Back over to France this week for a radio broadcast performance of Claude Arrieu’s violin Concerto with Jeanne Gautier, violin and the French National Orchestra conducted by Pierre-Michel LeConte.
Arrieu entered the Conservatoire de Paris in 1924. She became a piano student of Marguerite Long and took classes from Georges Caussade, Noël Gallon, Jean Roger-Ducasse and Paul Dukas. In 1932, she received first prize for composition.
From that point on, she developed her personal style. She was particularly interested in the evolution of musical language and various technical means available. In 1935, she joined the French Radio Broadcasting Program Service (Service des programmes de la Radiodiffusion française), where she was employed until 1947. She participated in the development of a wide range of programming, including Pierre Schaeffer’s experimental radio series, La Coquille à planètes (1943–1944). In 1949, she won the Prix Italia of the RAI for her score Frédéric Général.
She wrote music in all styles, composing works of “pure music” as well as music for theatre, film, radio, and music hall, contributing her own voice to every situation, dramatic or comic, with a particular taste for rhythm and imagery. Her musical gift is typified by its ease of flow and elegance of structure. Vivacity, clarity of expression, and a natural feel for melody are her hallmarks.
Arrieu composed concertos for piano (1932), two pianos (1934), two concertos for violin (1938 and 1949), for flute (1946), trumpet and strings (1965). She also wrote Petite suite en cinq parties (1945), “Concerto for wind quintet and strings” (1962), Suite funambulesque (“Tightrope Walker’s Suite”) (1961), and “Variations for classical strings” (1970).
Among her important chamber music compositions are her “Trio for Woodwinds” (1936), “Sonatina for Two Violins” (1937), and “Clarinet Quartet” (1964). Her “Sonatine for flute and piano” made a big impression at its first radio performance in 1944 by Jean-Pierre Rampal and H. Moyens.
Although Arrieu’s instrumental works strongly contributed to her legacy, it is vocal music that most markedly distinguish her career. Voice inspired her to set many poems to music, including those by Joachim du Bellay, Louise Levêque de Vilmorin, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Jean Tardieu, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Éluard. Examples include Chansons Bas for voice and piano based on poems by Mallarmé (1937); Candide, radio music on texts by Jean Tardieu based on Voltaire; and À la Libération, cantata of seven poems on love in war, on poems by Paul Éluard.
Jeanne Gautier is an important, yet sadly neglected violinist.
Here’s what The Strad had to say about her, in their review of a 2015 release of the Stavinsky violin Concerto and Arrieu’s 2nd violin concerto:
The marvellous violinist Jeanne Gautier (1898–1974) has long languished in undeserved oblivion. A superb virtuoso who embodied a quintessentially Gallic blend of astringency and sensuousness, she embraced music of her time, collaborating among others with Ravel and Stravinsky. So it is very apt that this first ever issue of Gautier playing concertos should feature a live performance of Stravinsky’s, coupled with an appealing, substantial curiosity by the female composer Claude Arrieu (1903–90).
Even though it was recorded in 1956 when Gautier was close to 60 and slightly past her playing prime, her zestful Stravinsky is still highly impressive. She handles the fingerboard exertions with great agility. With a wonderful range of bowing she revels in the spiky, earthy articulations that echo The Soldier’s Tale; then, in a twinkle, she turns a phrase with feather-light grace. Crucially, she also brings out the work’s oft under-appreciated, poignant lyricism.