Koechlin: Nuit de Walpurgis – French Radio Orch. Manuel Rosenthal, Cond. – 1957 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.
Music of the great late 19th/early 20th Century French composer Charles Koechlin tonight. His Nuit de Walpurgis for Orchestra, composed around 1901. Koechlin has been vastly under appreciated and certainly overlooked in recent years. His innovative style and approach to music have been milestones and game changers for a number of his contemporaries – yet he is not often given credit for his pioneering approach and his revolutionary style.
Undoubtedly not the first time – and certainly won’t be the last.
He wrote in several styles, sometimes strict Baroque counterpoint, as in the fugue that opens his Second Symphony, and sometimes “impressionistically”, as in the tone poem Au Loin, or (though in more astringent fashion) in the scherzo of his Symphony No. 2. He could go from extreme simplicity to extreme complexity of texture and harmony from work to work, or within the same work. Some of his most characteristic effects come from a very static treatment of harmony, savouring the effect of, for instance, a stacked-up series of fifths through the whole gamut of the instruments. His melodies are often long, asymmetrical and wide-ranging in tessitura. He was interested in the works of Schoenberg, some of which he quoted from memory in his treatise on orchestration. The twelve tone technique is one of the several modern music styles parodied in the ‘Jungle Book’ symphonic poem Les Bandar-Log, but Koechlin also wrote a few pieces in what he described as the ‘style atonal-sériel’. He was fascinated by the movies and wrote many ‘imaginary’ film scores and works dedicated to the Anglo-German actress Lilian Harvey, with whom he was infatuated. His Seven Stars Symphony features movements inspired by Douglas Fairbanks, Lilian Harvey, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Charlie Chaplin in some of their most famous film roles. He also composed an Epitaph for Jean Harlow and a suite of dances for Ginger Rogers. He was interested in using unusual instruments, notably the saxophone and the early electronic instrument the Ondes Martenot. One movement of the Second Symphony requires four of them (and has not usually been included in the few performances of the work, for that reason). He also wrote several pieces for the hunting-horn, an instrument he himself played. Koechlin orchestrated several pieces by other composers. In addition to the Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande (suite mentioned above), he orchestrated the bulk of Claude Debussy’s ‘legende dansée’ Khamma under the composer’s direction, from the piano score, and orchestrated Cole Porter’s ballet Within the Quota; other works he transcribed include Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy and Chabrier’s Bourrée fantasque.
The transcription discs were a little banged up, but the sound comes through and the performance is memorable.
It all works out – give it a listen.
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