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Émile Jaques-Dalcroze: song cycle for voice & orchestra and Orchestral Works



Émile Jaques-Dalcroze composed in almost all genres except religious music. His style and aesthetic approach were characterized above all by his exceptional melodic gift and the originality of his feeling for rhythm. Though close to the French school, he also felt the influence of German post-romanticism. In this respect he was representative of the young French-speaking Swiss composers of the late nineteenth century, alternating between the Latin and Germanic extremes in their country and often receiving a double education in Berlin or Leipzig, and Vienna or Paris.

Jaques-Dalcroze’s orchestral music languished in total oblivion until the beginning of the 21st century, but has since then been the subject of a significant rehabilitation attempt by means of the recordings made possible through the talent and musicological work of the conductor Adriano.

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze: song cycle for voice & orchestra and Orchestral Works


Swiss musicologist, composer and conductor Adriano has devoted his recording career to setting down recordings of music by little known composers, sometimes with an emphasis on those with a strong Swiss background. This is the case here, where we have his third Sterling CD devoted to Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. The two earlier ones have no solo vocal content, whereas the principal work in this latest issue – Tragédie d’Amour – is an orchestral song-cycle, wherein each of the seven songs forms part of a continuous narrative.

Jacques-Dalcroze himself wrote the text for the Tragédiebecause he could find no other that satisfied his needs. The full text, translated by the conductor, is given in the booklet together with splendidly complete details of his life and the works recorded here. These notes are written by the President of The Jacques-Dalcroze Foundation, and so their authority is well-founded.

The words tell of a woman who has been separated from her lover, but is expecting his return, she awaits him with an open door, but gradually realizes that he is not coming. Then she finds his dead body, with a dagger in its heart. She swears vengeance on the murderer. She does this by tricking the murderer into believing that she loves him, thus luring him to visit her, where she awaits him, dagger in hand …

The poem is quite expressionist in its imagery and can easily be seen to belong to the Secessionist world of Fin de Siècle Vienna (Dalcroze was born and studied there). The overall effect of the music moves from an initial exaltation as the woman awaits her beloved, to a sense of unrest as he doesn’t appear and then a sort of resigned horror as she sees the body. Then her grief bursts forth, represented by an orchestral climax, abruptly terminated. The piece then moves to her subsequent actions, and there are times during the music when I can almost hear the Richard Strauss of Elektra (which came three or four years later) - I am thinking of the passage where Orest walks to his mother’s room to kill her, and then kills Aegisth. Jaques-Dalcroze does not achieve quite the same screwing up of pressure and horror that Strauss’s extraordinary orchestration and supremely intense vocal line manage to do, but in the corresponding section of Tragédie, he is very effective when he uses the lower regions of the orchestra to create a thudding ostinato and short repeated phrases on the cellos. In fact, his orchestration is highly imaginative throughout, and as a lover of the late romantic orchestra, I find this aspect of the score to be most satisfying.

The closing three sections of the piece gradually build up tension as her plan to seduce and then stab her lover’s murderer is revealed. There is an extraordinarily vivid section where she is dancing a waltz with her prey, in order to convince him of her affection. She describes her horror at having to do this. When her revenge is taken, the music and the vocal line become fractured and dissonant, and the orchestra rises to a powerful climax accompanying a cry from the soprano. Dalcroze then uses the orchestra alone to finish the piece.

Adriano secures committed, focused playing from the orchestra, who are placed in a warm yet clear acoustic giving a natural recorded sound. The soprano, Elena Moşuc is presented slightly forward of the orchestra and gives a powerful interpretation of the words. I am not a French speaker, but I believe her diction to be good. However, she employs considerable vibrato in the process, and this will bother some listeners more than others. I must say that her voice is not shrill or squally, and the more I listened to the piece, the less her vibrato bothered me.

