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Tour de France

Tour de France

  • By Trio Arkaede
  • Release 04/06/2014
  • Media Format CD
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Price: €24.10

Product Notes

At the turn of the 20th century, Paris was a hotbed of musical change. Rather than fostering the emergence of a distinctly French sound, however, the city's most creative spirits sought to purge the influence of Germanic artistic ideals. Following an embarrassing defeat in the Franco-German War, the French vowed to distance themselves from Germany's lofty Wagnerian shadow and to promote homegrown talents with unprecedented fervor. And so the colorful wash of naïveté associated with early-twentieth-century French music was more the result of dismantling a German stronghold than building a French one. In musicologist Richard Taruskin's words, "[the French] aimed at the deflation of rhetoric-an especially pointed gesture in the face of German expressive maximalism-and placed a renewed premium on immediate physical sensation." The official doctrine-ars gallica-was given through the Société Nationale de Musique, which was founded by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1871 and kept afloat by such luminaries as Gabriel Fauré, César Franck, and Jules Massenet. Each of these men played a central role in nurturing those who would shape France's musical future. The focus on exporting a national art was so strong, in fact, that traditions thought to hinder this goal were sometimes overlooked. It was under this spell of national pride that Franck opened the Conservatoire's doors to an exceptionally gifted female composer: Mélanie Bonis (1858-1937). Despite a promising start, conventional gender roles forced Bonis to the sidelines of Parisian musical life. And though she continued to compose regularly, producing over 300 works under the masculine pseudonym "Mel Bonis," her music eventually fell into obscurity. The Suite en Trio, Op. 59, dates from 1903 and is scored for flute, violin, and piano. In keeping with the doctrine of ars gallica, which sought an identifiably French music, the work is relatively compact in comparison to the vast forms of Bruckner and Mahler. The opening Sérénade concerns itself more with the presentation of ideas than with their development-a compositional approach championed by Eric Satie that became emblematic of the new French style. With it's unstable opening sonority, the ensuing Pastorale betrays an early impressionist sound-one that leaves us feeling suspended from the very start, as though lost in a rêverie that echoes Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. In contrast to the opening movements, the closing Scherzo exudes a relentless energy. It's more melodic sections are based on the Pastorale's main tune, which itself borrows from the Sérénade's contrasting theme. Much like Bonis, Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) might have been marginalized in a more traditional environment due to his Venezuelan heritage. These roots expressed themselves through an early interest in the music of his native homeland, but Hahn's early training under Massenet at the Conservatoire ensured his inclusion amongst the French. In this light, it is perhaps surprising that the Romanesque in C major (1910) is patently non-French in that it draws inspiration from an Italian folk dance. By invoking music of the commoners, however, the work elevates simplicity to the realm of high art, thus aligning itself with a feature common to the French aesthetic. Characterized by modal harmonies, a piano that acts like a harp, and an economy of musical materials, Hahn's Romanesque epitomizes the trivial-the antithesis of pretension-in music. Straightforward throughout, the piece closes with a clever exchange of instrumental timbres. Triviality as a counterargument to pretension held sway as a desirable aesthetic throughout the early-twentieth century. This was just as true for the themes that inspired composers as it was for the music itself. Nature scenes including mythological creatures were a common source of inspiration and often emphasized the jesting character of their subjects. Flautist Philippe Gaubert's (1879-1941) Médailles Antiques divides into two tableaux, the first of which depicts nymphs at a fountain. The bubbling spring that bursts forth in the music's opening gesture eventually cedes to a more sombre passage, only to return in full force before giving way to the second tableau-a dance of unbridled joy cloaked in the lush sound of tertian harmonies (e.g., sevenths, ninths). A similar harmonic palette pervades Claude Debussy's (1862-1918) Violin Sonata in G minor-the composer's last work. In addition to tertian harmonies, the music exhibits a mixture of plain triadic and whole-tone sonorities, both of which hearken back to Debussy's early style. In a more forward-looking vein, the sonata's sparse texture foreshadows a defining aspect of the neo-classical movement, which would take hold shortly after the composer's death. Perhaps most salient with respect to stylistic concerns is how far the music ventures from a firmly grounded tonality-a feature especially noticeable in the last two movements. Although written nearly 40 years later, Francis Poulenc's (1899-1963) Sonata for Flute and Piano shares much in common with Debussy's sonatas, including it's relatively free form-a similarity that Poulenc himself acknowledged: "It's very similar to Debussy's Sonatas; that is to say, very free.' Unlike many composers of his time, including Debussy before him, Poulenc never felt obliged to challenge traditional tonality. Instead of uprooting the entire system, he relied on beautifully timed shifts in harmonic color to personalize his harmonic language. This subtle shading is most effective in the Allegro malinconico, though it accounts for several tender moments in both the Cantilena and Presto giocoso. Maurice Duruflé (1902-86) shared Poulenc's penchant for tonal harmony, though his harmonic language is somewhat less conservative and more modally driven. From the very start, his Prélude, Récitatif et Variations, Op. 3, conjures a sound-world of times long past. Allusions to music of the 14th century provide a suitable context for the snippets of medieval chant that surface from time to time.

Details

Title: Tour de France
Release Date: 04/06/2014
Label: CD Baby
Media Format: CD
UPC: 738759925014
Item #: 1273047X
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