No 1?: Sérénade à l'étoile errante
No 2?: Swimming
No 3?: Les jeux du clown
No 4?: Le voyage chimérique
The Sérénade à l’étoile errante (‘Serenade for the wandering [Film] Star’) appears at first to be a solo piano piece, but the flute soon steals in, imperceptibly at first, and then joins the piano in a leisurely exploration of Koechlin’s unique sound-world. Scenes in several of her movies display Lilian Harvey’s prowess as a swimmer. If the length of the lines Koechlin writes for the flute in ‘Swimming’ are any indication, she must also have had remarkable breath control. Like ‘Pleurs’ in the first Album, the angular but lucid music depicting ‘Les jeux du clown’ (‘The Clown’s Tricks’) owes more to Schoenberg than to anyone French. The flute offers a few mild interjections which ultimately fail to divert the clown from his mischief. The last of the four pieces, ‘Le voyage chimérique’ (‘The Dream Voyage’), sketches an imaginary trip to Hollywood. (As Lilian made at least three films in the United States in the early 1930s the dream may well have been Koechlin’s own.) The score is dotted with indications of our progress: starting in ‘the mists of sleep’ a train emerges from obscurity, flies over rooftops, and plunges into the ocean (the Atlantic, presumably) which it crosses underwater. The next indication on the rather condensed itinerary is that we are crossing Arizona; excitement mounts and the tempo presses ahead as we reach California. The arrival in Hollywood is marked by a grandiose paraphrase of The Star-Spangled Banner which would doubtless have Charles Ives sitting up in his grave, saluting. With a sudden deep tolling in the piano the adventure is past, wakefulness intervenes, and with a wistful piccolo melody, the dream evaporates into stillness.
from notes by Fenwick Smith © 1990