Home Classical Music Les Six: Meet the game-changing French composers who rejected Romanticism

Les Six: Meet the game-changing French composers who rejected Romanticism

Les Six: Meet the game-changing French composers who rejected Romanticism


09To make sense of the gathering of younger French composers who in January 1920 got the label Le Groupe des Six, we’ve to go just a little again in time.

Within the late Nineteenth century, French composers have been dealing with the Wagner downside. Letters of the time from composers equivalent to Chabrier, Chausson and Debussy groan beneath complaints of how the German’s musical vocabulary, what Debussy known as ‘the ghost of outdated Klingsor’, dominated their efforts, attempt as they may. However ignoring him, whereas not simple, could possibly be achieved, as two youthful composers, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie, confirmed with appreciable success.

The compositional path Ravel marked out for himself led to masterpiece after masterpiece. However the pre-war group of Jeunes Ravélites by no means amounted to a lot, largely as a result of, as Alexander Goehr has stated, Ravel was ‘a bit too intelligent to be of a lot affect, since you’ve received to be too good at it to truly do it.’

Satie, although, was a unique matter. It’s accepted nowadays that Satie was not an important musical technician, however his contribution to Twentieth-century music lies elsewhere, in cleaning the sonorous palate of his time from the wealthy morsels left over from the Nineteenth-century banquet.

Who have been Les Six

He additionally had a tender spot for the younger, and in the direction of the top of the First World Struggle turned a mentor to a gaggle of budding composers whom, in March 1918, he christened the Nouveaux Jeunes: Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Germaine Tailleferre, Louis Durey – and himself, with Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc becoming a member of later. Then, in November, Satie resigned from the group (nobody is aware of for positive why), and his place was taken by the upwardly cellular Jean Cocteau.

Though not a skilled musician, Cocteau was attracted by the concept of musical collaborations. Given the chilly shoulder by Stravinsky, he noticed this younger group bereft of mental management, and between March and August 1919 used his column within the journal Paris-Midi to create a public for it.

Additionally grist to the mill was Cocteau’s 74-page pamphlet Le Coq et l’Arlequin, printed in spring 1918 and taking its cue from Satie’s 1917 Parade which had introduced recent air into the ballet scene.

A pattern of quips from Le Coq offers a good suggestion of the place the Nouveaux Jeunes have been now heading: ‘figuring out how far to go too far’, ‘a composer all the time has too many notes on his keyboard’, ‘construct me music I can reside in like a home’, ‘all music to be listened to head-in-hands is suspect’. Audacity, financial system, down-to-earthness and lightheartedness have been the brand new watchwords.

When did they turn into generally known as Les Six?

The primary use of the identify Les Six got here within the collaborative composition of the Album des 6 for piano within the second half of 1919. There adopted an article ‘Younger French Composers’ by Roussel in an English journal that October, earlier than the essential one within the mainstream music journal Comoedia by Henri Collet, ‘Les Cinq Russes, Les Six Français et Erik Satie’ on 16 January 1920. A follow-up article by Collet per week later used the brief title Les Six.

At this level, two misconceptions have to be laid to relaxation. Firstly, that the group was in some sense ordained by destiny. Madeleine Milhaud, the composer’s cousin and later spouse, felt that Roland-Manuel may simply have turned it into Les Sept, as he subscribed in some extent to the identical Coctelian aesthetic.

However then he began taking classes from Ravel so, for this goal, turned persona non grata. The second false impression is that among the many group’s members all was sweetness and lightweight.

Poulenc later defined that ‘we by no means had an aesthetic in frequent and our works have been all the time totally different from one another. With us, likes and dislikes have been all the time at odds. So, Honegger by no means favored the music of Satie, and [Florent] Schmitt, whom he admired, was a bête noire for Milhaud and me.’

Likewise Honegger’s oratorio King David, which in 1921 made an enormous hit with the general public, is written off by Milhaud as ‘stuffed with clichés and fugal workout routines from the classroom, thematic developments, chorales and reach-me-down formulae’. On the identical time, he provides, Poulenc and Auric are taxed with considering solely of speedy success, to the purpose that the splash made by King David is making them each in poor health.

How did Les Six affect classical music?

Earlier than trying on the music of Les Six in just a little extra element, it could be helpful to contemplate the social milieu they have been working in. The France of the early Nineteen Twenties noticed a questioning, in a lot of uncomfortable methods, of the outdated assumptions of what it was to be French.

A few of this questioning arose straight from the First World Struggle. The heavy casualties (1.4 million killed) led in some quarters to a refusal to subscribe to the traditional notion of ‘la gloire’. Concepts about custom and a steady hierarchy struggled towards reminiscences of a conflict that had seen too many cases of gross disobedience towards an officer class not commanding computerized respect.

The world of artwork couldn’t anticipate to stay untouched by this cataclysm. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who died in 1918 from Spanish flu and conflict wounds to his head, put it succinctly: ‘À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien’ – ‘with regards to it, you’ve had sufficient of that historic world’.

Whereas ‘that historic world’ could possibly be recognized as that of the Greeks and Romans, it may as simply check with pre-1914, with its head-in-hands obeisance earlier than ‘excessive artwork’ and its catalogue of composers who have been anticipated to attend their flip and maybe turn into wealthy and well-known of their fifties or sixties, in the event that they have been fortunate.

