Author Topic: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)  (Read 22701 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« on: November 10, 2008, 05:18:24 PM »
I was tempted to title this thread "Koechlin-a French Havergal Brian?" but restrained myself in time ;D

The similarities between Koechlin and Brian include the great ages which both achieved and the large number of works-most of them unknown to the general musical public-both men composed. There is a mystery about Koechlin which renders him a cult figure but without, yet, much of a cult ;D

The Wikipedia article gives an excellent account of his life and work-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Koechlin

Koechlin was a highly eclectic composer-polystylistic as the article correctly says. He was also, in many ways, ahead of his time. Although very few of his compositions have been recorded those I have heard are a heady and intoxicating blend of Scriabin, Bantock, Delius, Schoenberg, Wagner etc etc. There is a powerful mystical, pantheistic element in those orchestral works which are usually scored for an enormous orchestra(Scriabin meets HB again!). Atonality blends in with passages which sound like Alan Hovhaness!
The mixture is almost impossible to describe adequately. Suffice to say that although Koechlin's music was very little heard he was an enormously respected figure in French musical circles!

The Swiss oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger clearly believes in Koechlin and has recorded at least 3 cds of the music for Hanssler. These are reviewed here-

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/dec04/Koechlin_Etoilee.htm

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/May03/koechlin_ludwig.htm

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classRev/2006/Apr06/Koechlin_heures_93125.htm

There is also an excellent RCA recording of 'The Jungle Book' conducted by David Zinman.

I find Koechlin a fascinating figure but we need to hear much, much more of his music to allow a proper evaluation of a composer who could very well be a seriously neglected major French composer.

springrite

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2008, 05:26:31 PM »
I like Koechlin's music very much. However, I see little in common in the music of the two composers. One (Brian)'s music may be a tough nut to crack, the other is just a nut (sometimes) whose music is wonderful but not tough by any means, at least not to my ear. Everything I have of Koechlin I have liked. His music is in fact very easy to like which makes his neglect a bit strange. Maybe the fact that it does not leave you pondering nor humming the tunes means he pleases neither end of the spectrum.

I find his songs and chamber works especially pleasing.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2008, 05:33:08 PM »
No, no....forgive me! I did not mean to imply that there were similarities between the two men's music! Heavens no!

The point-obviously expressed with singular lack of precision :(- related to the time when I became aware of both composers as figures of some mystery, very old men who had both composed huge, complex pieces which only a very few people had ever heard but which they praised highly.

Offline The new erato

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2008, 11:44:17 PM »
I've found strong similarities to some of Messiaen in some of (he's a confusingly wideranging composer) Koechlins works, the use of block chords eg and what to me seems like a similar grasp of tonality. That's the case in some of the Jungle book works for example, but I need to know more of him (i have about 6-8 CDs of his music). From that little sampling (including the Hanssler double and Zinmans double of the Jungle Book on RCA)  he seems like a very fine composer in his best moment with a wonderful sense of experiment and discovery, but also a wildly variable one both in quality and in style. Discovering  more of his works is definitely an issue of some priority to me, so further recommendations are appreciated.

Offline J. Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2008, 11:49:49 PM »
I was tempted to title this thread "Koechlin-a French Havergal Brian?" but restrained myself in time ;D

Admirable restraint!

Quote
The similarities between Koechlin and Brian include the great ages which both achieved and the large number of works-most of them unknown to the general musical public-both men composed. There is a mystery about Koechlin which renders him a cult figure but without, yet, much of a cult.

Nicely put.

Quote
Koechlin was a highly eclectic composer-polystylistic as the article correctly says. He was also, in many ways, ahead of his time. Although very few of his compositions have been recorded those I have heard are a heady and intoxicating blend of Scriabin, Bantock, Delius, Schoenberg, Wagner etc etc. There is a powerful mystical, pantheistic element in those orchestral works which are usually scored for an enormous orchestra(Scriabin meets HB again!). Atonality blends in with passages which sound like Alan Hovhaness!
The mixture is almost impossible to describe adequately. Suffice to say that although Koechlin's music was very little heard he was an enormously respected figure in French musical circles!

Something tells me I'm going to like Koechlin...
"O infinite virtue, com’st thou smiling from
The world’s great snare uncaught?"

(Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 8 )

pjme

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2008, 01:29:37 AM »


I discovered Charles Koechlin through Antal Dorati's (still impressive) recording of "Les Bandar -Log" (the "ape"-scherzo from Jungle Book. ) Somewhere in the eighties David Zinman performed Jungle Book, complete, in Rotterdam - I'm fascinated by this wonderful composer since then.
The sheer lenght and scope of some of his compositions is intimidating. Bruckner...Mahler ...??
One needs patience and concentration. The more ambitious works ( Quintet op 80, Le docteur Fabricius, Les heures Persanes,Le buisson ardent, the symphonies..) last all between 45 and 65 mins. Slow movements are often ( Messiaen-like) meditations , fast ones are replete with unexpected, harrowing accents.
I quote from the linernotes of an OOP Cybelia CD ( pianoquintet, Quintette Primavera for flute, harp,violin, alto & cello) :
...the quintet draws inspiration from an idea close to the composer's heart : that of rebirth after adversity, of triumph of life and joy over pain. This theme would be dealt with later in, notably, a number of vast symphonic compositions ( second symphony, Le docteur Fabricius, Le buisson ardent..). its permanence in Koechlin's inspiration bears witness to a profoundly romantic way of thinking  even if it uses "modern" means of expression. Furthermore, the optimism of the luminous and joyful endings should not make one overlook the importance attributed by the composer to the more sombre sections....For thios optimist not is all light: disquiet and doubt have a far from neglegible place in his inspiration. The background ( of the quintet) is Nature. With Koechlin the theme of Nature is omnipresent and has an essentialy dynamic role. For him Nature is not a source of nostalgia. At its contact, Man finds serenity and feels renewal of strenght....
- "Les heures Persan,es" op. 65 ( after Pierre Loti "Vers Ispahan") 16 pieces ( piano version and orchestral version) . If music can be a drug, than this is very pure and intoxicating material.
- the early Ballade for piano and orchestra ( exists also in a pianosolo version) : almost German in its somber, mysterious character
-Offrande musicale sur le nom de Bach  op. 187 ( difficult to find CD Edition Michael Frauenlob Bauer 019) Frankfurt RSO/ Juan Pablo Izquierdo
Scored for large orchestra with solo organ, piano and ondes Martenot ( but the sections are scored very differently - from organ or pianosolo, to stringquintet or flute and two violins....) Only the Finale ( Sonore, Triomphal) is for full orchestra .

I have a few works of chamber music : l'Album de Lilian ( with soprano, flutes, piano or harpsichord and ondes Martenot) op 139 and 149
Stèle funéraire for 3 flutes, Monodies for ondes Martnot
A short ( 2 mins) but jubilant Chant de la Résurrection for trumpets and organ

Holliger's work for Hänssler /SWR is priceless: polished and well rehearsed performances of very difficult music. Let's hope he will do the symphonies aswell - possibly some of the very early Biblical scenes /cantatas ....

I'll come back later to this composer! Now back to work...

P.



Offline J. Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2008, 01:55:37 AM »
Fascinating, Peter. Koechlin looks like a visionary in the Rued Langgaard mould to me.
"O infinite virtue, com’st thou smiling from
The world’s great snare uncaught?"

(Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 8 )

springrite

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2008, 02:03:58 AM »
Fascinating, Peter. Koechlin looks like a visionary in the Rued Langgaard mould to me.

If not visionary, at least eccentric. (Koechlin and Langgaard are two of the most interesting faces that should be in any Composer Portraits Collection)

Offline J. Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2008, 02:26:56 AM »
If not visionary, at least eccentric. (Koechlin and Langgaard are two of the most interesting faces that should be in any Composer Portraits Collection)

My favourite:

"O infinite virtue, com’st thou smiling from
The world’s great snare uncaught?"

(Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 8 )

pjme

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2008, 03:31:41 AM »
That's indeed a great photo Johan. But I think that Koechlin is less eccentric than Langgaard.
He was more of a recluse, declining official honors. And, afaik, something of an ecologist avant la lettre....( there's a funny anecdote of Koechlin visiting the Milhaud's . Koechlin had bought beehives ( with the bees) and was traveling home by train. He left the beehives at the local trainstation ( Aix?) and stayed one night at Milhaud's place ( sleeping outside, in the open air !) . During breakfast he got a phonecall: the bees had escaped and the railway employees were in a panic...)

Anyway, a solitary searcher, an independent with a very personal voice ,totaly his own.

Peter

Offline J. Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2008, 03:35:47 AM »
That's indeed a great photo Johan. But I think that Koechlin is less eccentric than Langgaard.
He was more of a recluse, declining official honors. And, afaik, something of an ecologist avant la lettre....( there's a funny anecdote of Koechlin visiting the Milhaud's . Koechlin had bought beehives ( with the bees) and was traveling home by train. He left the beehives at the local trainstation ( Aix?) and stayed one night at Milhaud's place ( sleeping outside, in the open air !) . During breakfast he got a phonecall: the bees had escaped and the railway employees were in a panic...)

Anyway, a solitary searcher, an independent with a very personal voice ,totaly his own.

Peter

And that's a great story, Peter!  ;D
"O infinite virtue, com’st thou smiling from
The world’s great snare uncaught?"

(Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 8 )

Hector

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2008, 06:43:23 AM »
I've found strong similarities to some of Messiaen in some of (he's a confusingly wideranging composer) Koechlins works, the use of block chords eg and what to me seems like a similar grasp of tonality. That's the case in some of the Jungle book works for example, but I need to know more of him (i have about 6-8 CDs of his music). From that little sampling (including the Hanssler double and Zinmans double of the Jungle Book on RCA)  he seems like a very fine composer in his best moment with a wonderful sense of experiment and discovery, but also a wildly variable one both in quality and in style. Discovering  more of his works is definitely an issue of some priority to me, so further recommendations are appreciated.

I find the same similarities as I do in elements of Tournemire's works. Both Messiaen and Tournemire were very religious but such a fault has not stopped me liking their music.

Having immersed myself in some of Koechlin's music over the past eighteen months or so I find little desire to revisit it.

Of course, that feeling may change but if it does I suspect it will not be for some time.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2008, 06:48:45 AM »
I am delighted to see the interest in this fascinating composer :)

Thank you, Peter, for your informative and illuminating post which moved the thread on from my perhaps maladroit comparison with Havergal Brian :). (The comparison was not intended to be of musical idiom but entirely of a reputation which both men shared for having an unrealistic and impractical appreciation of what could or could not reasonably be expected of contemporary orchestras and audiences.)

Leaving that to one side, however ;D.....I cannot really add much to what Peter has, so admirably, described. Koechlin's sound world is not unique in so far as the elements which comprise his music are derived from a wide-range of influences but the mixing of these elements together is frequently astonishing and, I think, in advance of what many others were doing in his time.

"Les heures persanes" is indeed particularly "intoxicating". I do not have the Holliger(Hanssler) version but the older Segerstam(Marco Polo) disc. I cannot therefore make a comparison but I see that Rob Barnett in his review of the Holliger on Musicweb actually prefers the Segerstam.

If you do respond to Scriabin or-as erato points out- to early Messiaen  then you should find this music of real interest.

Regarding Koechlin the man-his interests outside of music appear to have been as diverse! Astronomy, Philosophy, Literature and....early Film. This led to 'The Seven Stars' Symphony' of 1933 in which each movement is dedicated to and inspired by a star of the screen(Douglas Fairbanks, Lilian Harvey, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jennings and Charlie Chaplin). I don't really think it is much more than a curiosity, to be honest, but an interesting one nevertheless :)

The complete Jungle Book however...that is another story!

« Last Edit: November 11, 2008, 07:05:19 AM by Dundonnell »

Kullervo

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2008, 06:41:53 PM »


I just purchased this disc, my introduction to Koechlin, based on Daverz's review in the Listening thread. I'll be sure to post my thoughts once I have it!

karlhenning

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2009, 08:14:29 AM »
I just purchased this disc, my introduction to Koechlin, based on Daverz's review in the Listening thread. I'll be sure to post my thoughts once I have it!

I think I may have that one, somewhere at home . . . and it's time I listened, of course . . . .

Offline The Six

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #15 on: May 25, 2009, 07:46:18 PM »
Koechlin is one of my top 3 French composers, and should be more well known.

He wrote a substantial amount of piano music, and Les Hueres Persanes particularly can be considered one of the landmark works for the instrument, despite its obscurity. 16 movements of amazing music, right up there with the great stuff any other piano composer wrote.

Offline jowcol

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #16 on: June 11, 2009, 06:02:19 AM »
I've just listened to the "Seven Stars" Symphony-- and I'll need to hear more of Koechlin.  In addition to the other strains mentioned-- I also picked up a strong Satie vibe-- I don't know if there are any formal elements in common, but it was the sort of personal, intimate idiosyncracies that made it feel like taking a long walk with a close friend.
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Offline snyprrr

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #17 on: June 11, 2009, 10:47:11 AM »
Still ringing the bells for Koechlin's SQs, 1-2 of which are available from the Ardeo Qrt. (at an astronomical $29 on amazon). I suspect they may be the greatest thing since sliced cheese.
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karlhenning

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Re: Charles Koechlin (1867-1950)
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2009, 10:55:14 AM »
I think I may have that one, somewhere at home . . . and it's time I listened, of course . . . .

Koechlin will sort well with First-Listen Fridays . . . .

Offline The new erato

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Re: Charles Koechlin(1867-1950)
« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2009, 01:53:22 PM »
Still ringing the bells for Koechlin's SQs, 1-2 of which are available from the Ardeo Qrt. (at an astronomical $29 on amazon). I suspect they may be the greatest thing since sliced cheese.
Your suspicion i wrong, Actually they are pretty ordinary and slightly dull.

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