It is to be regretted that this powerful work is not better known. Swiss music is not so full of masterpieces that a work such as this should remain sidelined and the situation is not helped by the fact that the work only exists in an unedited manuscript, which Adriano had to edit it himself to produce usable parts for the orchestra and soprano.

The remaining works on the disc predate Tragédie by six to nine years and inhabit a totally different sound world, being far more conventional in both orchestration and melodic turn of phrase. The longest, Suite Pastorale, consists of orchestral extracts from the oratorio The Vigil. At this stage of his career, Jaques-Dalcroze exhibited a pleasing melodic facility, but there is little to distinguish this work, or the Overture to the opera Sancho, which follows, from many late 19th century orchestral pieces. They are pleasant to listen to, and are sympathetically performed, but rather pale by comparison with Tragédie.

Jim Westhead, MusicWeb

After more than dozen years Sterling return to the cause of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, a composer born in Vienna of Swiss parents. His studies were with Robert Fuchs and Anton Bruckner. In 2002 and 2004 Sterling issued two discs of other orchestral works. Jaques-Dalcroze can also be heard in two works for violin and orchestra on Guild. The composer's name may also be familiar given that Rob Maynard has identified him as one of the 'music and movement' pioneers. As with the Sterling CDs the conductor here is that consummate and driven advocate of desperately neglected romantic music, Adriano. He has been interviewed here several times, most recently by Jim Westhead.

Here is a composer who, if you know those other two Sterlings, may have lodged in your mind as a soul-brother to Massenet or Arensky: the music there tends to be light, polished and diverting. If you have formed a judgement based on those discs this one may deliver a jolt. The Tragédie d’amour is a voluptuous song-cycle in which seven poems are set by the composer. The French titles give a hint as to the style: I. Tu es revenu, mon bien aimé; II. J'ai laissé ma porte ouverte; III. J'attendais, nul n'est venu; IV. Je l'ai revu; V. Je pleure la nuit et je ris le jour; VI. C'est le soir de la joie and VII. J'ai laissé ma porte ouverte. The scoring is transparent and more Gallic than Teuton. The model could easily have been Berlioz but exotically spiced. One could easily imagine this composer being inspired by Flaubert's Salammbo; indeed, these settings whipped to white heat have the aromatic spice of Bernard Herrmann's fake operatic aria. Elena Moșuc has a wide-stage voice which smokes and flames in total accord with the orchestral score. She is an articulate channel for this work's emotional thunder, passionate lightning and riptide of passions.

The Suite Pastorale draws on the composer's larger oratorio-style La Veillée (The Vigil). À la fenêtre is diaphanous and smoothes its way over the aural palate - seeming to echo Delius at his most entertaining (Florida Suite). Les vieux dansent has a rustic Gallic charm. Evidently these old folks can still trip the light fantastic. La forêt parle is somewhat Tchaikovskian, seeming to suggest a tree-thronged clearing occupied by one of MacDowell's Woodland Sketches. The music is glisteningly thoughtful yet unassertive. Farfadets (Sprites) is the longest movement. For a while the mood established by the previous movement is carried over. Gradually the music becomes more lively and rustically chivalric but it's far from wild. The Suite would sit in perfect accord with Elgar's Wand of Youth and the countryside suites of
Ludolf Nielsen, Julius Harrison and Havergal Brian. The overture is to a 'comedy in music' Sancho (on the subject of Don Quixote). It's light but delightful stuff comparable with Massenet and Grieg. The whole five-act work reputedly runs to four hours. The music of Sancho is also represented as a Suite on Sterling CDS1057-2. Its predecessor, the opera Janie, can be heard in highlight form on Sterling CDS1065-2.

The notes - very helpful with such unusual music - are in French and English and are by Jacques Tchamkerten. The words are printed in the handsomely produced booklet, both in the sung French and in English translation.

Two works suited to a lighter palate alongside a deeply impressive and intense late-romantic song-cycle. Quite a contrast. Very fine performances and recordings.

Rob Barnett-MusicWeb