IBERT: Piano Music
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The French composer Jacques Ibert spent much of his career as directorof the Academie de France in Rome. His own earlier education was at the Coll?¿geRollin and he taught in Paul Mounet's Conservatoire classes for dramaticdeclamation before becoming a student of harmony there under Ravel's formerteacher, Emile Pessard, and under Gedalge and Paul Vidal. His studies at theParis Conservatoire were interrupted by war service in 1914 as a naval officerbut on his return in 1919, with the encouragement of Nadia Boulanger andRoger-Ducasse, he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Le po?¿te et la fee ('ThePoet and the Fairy'). Ibert's compositions in Rome included an orchestral workbased on Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol, performed at the Colonneconcerts in 1922, and the symphonic suite Escales, later arranged forsolo piano, the result of travel not only in Italy, but also in Spain andTunis. Among the works he submitted from Rome, in accordance with the terms ofthe prize, were an opera, Persee et Andromede, based on Jules Laforgue.
On his return to Paris Ibert enjoyed an active career as a composer,writing music for the theatre and cinema, chamber music and orchestralcompositions, some of the last adapted for concert performance from earlierincidental music. In 1937 he returned to Rome to take charge of the Academie deFrance, retaining the same position until 1960, even with the importantappointment in 1955 as Administrator General of the French National LyricTheatres, a position relinquished the following year. A versatile and prolificcomposer, he combined technical assurance with a certain elegance and precisionand with prolific versatility. He has much in common with the group ofcomposers known in the 1920s as Les Six, in his piano music oftenseeming to share in an idiom familiar from the music of Poulenc and othercontemporaries.>
The Scherzetto of 1917 is a work of characteristic charm,followed here by the aptly named Pi?¿ce romantique, building up to aromantic climax. The 1929 Toccata sur le nom d'Alhert Roussel ('Toccataon the Name of Albert Roussel') is a brief tribute to that composer, dominatedby its opening motif.
L'espi?¿gle au village de Lilliput ('The Prankster in the Village of Lilliput'),dedicated to the distinguished pianist Marguerite Long, was written for theGreat Exhibition of 1937, one of a series to which seven other composerscontributed, including Poulenc, Auric and Milhaud. Fran?ºaise, written in1926, was originally for guitar, as is apparent from its figuration. It isfollowed by the evocative Le vent sur les ruines ('The Wind over theRuins'), written in 1915 in Champagne, during Ibert's war service.
Ibert's Petite Suite en quinze images ('Little Suite in FifteenPictures') was written in 1943, during the course of a second war. It openswith a Prelude of simple texture, followed by Ronde, in cleartripartite form. Le gai vigneron ('The Gay Wine-Grower') is suitablycheerful, relaxing into Berceuse aux etoile, (Lullaby under the Stars). Lecavalier Sans-Souci ('Carefree Knight') prances happily away, while Paradebrings a little march. The seventh piece, La promenade en tra?«neau ('SleighRide') moves swiftly on, Romance is in a smoothly expressive A majoralmost suggesting Schumann, and Quadrille recalls the music-hall as muchas the ball-room. Serenade sur l'eau ('Serenade on the Water') has agentle sway to it, La machine a coudre ('The Sewing-Machine') buzzes onand L'Adieu bids a tender farewell. Les crocus ('The Crocus') hasa charm of its own, Premier bal ('First Ball') is an attractivelysyncopated little waltz and the work ends with a cheerfully emphatic Dansedu cocher ('Cabman's Dance').
Histoires, written in 1922, is a set of ten character pieces. The first of these, Lameneuse de tortues d'or, ('The Leader of the Golden Tortoises') movesslowly on to the well known Le petit ?óne blanc ('The Little WhiteDonkey'), with its musical braying. To this Le vieux mendiant ('The OldBeggar') provides a contrast of mood, while what Ibert describes as an Englishsentimental romance is reflected in A giddy girl. Dans la maison triste ('Inthe Sad House') at first offers a plaintive melody over a sustained pedal-note,before its gentle chords and sombre, hushed ending. There is a certain fadedgrandeur about Le palais abandonne ('The Abandoned Palace') and theSpanish title of Bajo la mesa ('Under the Table') suggests at once itsmood and idiom. The delicate La cage de cristal ('The Glass Cage') leadsto La marchande d'eau fra?«che ('The Fresh Water Seller'), in a nowfamiliar toccata style and the work ends with the informal nonchalance of Cort?¿gede Balkis('Processionof Balkis'), jaunty rather than formal, before it skips away.
Les rencontres, petite suite en forme de ballet ('Encounters, LittleSuite in the Form of a Ballet'), written in 1924, served as the score for aballet by Nijinska in the following year. The first movement of the suite, Lesbouqueti?¿res ('The Flower Girls'), carries the direction in a Second Empireballet style and is dominated by its characteristic opening rhythm. It isfollowed by Les creoles ('The Creoles'), with its mysterious centralsection, framed by music marked by a recurrent rhythmic figure. Lesmignardes ('The Precious Girls') gives initial prominence to the openchords of the left hand, decorated by delicate embroidery above, in music thatseems to continue the tradition of Debussy. Les berg?¿res ('TheShepherdesses') offers simpler textures and the suite ends with Les bavardes('The Chatterboxes'), its staccato figuration framing grander gestures.