Ma Mère L’Oye (1908) by Maurice Ravel
The original version of Ma Mère L’Oye (“Mother Goose”) is for piano four-hands and was written in 1908. It was inspired by the fairy tales of Charles Perrauly (1628-1703), Mme d’Aulnoy (1650-1705) and Mme Leprince de Beaumont (18th century). The five movements are Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (“Pavane for a Sleeping Beauty”), a sad and melancholy dance; Petit Pouce (“Tom Thumb”), the tale of a boy who lays bread crumbs to find his way home but finds them eaten by birds; Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodas (“Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas”), the story of a daughter of a king who is cursed with ugliness, whose beauty is restored by the love of a prince; Les Entretiens de la belle et de la bête(“The conversations of Beauty and the Beast”), a waltz alternating between elegant charm and macabre shadows; and Le jardin férique (“The Fairy Garden”), where Ravel says “Good-bye” to the innocence of childhood with a simple chorale. Later, Ravel remarked “My intention of awaking the poetry of childhood in these pieces naturally led me to simplify my style and think out my writing. I made a ballet of this work, which was performed at the Théâtre des Arts. I wrote the work for my young friends Mimie and Jean Godebski.”
Petite Suite (1886-89) by Claude Debussy
The first movements of Debussy’s Petite Suite of 1889 are drawn from two poems of Verlaine’s 1869 volume Fêtes galantes. The poems evoke the era of 18th-century aristocrats on country outings, the world depicted in the fanciful paintings of Fragonard and Watteau. Partiers assume the archetypal Commedia dell'Arte roles – there are countesses and rogues, priests and knights, all engaged in an atmosphere of merry-making. In its original form for piano, Petite Suite was first performed on February 2, 1889 by Debussy in collaboration with the pianist-publisher Jacques Durand. The work has a simple lyricism that contrasts with much of the composer's music from the late 1880's, which was marked by trend-setting harmonies and colors that drew the wrath of contemporary critics for being "too modernistic.” It may in fact originally have been written for the skilled amateur musicians who commanded a great deal of attention at this period, and who demanded chamber music that they could master. The Suite is made of four individual movements, each one constructed in such a way as to give more or less equal opportunities to both pianists. In the first movement, "En bateau" (Sailing), a sublime melody is floated above a broken chordal accompaniment. The next movement, "Cortège,” is a brilliantly evocative processional, suggesting a marching band on a festival day, while the penultimate movement, “Menuet,” is generally regarded as the high point of the work. “Ballet,” the final movement, is an energetic, festive dance.
by Heidi Lesemann
Siete canciones populares españolas (1914)
by Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla is representative of a group of Spanish composers, including Enrique Granados, Isaac Albéniz and Joaquín Turina, who won international recognition. He was born in 1876 in Cádiz, where he first studied, moving later to Madrid and then to Paris, but returning to Madrid when war broke out in 1914. Strongly influenced by the traditional Andalusian cante jondo, he settled in Granada for a time, then exiled himself to Argentina after his friend Frederico Garcia Lorca was murdered by Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Falla was no musical revolutionary, though what he created was entirely new. His powerful originality depended not on matters of technique - even if in this he made astonishing innovations - but on substance, this came first. His work has proved durable, and the attractive surface of his music has perhaps done much to maintain his popular esteem. La vida breve, El amor brujo (with the Ritual Fire Dance), The Three-Cornered Hat, and Master Peter’s Puppet Show are some of his most beloved works.
The Siete canciones for high soprano and piano were composed in 1914 and are dedicated to Madame Ida Godebska. This set of popular Spanish songs is one of the most loved of Falla’s works, and one of the most important song cycles in the Spanish repertoire. The vocal line leads the piano part in an integrated whole, a true partnership.
Le boeuf sur le toit (1919) by Darius Milhaud
Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58 (The Cow on the Roof, or The Nothing Doing Bar) is a surrealist ballet made on a score composed by Darius Milhaud which was in turn strongly influenced by Brazilian popular music. The title is that of an old Brazilian tango, one of close to 30 Brazilian tunes (choros) quoted in the composition. The piece was originally to have been the score of a silent Charlie Chaplin film. Its transformation into a ballet (Pantomime Farce) was the making of the piece, with a scenario by Jean Cocteau, stage designs by Raoul Dufy, and costumes by Guy-Pierre Fauconnet. There is no real story to speak of, but a sequence of surrealistic bar scenes based on music inspired by Brazil, a country in which the composer spent two years during World War I. One by one a bizarre assortment of decadents enters the stage joining the Barman and the Boxer: a woman in a Low Cut Dress, a Woman in Red (with paper hair), a Gentleman, and a Bookmaker (with gold teeth). A policeman enters the scene with a police whistle, fights ensue and the curtain falls on what proves to be anything but a dull evening at the local establishment.
The version for chamber orchestra was followed by another for piano duet, which we hear this evening, subtitled Cinema Symphony on South American Airs. The ballet gave its name to a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, which opened in 1921 and became a meeting-place for Cocteau and his associates.
La vie en rose: Songs of Edith Piaf
Called “The Little Sparrow” because she stood just 4’8,” Edith Piaf (née Édith Giovanna Gassion) became one of the world’s most beloved entertainers during and after WWII, extending until her death October 10, 1963 at age 47 in France. Born in Paris in the Hospital Tenon on December 19, 1915 (though legend has her born on the streets), she struggled for her existence as the daughter of street performers. She was discovered in 1935, so the legend goes, in Pigalle by a nightclub owner who taught her stage deportment and insisted she wear a black dress which she adopted as her trademark. But her voice captivated the French capital, and eventually the world, as she sang of her life on the streets, her loves, and her pain. She is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in one of the most visited gravesites.
Program Notes by Jeff von der Schmidt except where noted