Hyperion Records

Suite 'Dans la montagne'
1904/5, revised 1906

'Bréville & Canteloube: Violin Sonatas' (CDA67427)
Bréville & Canteloube: Violin Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67427 
Movement 1: En plein vent
Movement 2: Le soir
Movement 3: Jour de fête
Movement 4: Dans le bois au printemps

Suite 'Dans la montagne'
On 20 August 1904 d’Indy wrote to Canteloube that Dans la montagne was ‘the work of yours which has interested me most, being, I think (in spite of its popular stamp), the most genuinely original’. The prelude was, d’Indy thought:

good, well handled, well constructed, perhaps too long in the middle in F#, where one hears too often what one has already heard in the form of restatement, which isn’t development at all. But it would take very little to make a really good piece of it.

For the second movement d’Indy had some blustery criticism. It was:

less well constructed, although the its elements are altogether excellent. Very good exposition, but what kind of devilish modulation are you going to employ to get out of the said exposition? It’s awkward, inharmonic and all that to reach a C major which is the last key to choose in a piece in G minor.

After a few more comments, mixing plain-talking technical observation with words of honest encouragement, d’Indy concluded: ‘I believe you can make something very good of this violin suite on condition that it be more composed’.

Canteloube took d’Indy’s criticism to heart and set about reworking the score, sending it to d’Indy some time the following year. His teacher’s response, this time even longer-distance than usual, came from Boston, in a letter dated 20 November 1905:

The 1st and 2nd Nos. are now very good. It is astonishing how the 2nd piece has gained from the changes you have made. Such that it is absolutely harmonious and as the musical elements are very good, it really makes an excellent piece.

D’Indy expressed some structural reservations about the third movement – and then shrugged them off: ‘don’t change anything more in this piece. It is what it is, and can stay like that’. But he then went into an extended analysis of the fourth movement, taking issue with the length of the exposition (and aiming a passing swipe at his most prominent contemporary: ‘don’t trust Debussysme, that will pass very quickly’) and with imbalances in the tonal relationships and the disposition of the thematic material, explaining to Canteloube exactly what was required to re-adjust the tonal architecture.

The prentice composer again appears to have taken the advice, since the next version of Dans la montagne, published by Rouart Lerolle in 1906, avoids the pitfalls d’Indy was worried about. (A second, revised, edition was published in 1933; this recording was made using the 1906 version.)

On the printed page, the mounting waves of piano figures – six notes: four rising, two falling – which support the violin line in the prelude look as if they might be intended to illustrate the title, ‘En plein vent’ – but Canteloube has marked the music Lent. Très calme: this is a gentle hilltop breeze, not a mountain squall. An extended central section, Assez animé, introduces a hint of folk-dancing, perhaps even of country fiddling, before it blows itself out over descending tremolos in the piano and, after a few bars, Plus lent, of near-complete calm, the opening material, still marked Très calme, returns – but it doesn’t quite close the movement; that’s left to a reprise of the Plus lent section. All the while the violin line has consisted of little else than the six-note, four-up, two-down, melodic shape.

One sees why d’Indy was so impressed with the second movement, ‘Le soir’, in its 1905 revision: it creates its summer-evening atmosphere with an absolute minimum of effort, with assured understatement and gentle half-colours – and for a composer of such relative inexperience, it is an ambitious eight minutes in length. The writing for violin is entirely idiomatic; and the piano part is full of such subtle shadings and colorations that one wishes that Canteloube the future master-orchestrator had revisited the piece to score it for orchestra. As if to underline its continuity, ‘Le soir’, too, opens with a rising-and-falling figure, which is similarly threaded through the movement, sometimes in lines so long that it isn’t obvious to the ear. The gentle chromaticism of the violin part, over rippling piano figuration, makes the harmony subtly unpredictable, giving the music an improvisatory quality; the closing passage, Lent, where the piano lays down gentle chords soon marked lointain (‘distant’) and the violin pulls on a mute, also introduces a physical sense of space, of the music drifting out over the hills.

The third movement, ‘Jour de fête’, sparkles with the soft-edged humour that was to animate the Chants d’Auvergne – with the rhythm underlining how close Malaret is to Spain, an allusion reinforced when the pizzicato entry of the violin suggests the guitar. The violin part explicitly recreates the sounds of a village festival: one section of held chords is marked comme de l’accordéon – just after the violin has sketched the outline of the six-note figure from the first movement; and after a succession of runs, followed by a series of extended trills, the shape returns: this degree of thematic integration is surprising in a piece that has no pretensions to sonata form. For a moment the piano sounds as if it is about to set off downstream on Smetana’s Vltava, but instead both instruments engage in a series of folk-dances (where the orchestrating attention of the older Canteloube could also have paid dividends), before the opening Spanish rhythms return to round the movement off.

The piano textures that launch the final movement, ‘Dans le bois au printemps’, reveal why d’Indy cautioned his student against ‘Debussysme’ – but then the violin opens out an Auvergnat melody that, in more extended form, was later to become famous through its inclusion in the Chants d’Auvergne (and subsequent television advertisements). A subsidiary, more urgent section, entitled ‘Vers l’absente’ (an abstract epithet, or perhaps a tribute to the composer’s mother, who had shared the château at Malaret with him until her death in 1900?), features the Lisztian piano textures that can be found in other early Canteloube piano works before downwards-drifting patterns point the music towards Fauré. Then, after a noble chordal sequence, the rippling piano figurations from the very opening of the Suite return – as does the four-up, two-down shape, reconciled in the final bars with the Auvergnat melody.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2004

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA67427 track 5
En plein vent
Recording date
21 November 2003
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Bréville & Canteloube: Violin Sonatas (CDA67427)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: October 2004
   English   Français   Deutsch