With Bengt Forsberg providing immaculate support, it's a wholly cherishable rescue-act, unbridled pleasure from first track to last and an entrancing journey of discovery . . . an unmissable prospect -- and generous measure, too . . .
Record Review /
Gramophone (London) / 01. September 2005
Als Glücksfall . . . ist die Lieder-CD von Anne Sofie von Otter mit dem Pianisten Bengt Forsberg als ebenbürtigem Partner zu bezeichnen . . . die mit geschmeidiger Stimmführung glänzende Mezzosopranistin lässt keinerlei Wünsche offen -- ausser einer weiteren CD mit Liedern dieser Komponistin.
Record Review /
Musik & Theater (Zurich) / 01. July 2007
Who is Cécile Chaminade ?
When listening to the songs collected here, there cannot be a moment's doubt that Cécile Chaminade had more than just an agreeable talent in this field: she possessed a real freshness of inspiration, an impeccable mastery of prosody and small forms, a feeling for the voice enhanced by piano writing that supports and surrounds the vocal line while retaining its own interest. Chaminade wrote most of her approximately 140 songs (of a total of 400 works, some 200 are pieces for the piano) between 1890 and 1910, having already demonstrated her capacity for tackling chamber and orchestral music. However, this has less to do with her predilection for a genre which might have been thought suitable to the limited ambitions of a woman composer than with pursuing an essential, sustaining artistic activity, taken up with an inspired perfectionism, an endeavour for which she could find a model in the works of her friend Chabrier.
Born in Batignolles on 8 August 1857, shortly before the village was swallowed up by the expansion of Paris, Cécile Chaminade counted among her ancestors Father William (Guillaume) Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Marianist order. Her mother, an excellent pianist and endowed with a pleasant singing voice, quickly recognized Cécile's astonishing musical ear and lively musical sensibility. Her father, an amateur violinist, ran an insurance company and, in 1865, built a villa at Vésinet. It was there that Bizet made the acquaintance of the girl he soon referred to as his "little Mozart" (they were 20 years apart in age). He recommended enrolling her in the Paris Conservatoire, in Félix Le Couppey's piano class for girls, but M. Chaminade refused, convinced that "girls of the bourgeoisie were intended to become wives and mothers". Bizet nevertheless obtained for Cécile an equivalent in private education: Le Couppey for the piano, Savard for harmony and Benjamin Godard for composition.
In the family's new flat, at 69 rue de Rome, where the élite of the musical world gathered every fortnight, Cécile won the admiration of Ambroise Thomas, Massenet, Gounod, Saint-Saëns and Chabrier: she enjoyed accompanying the young violinist Joseph Marsick, who played quartet concerts from 1877 in the old Salle Pleyel. It was on one of those occasions that Cécile, taking advantage of her father's absence on a trip, appeared in public for the first time - successfully, according to the press - playing in trios by Beethoven and Widor. The following year, 1878, Le Couppey organized a concert devoted to Chaminade's works. Then, on 4 April 1881, the Société Nationale presented the première of her Suite for orchestra, which was repeated at the Concerts des Champs-Elysées and received still further recognition by the conductor Pasdeloup at his Concerts Populaires.
Her opéra comique, entitled La Sévillane, which Chaminade herself accompanied in a private performance, ought to have opened the doors of the Opéra-Comique to its composer; although she presented it again publicly at the Salle Pleyel and then at the Salle Erard, the work was too short and never achieved any success. Her ballet, Callirhoë, on the other hand, was staged more than 200 times following its première in Marseille on 16 March 1888, notably including a production at the Metropolitan in New York. Similarly, her Concertstück op. 40 for piano and orchestra (1888) was regularly given new performances.
These accomplishments notwithstanding, Chaminade's output from then on was limited to small-scale works - an exception is the Concertino for flute (1902). With the death of her father on 28 July 1887, she seems to have lost the combative fibre necessary for undertaking long-breathed works. Instead she concentrated on her burgeoning career as a pianist, which took her all over Europe, as far as Turkey, and culminated in a triumphant tour of the USA - 25 concerts in 1907-08 which launched her immense popularity on that side of the Atlantic. Requiring a supply of material for recitals devoted exclusively to her own compositions and, more prosaically, needing to provide for herself and her mother, Chaminade committed herself to the regular production of short piano pieces and songs.
She always lived alone, declaring, "My love is music; I am its nun, its vestal". Yet in 1901 she entered into a marriage (in name only) with a divorced man of modest means, who left her a widow six years later. In 1912 the death of her mother, who had often accompanied her on tours, left her disconsolate. Not until the following year did she return to London, where Queen Victoria regularly invited her to Windsor and students reportedly carried her on their shoulders. Then the war broke out and, at the age of 57, Chaminade became director of a hospital and gave up music. She stopped appearing in public and composed only occasionally.
Exhausted from her constant activity and enervated by an overly strict vegetarian diet, she was forced to have a foot amputated in 1938 and subsequently retired to Monte Carlo. She died on 13 April 1944, appalled by what she had seen, experienced and heard of the 20th century, with which she had been on distant terms.
It was only in 1988 that the American musicologist Marcia J. Citron compiled a catalogue of Chaminade's works and gathered together the elements of her biography. Some of her songs are recorded here for the first time. The poems, largely from contemporary authors, are of debatable quality, but Chaminade generally works wonders with them.
