Auric / Honegger /Milhaud / Poulenc / Tailleferre:
Les Maries de laTour Eiffel
Honegger: Six Poems by Cocteau
Milhaud:Les Machines Agricoles
\Ihave never wanted to be one of a school, because schools begin standing and endsitting down. I like the movement of youth. Even if youth is wrong, it is notwrong because it moves. Schools turn to stone."
Genius feeds on paradox. The quotation is taken from an interview withJean Cocteau published in July 1960 in the review Les Cahiers du Cinema, thatsame Cocteau who, in the years after the second World War, released unusualferment in the world of Paris in gathering around him all those who shared hisartistic convictions. He wrote, he drew, he directed in the theatre, but thispoet of many talents could not be satisfied with creative work: he feIt theneed, in the frenzy of the 1920s, to push others also to create. The musechanges into poet or the poet becomes muse. .it matters little, for his forceof character was irresistible. Satie experienced it, Stravinsky succumbed to iton several occasions and so too did the famous Groupe des Six, bringingtogether Milhaud, Honegger, Durey, Auric, Poulenc and Tailleferre.
Agroup but not a school, for it was really friendship that united these youngcomposers and not a common artistic programme. In Le Coq et I' Arlequin, published in1918, Cocteau claimed in artistic matters what he calls a French clarity andsimplicity, inspired by popular music. Found side by side are vindictiveaphorisms against Wagner and brilliant thoughts on creativity , but thiscollection has nothing of the manifesto about it. If the Six ever had a dominating influence it wasrather to Satie that one should look or perhaps even to Chabrier.
Itwas, therefore, friendship that allowed the production of Les Maries de laTour Eiffel at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on 18th June 1921 underthe direction of Inghelbrecht, with the Swedish Ballet of Rolf de Mare, Cocteauand Pierre Bertin speaking the text, hidden in large phonographs. That interested and amused us all, w rote Milhaud, to take part in a showwhere so many elements were mixed and the fantasy of which would not have beenrepudiated by the Dada movement, then flourishing.
Thiscollective enterprise, however, had no result and the happy Saturday nightdinners that brought together in a little restaurant in Montmartremusicians, painters and poets with Jean Cocteau, these meetings where "artwas never mentioned", ended after the premature death of Raymond Radiguet in1923. Already in 1922 Satie declared: There is no longer a Groupe des Six,but... there are simply six musicians, talented and independent, whoseindependent and individual existence is incontestable, whatever one may say ordo.
Althoughthe original score of Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel calls for a sizableorchestra, the version realised by Marius Constant in 1987 makes use of onlyfifteen instruments, wind quintet, string quintet, trumpet, trombone, harp andtwo percussion. The musicperfectly matches Cocteau's biting text: a scathing criticism of the war and ofconformism is evident on every page and each composer knew how to translatethese texts into music in his own way; thus, at the dramatic climax of the Marchefunebre (Funeral March) Honegger adds in the bass Gounod's Waltz from Faust.
ArthurHonegger is certainly the composer whose presence among the Groupe des Six ismost surprising, but this passionate Wagnerian had immediately understood that,apart from the flashes of the fashionable and of snobbery, Cocteau was aboveall a real poet. That is why hecomposed, between 1920 and 1923, Six Melodies on poems by Cocteau,written for Rose Geart in Geneva, to be scored in 1930 by Arthur Hoeree forflute and string quintet. The samesinger, some years before, had given the first performance of paques a New York
(Easter in New York),three fragments taken from the first poem of Du Monde entier (Of theWhole World) of Blaise Cendrars. These songs, written at a time often regardedas purely frivolous and superficial, are really much more profound than theyseem. An element of nostalgiacolours their apparent light-heartedness.
Itwas with a certain enthusiasm that Honegger in 1923 wrote Pacific 231,as Milhaud had in 1919 composed his Les machines agricoles (AgriculturalMachinery). In both cases theintention was in no way to carry out a hoax, but to translate into music agenuine fascination. Milhaud explainedthe origin of the work as follows: I had set to music somedescriptions of machines taken from a catalogue that I had picked up in 1913at an exhibition of agricultural machinery... I had been so impressedby the beauty of these great multicoloured metal insects, magnificent modernbrothers of the plough and the scythe, that I had the idea ofcelebrating them... None of the critics understood what had compelled me towrite this work or that the spirit that inspired it wascomparable to that which once made composers sing of the harvests ofcorn and grapes.
Lesmachines agricoles, written for mezzosopranoand an ensemble of seven instruments, flute, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola,cello and double bass, bears witness to the extraordinary mastery that Mi1haudhad of polytonal techniques. Theuse that he makes of these, his very elaborate counterpoint and his bringingtogether of timbres cunningly used reveal the astonishing beauty in sound ofthese machines in action. Les machines agricoles consists of sixmovements that Mi1haud dedicated respectively to Jean Cocteau and to each ofhis colleagues of the Groupe des Six. La faneuse (The Haymaker) isdedicated to Germaine Tailleferre, while Honegger is given the Dechaumeuse-semeuse-enfouisseuse(Plough-Sower-Digger) and Auric the Foui/leuse-draineuse (Ditcher). Musicologists will no doubt question the malice thatperhaps guided these choices...
(English versionby Keith Anderson)
Les maries de laTour Eiffel
In the preface to Les maries Cocteau explains that a stage workought to be written, to have decor and costumes and to have music, played anddanced, all by one man alone. Since such a complete athlete did not exist, theindividual might be replaced by something that was like such a person, a groupof friends. While there might be many groups of musicians, there were very fewsuch groups. Nevertheless he had been lucky enough to form such a group withsome young musicians, poets and painters. Les maries de la Tour Eiffel wasthe result, to which he was proud to have contributed.
Itis impossible to summarise the action of the piece, set by the