The music of Jacques Ibert tonight, as performed by the Ensemble Class of the Paris Conservatory, conducted by the legendary Fernand Oubradous in this circa 1955 French Radio studio recording.
Jacuqes Ibert has been considered an overlooked composer. He is really only known to most listeners as the composer of Divertissment and Escales (Ports Of Call), which still receive a fair amount of exposure in the concert hall. It’s the massive output of other works that have gone overlooked. And Ibert was a prolific composer and worked in a number of areas, from the concert stage to the Motion Picture Soundstage.
Ibert refused to ally himself to any particular musical fashion or school, maintaining that “all systems are valid”, a position that has caused many commentators to categorize him as “eclectic”. His biographer, Alexandra Laederich, writes, “His music can be festive and gay … lyrical and inspired, or descriptive and evocative … often tinged with gentle humor…[A]ll the elements of his musical language bar that of harmony relate closely to the Classical tradition.” The early orchestral works, such as Escales, are in “a lush Impressionist style”, but Ibert is at least as well known for lighthearted, even frivolous, pieces, among which are the Divertissement for small orchestra and the Flute Concerto.
Ibert’s stage works similarly embrace a wide variety of styles. His first opera, Persée et Andromède, is a concise, gently satirical piece. Angélique displays his “eclectic style and his accomplished writing of pastiche set pieces”. Le roi d’Yvetot is written, in part in a simple folklike style. The opéra bouffe Gonzague is another essay in the old opera bouffe style. L’Aiglon, composed jointly with Honegger, employs commedia dell’arte characters and much musical pastiche in a style both accessible and sophisticated. For the farcical Les petites Cardinal the music is in set pieces in the manner of an operetta. By contrast Le chevalier errant, a choreographic piece incorporating chorus and two reciters, is in an epic style. Ibert’s practice of collaborating with other composers extended to his works for the ballet stage. His first work composed expressly for the ballet was a waltz for L’éventail de Jeanne (1929) to which he was one of ten contributors, others of whom were Ravel and Poulenc. He was the sole composer of four further ballets between 1934 and 1954.
For the theatre and cinema, Ibert was a prolific composer of incidental music. His best-known theatre score was music for Eugéne Labiche’s Un chapeau de paille d’Italie, which Ibert later reworked as the suite Divertissement. Other scores ranged from music for farce to that for Shakespeare productions. His cinema scores covered a similarly broad range. He wrote the music for more than a dozen French films, and for American directors he composed a score for Orson Welles‘s 1948 film of Macbeth, and the Circus ballet for Gene Kelly’s Invitation to the Dance in 1952.
Incidentally, the last named piece, Circus Ballet from Invitation To The Dance was available briefly via MGM Records shortly after the film’s premier. It’s been out of print for decades, has never been reissued and never been re-recorded. Like all of Ibert’s compositions, it’s a lovely work that really needs to be revisited.
But for now – enjoy.