Some of the songs are in a popular vein - for example, Ronde d'amour, whose whimsicality is conveyed through the lively rhythm of a round dance; or Attente (Au pays de Provence), with its distinctly swaying 6/8 metre and charming appoggiaturas. At times this lighter side of Chaminade evokes the world of the theatre, as in Nice-la-belle, a tarantella that could have come from an operetta, whose words seem to be set in motion by the music's élan; or in Sombrero, a lively opéra comique ballad in the great French tradition; or again in Voisinage, which adopts the syllabic patter of a number from opéra comique (such as Charles Lecocq's Le Petit Duc), along with some orientalizing melismas.
Not surprisingly, the common denominator of many of these songs is love, which is made the object of a variety of treatments. In Auprès de ma mie, another dance-song in a folk vein, tinged with the minor mode in the manner of Dvo?ák, the surge of desire causes the music to take wing. The wide vocal compass of Viens! mon bien-aimé! favours the middle and lower registers in expressing, as in Chabrier's L'Ile heureuse, the emotions of amorous intimacy. In Si j'étais jardinier, the light-hearted rhythm overcomes the poem's insipid preciousness: the mood is basically mischievous, with a shift in tone for the word "Mais" in the third strophe increasing the piquancy of the reprise.
In a completely different style, Mignonne is remarkable for its way of creating long-breathed phrases that extend beyond the caesuras of the versification. The choice of a classical poem does not result in any neo-classicism in the setting (except for a little "mordant" at the end of the outer strophes of the ABA form), which would only diminish the music's reach. Menuet, on the other hand, looks deliberately back to the past and the evocation of the good old days, in the same neo-classical hues as Massenet's Chérubin, emphasized by the presence of the violin - most of the emotion, however, derives from the rest preceding the last line of each strophe.
The subject of L'Anneau d'argent, one of Chaminade's most famous songs, had autobiographical resonances for her: a first dream of marriage shattered by fate. The melody builds up in stages, without pressing, without pathos, gliding over arpeggiated chords that shine like polished metal. Ma première lettre, on another poem by Rosemonde Gérard, the companion of Edmond Rostand, also taps the sentimental vein: the aptness of the words, the deliberate simplicity of the music, recalling Manon's aria "Adieu, notre petite table", the eloquence of the harmonic suspensions as an image of the past within the present - all of these serve to enhance the song's emotional intensity. Massenet is also present as a model in the double-edged Ecrin: the sensuous modulations of this wicked little waltz-song are played out against the mock stiffness of a quick minuet's repeated staccato notes.
The emotional peak of these songs is undoubtedly Chanson triste: the vivacity of the piano's plucked arpeggios, swinging like ominously chiming bells (D minor), is followed by the strange calmness of the second part, which conveys the idea of the broken dream by breaking up the vocal line: the voice remains largely in the home key, but now in counterpoint with the dream, still fluttering in the piano part in the major mode.
Chaminade's lighter side resurfaces, for example, in Bonne humeur, pervaded by a feeling of joy without any false modesty, "unbuttoned", expressed, as with Chabrier, through a play of contrasting colours from different vocal registers - and in dance, even a folklike quality, in the purely instrumental pieces which form a complement to the songs on this disc. Originally called Chanson espagnole (1895) and dedicated to Emma Calvé, the Sérénade espagnole has been treated to numerous adaptations, of which Fritz Kreisler's (1925), recorded here, is surely the most brilliant. Dedicated to Paul Viardot, son of the celebrated singer, the Rondeau is a quasi-minuet in which the piano part is no less important than the violin, while the Capriccio dates from the time when Chaminade frequently performed with the violinist Joseph Marsick, to whom the piece is dedicated. First performed in 1886 with Camille Chevillard at the second piano, Pas des cymbales is a characteristic piece that recalls, without suggesting pastiche, Chabrier's España. The Valse carnavalesque makes especially good use of the disposition of notes in the same register that writing for two pianos allows. The performance given by Chaminade in Paris in 1910, accompanied by that of the piano- roll recording for "pianola" which she had made beforehand, caused a sensation: it was a first. Finally, if the style of the Danse païenne (originally for piano solo) seems anachronistic, it can also be seen as a way of keeping at bay the upheavals caused by the Great War.
(Translation: Richard Evidon)
My first rendezvous with Cécile Chaminade By Bengt Forsberg
My first rendezvous with Cécile Chaminade was in the early '70s when a fellow-pianist at the Gothenburg Conservatory showed me some truly exuberant two-piano pieces. I immediately fell in love with Madame C. and started looking for and collecting more of her music in second-hand music shops around Europe. In Antwerp, I stumbled upon a large collection of Chaminade compositions, containing, among other things, several of her songs. Anne Sofie, I'm glad to say, was equally enthusiastic when we read through them together while preparing a programme for the Paris Opéra in 1998.
Chaminade's music (sometimes given exotic titles like Mazurk' suédoise, Norvégienne or Chanson groenlandaise) speaks with an altogether personal voice: good-humoured, charmant, with a seemingly spontaneous, almost careless élégance. It sounds so very French but without the sober stylishness of Saint-Saëns or Fauré. Neither does it bear any influence from, say, Brahms or Wagner. Her inspiration appears to be the folk music and culture of her own country.
A musical portrait of Cécile Chaminade would not be complete without some of her bittersweet violin pieces or, indeed, a few of those buoyant two-piano pieces. We hope you enjoy her non-academic directness, her "fraîcheur naïve" and, above all, her wonderful melodic inventiveness. And remember, it all comes from a supposedly "second-rate female composer of salon music".