Now not – the longer term now belonged to the younger, with all its insouciance and bravado. Certainly, Les Six have been fortunate to be ready within the wings of this life-enhancing change of coronary heart. France’s morale was low: what it wanted was to be cheered up.

As defined above, the six didn’t look ahead to Collet’s 1920 articles to reply to what Apollinaire outlined as ‘l’esprit nouveau’. One of many first was Poulenc, together with his Rapsodie nègre, premiered in December 1917. At this time, in fact, this could be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’, regardless that Poulenc had not the faintest concept of what black music gave the impression of.

As an alternative, he crammed the piece with ‘forbidden’ consecutive fifths and a ‘primitive’ textual content (‘Kati moko, mosi bolou/Ratakou sira, polama!) made up and printed by two pranksters. On the lookout for a trainer on the age of 18, he introduced his rating to a 54-year-old Conservatoire professor, Paul Vidal, who slung him out on his ear.

Satie was sympathetic: ‘By no means combine “colleges”: it results in an explosion – fairly understandably, actually’. Poulenc adopted this with a Sonata for 2 clarinets by which they gurgle delightfully, and a Sonata for piano duet which begins with the primo participant’s left hand beneath the left hand of the secondo participant, implementing a sure intimacy. A brand new spirit certainly.

Honegger in the meantime, in his 1918 orchestral work Le Chant de Nigamon, used three genuine American Indian tunes. The work rivals Rapsodie nègre in deliberate brutality however far surpasses it in contrapuntal curiosity. We discover comparable complexity in most of his Le Dit des Jeux du Monde, but in addition any variety of lyrical tunes. The second motion, for percussion alone, takes its cue from Milhaud’s use of choir plus unpitched percussion in his opera Les Choéphores of 1915-16 – each passages converse of the attraction of unique cultures that was to mark Milhaud’s music over the subsequent few years.

Between February 1917 and early ’19 he was in Rio de Janeiro as secretary to the playwright and diplomat Paul Claudel and was a lot struck by the music, and the jungle, he discovered spherical him. These influences fed into the ballets L’Homme et son désir and Le Boeuf sur le Toit of 1918 and 1919 and the Saudades do Brazil for piano of 1920.

Le Boeuf is constructed spherical a easy, catchy tune Milhaud picked up in Rio and he enjoys himself presenting it in each one of many 12 main keys. The Saudades proclaim the Cocteau message of simplicity, their hummable melodies enlivened by South American rhythms and spiced with mistaken notes – however not too many to trigger alarm.

The ultimate unique affect on Milhaud was jazz. His first style of it got here from black musicians in London, however in 1922 he and a pal heard it in its native Harlem: ‘the snobs and aesthetes had not but found Harlem: we have been the one whites there. The music I heard there, completely totally different from what I knew, was an actual revelation for me.’ Below this influence he wrote what many take into account his masterpiece, the ballet La Création du monde, premiered in 1923. If the magical, bittersweet world of the opening saxophone solo can’t precisely be classed as cheering-up music, the toe-tapping, blue-note fugue and its subsequent growth definitely can; the ending, with the saxophone whispering a C-sharp towards a D main chord on strings, is pure genius.

The three composers talked about above have been the core of Les Six. Auric had his time within the solar by the three ballets commissioned from him within the Nineteen Twenties by Diaghilev. Thereafter, following the important mauling of his 1932 Piano Sonata, he focused on movie music, making a fortune out of his contribution to the 1952 movie Moulin Rouge, starring Zsa-Zsa Gabor.

Tailleferre’s adherence to the beliefs of the group was short-lived and, other than a quick experiment with serialism, her music adhered very a lot to the sleek, charming custom the group claimed to supplant. Modestly, she positioned herself ‘among the many little masters of the seventeenth and 18th centuries’.

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However even she couldn’t deny the recognition of her 1923 ballet Marchand d’oiseaux which, as Auric identified, attracted ‘not simply the élite and the snobs, however the nice Paris public. That’s actual success.’ Durey’s allegiance was even briefer, since he parted firm together with his colleagues as early as 1921 over their three way partnership Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel and the impolite feedback they have been at present making about Ravel, his pal and mentor.

This ballet, premiered by the Ballets suédois in June 1921, is the collaborative summit of Durey’s 5 colleagues and their nose-thumbing on the musical Institution (viewers cries of ‘Give us our a reimbursement!’). Fairground tunes, glowing orchestration, loopy plot by Cocteau (a lion jumps out of a digital camera and eats a common), pastiche (the funeral march is predicated on the waltz from Gounod’s Faust), it has all of it. ‘Of the numerous inventive conspiracies I’ve been concerned in,’ stated Cocteau years later, ‘that is the one one which hasn’t aged. Why? As a result of we made no concessions.’

Better of Les Six: The French group’s most interesting music

Auric Les Fâcheux and La Pastorale

Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern German Radio Philharmonic/Poppen
(Hänssler HAEN93265

Auric’s ballets, written within the Nineteen Twenties for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, lend new twists to historic formulation.



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