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Second album de Lilian, Op 149

in honour of Lilian Harvey, film star (1907-1968)

The peculiar array of instruments called for in the second Album de Lilian doubtless contributed to the 51-year delay before its first complete performance, in a recital I presented in Boston in 1986. The series consists of intermingled movements for piano solo, for flute and piano, and for the otherworldly combination of ondes martenot and harpsichord. Eschig’s catalogue of Koechlin’s works, overseen by someone more practical-minded—if less imaginative—than Koechlin, groups the pieces for flute and piano recorded here, and for piano solo, in independent suites. Perhaps if interest in Koechlin’s music continues to increase, the remainder of Op 149 will not have to wait another 51 years for its first recording.

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

La Sérénade à l’étoile errante apparaît en premier lieu comme écrite pour piano solo, mais bientôt la flûte se faufile, imperceptiblement d’abord, puis se marie au piano pour une exploration tranquille du monde sonore unique de Koechlin. Plusieurs scènes de films montrent les prouesses de Lilian Harvey comme nageuse. L’actrice devait avoir un remarquable contrôle de respiration, si l’on en juge par la longueur des lignes que Koechlin écrit pour la flûte dans «Swimming». Comme «Pleurs» dans le premier album, la musique anguleuse mais lucide représentant «Les jeux du clown» appartient plus à Schoenberg qu’à n’importe quel français. La flûte offre quelques interjections modérées qui n’arrivent pas à détourner le clown de son espiéglerie. La dernière des quatre pièces, «Le voyage chimérique», esquisse un voyage imaginaire à Hollywood. (Comme Lilian a tourné au moins trois films aux États-Unis au début des années 30, le rêve a bien pu être celui de Koechlin.) La partition est parsemée de points de repère du voyage: débutant dans «le brouillard de sommeil», un train sort de l’obscurité, vole au dessus des toits et plonge dans l’ocean (l’Atlantique vraisemblablement) qu’il traverse sous l’eau. La prochaine étape de cet itinéraire est la traversée de l’Arizona; le tempo devient de plus en plus rapide alors que nous atteignons la Californie. L’arrivée à Hollywood est marquée par une grandiose paraphrase de l’hymne au drapeau américain qu’aurait applaudi Charles Ives avec enthousiasme. Après un soudain appel de cloche grave du piano, l’aventure se termine, et une mélodie mélancholique du piccolo fait s’évaporer le rêve dans le calme.

extrait des notes rédigées par Fenwick Smith © 1990
Français: Anne Rousseau


Koechlin: Music for flute
CDA66414Archive Service


No 1?: Sérénade à l'étoile errante
No 2?: Swimming
No 3?: Les jeux du clown
No 4?: Le voyage chimérique

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