No 1: Gardez ce teint de jeune fille
No 2: Fugue sans protocole
No 3: Valse de réconciliation
No 4: Les yeux clairs
No 5: Joie de plein air
No 6: Patinant-souriant
No 7: En route vers le bonheur
No 8: Pleurs
No 9: Tout va bien
The first and last of the nine vignettes in Op 139 are songs after the manner of a popular chanson. In the first, ‘Keep that schoolgirl complexion’, Koechlin speculates on Lilian’s beauty secret: at first blush the song looks to be a Palmolive testimonial; but it also celebrates her passport to stardom—the flawless beauty of her face.
The second and third movements are Satie-esque miniatures for solo piano inspired by particular scenes from Miss Harvey’s films. The ‘Fugue sans protocole’ demonstrates Koechlin’s fluent counterpoint with easy informality; the ‘Valse de la réconciliation’ passes its melodic line through unexpected keys to lovely effect. In ‘Les yeux clairs’ (‘Bright Eyes’), serene harmonies in the piano are joined by broadly arching lines in the flute to evoke the remote beauty of a film idol’s gaze. ‘Joie de plein air’ (‘Joy of the Outdoors’) brings a welcome gust of fresh air through what has been a prevailingly sultry atmosphere. Lilian Harvey was an accomplished athlete, and this non-stop toccata for solo piano gives clearly physical expression to her joy in the out-of-doors. Koechlin’s title ‘Skating-smiling’ has an exotic ring in the French ear that it conspicuously lacks in English—perhaps it is better rendered in English as ‘Patinant-souriant’. The wordless vocalise leaves us to wonder what happy thoughts the star is thinking as she skates a slow waltz, first answered, then accompanied by the flute. ‘En route vers le bonheur’ (‘On the way to Happiness’) is the most extended of the nine pieces. The flute sets out, soon joined by the piano, on an energetic excursion in jaunty triplet rhythm. Flute and vocalise intertwine in a more tranquil middle section, until the triplets return, building this time to an exultant climax. The energy dissipates, and we arrive at happiness in a radiant B major. However ‘Pleurs’ (‘Tears’) intervene: the piano introduces and briefly develops a resigned little tune, only to interrupt with a middle section of surprising violence. The piano’s angular, hyperchromatic sequences and the shrieking piccolo seem to have paid an unexpected visit from the world of Pierrot Lunaire. The outburst passes as suddenly as it came. The somber moods returns, until a soft glissando in the piano returns us magically to B major, and ‘Tout va bien’ (‘All is well’). In this last song Koechlin reveals, with gentle irony, that the serene world we have glimpsed is illusory. It exists only on the silver screen and in our imagination—yet because it has been caught on film, the illusion will last for ever.
from notes by Fenwick Smith © 1990