before his death, but only the Andante was finished. The string trio exhibits all of the stylistic characteristics of Roussels last compositional period: transparency and tightly condensed form. In the extremely concise first movement, two pieces of melodic material appear, returning in reversed order after a tumultuous middle section (there is no development!). The finale is remarkable for its combination of an extended rondo with the character of a scherzo, and not just a scherzo but one in the typically Roussel mode. Its light-hearted gigue rhythm clearly refers to the scherzo of the Fourth Symphony. As is generally the case in Roussels later chamber works, the center of gravity is in the slow movement, an Adagio filled with the utmost tension. In addition to the long postponement of a clear tonal center, the dramatic force of this movement is increased not a little by an almost agonized chromaticism, which is only resolved in the last measures by a pianissimo chord of F Major.  

Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) is certainly among the most interesting and versatile French composers of his generation. He was a student of Gabriel Faur, who already charged him in the 1890s with the task of orchestrating Faurs music for an English production of Maeterlincks Pellas et Mlisande. Koechlin would perform a similar service for Debussys ballet music Khamma. Koechlin not only left a considerable oeuvre as a composer, but was also the author of numerous articles, theoretical works (on instrumentation and counterpoint), a biography of his teacher, and a pamphlet La musique et le peuple. In fact, Koechlin continued to experiment throughout his entire life with harmonies, rhythms, and combinations of instruments. In some of his songs composed before 1900, there are already harmonic developments which explore regions undreamed of at that time even by Debussy. The Sonatine op. 194 no. 2 is a vivid testimonial to Koechlins enterprise in the field of instrumental ensembles. Although this is a chamber music composition, one instrument, the oboe damore, has a prominent role as soloist. The composer combines the oboe with nine other instruments; however, in the coloristic tradition beloved of French composers, none of them is employed in all of the movements. A complete tutti is deployed only in the last movement. In the first movement both violins are silent, as are the winds and harpsichord in the second movement and the clarinet in the third movement. The character of the first and third movements is predominantly meditative; the second movement is clearly inspired by dance music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The primary rhythm of the last movement is also like that of a dance: a Gigue, which, however, is interrupted by an Allegro trs anim. Marius Flothuis (Translation: David Shapero)

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    'Suite Dans Le Style Ancien' In D Major Op. 24
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    'Suite Dans Le Style Ancien' In D Major Op. 24
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    'Suite Dans Le Style Ancien' In D Major Op. 24
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    'Suite Dans Le Style Ancien' In D Major Op. 24
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    'Suite Dans Le Style Ancien' In D Major Op. 24
    Ronde Francaise
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    String Trio, Op. 58
    Allegro Moderato
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    String Trio, Op. 58
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    String Trio, Op. 58
    Allegro Con Spirito
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    Sonatina Nr. 2 Op. 194
    Andante, Très Calme, Presque Adagio
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    Sonatina Nr. 2 Op. 194
    Andante Con Moto
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    Sonatina Nr. 2 Op. 194
    Presque Adagio
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    Sonatina Nr. 2 Op. 194
    Finale - Allegro
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    Le Bal Masqué
    Préambule Et Air de Bravoure
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    Le Bal Masqué
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    Le Bal Masqué
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    Le Bal Masqué
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    Le Bal Masqué
    La Dame Aveugle
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    Le Bal Masqué