Great French singers of the past

Last night’s presentation by Stephen Tucker was a wonderful selection of recordings, both of French song but also of French singers.  Several of the recordings were of some vintage: for example a 1907 version of Emma Calvé singing L’amour est une oiseau rebelle from Bizet’s Carmen.  Also from Carmen, there was a 1911 recording of Paul Franz singing La Fleur que tu m’as jeté.  Franz started life as a labourer working on the roads – from roads to riches you might say.

Another example was Emile Vanni Marcoux singing Une grande innocence from Pelléas et Mélisande: the interesting point here is that the recording was made in 1910 during the composer Debussy’s lifetime.

Some of the recordings were scratchy of course reflecting the technology available at the time, but we heard a number of now largely forgotten singers in their full glory.

Stephen played a total of 20 songs and they included Meyerbeer – hugely popular in the middle of the nineteenth century – Gounod’s Faust, Berlioz and in particular Le Spectre de la rose from Nuits d’Ete.  Berlioz also composed a version of the Faust legend, Le Damnation de Faust was a failure and was eclipsed by Gounod.

We also heard pieces by Massenet, Delibes, Lalo and Duparc.  The evening was entitled Cette chanson est pour vous and the evening ended with a version of Madame, cette chanson est pour vous with Django Reinhardt.

A most enjoyable and informative evening listening to tracks and recordings one would not normally ever come across.

Peter Curbishley

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Next meeting

The next meeting of the Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held on
Monday 18th March 2019 at 7.30pm in our usual venue, when Stephen Tucker will present Great French singers of the past – a survey of their voices and repertoire.

Parking is free and convenient.  We look forward to seeing you.

Charles Valentin Alkan

An evening of the music of this largely unknown French-Jewish composer

There are many people – even among keen classical music enthusiasts – who have never heard of this composer.  At our meeting last night (4 March 2019) this was corrected with an excellent presentation by Alan Forshaw.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Alkan lived at the time of Liszt and Chopin who dazzled the Paris public with their playing and compositions.  These are now household names and their works regularly played in concerts.  Another factor is that Alkan composed largely for the piano so there are no symphonies, operas or song cycles etc.  This narrowness of repertoire combined with the fiendish difficulty of many of his compositions may have led to his virtual disappearance.

Alkan was a prodigy entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 6 and giving a recital on the violin, at 7.  He was born in 1813 in Paris.  He started composing at 15 and this composition – Variations on a theme from Steibelt’s Orage Concerto – was the first piece to be played.  The second was Concerto da Camera No 2 in C# minor which was first performed in Bath, England which he visited in 1833.

We then heard extracts from Trois Grandes Etudes Nos 1, 2 and 3.  What was notable about these was that No 1 was for the left hand only and No 2 for the right.  Listening to these justifies the word ‘fiendish’.

Although Alkan composed mostly keyboard works, the next piece was the finale from the Piano Trio with strings.  We then heard four examples from Twelve Studies in all the major keys Nos 1, 5, 8 and 12.  These were followed by some extracts from Concerto for solo piano.

Alkan was overlooked by the Conservatoire when they appointed Marmontel – a mediocre talent and former student of Alkan’s – to the post of head of piano studies.  Following this acute disappointment and sleight, Alkan retired from public view for around 20 years although he did continue to compose.

He was a practising Jew being from a devout Jewish family and for a time, was organist at his local synagogue.  He spoke Hebrew.  Some of his later compositions had Jewish themes.

In some senses his life mirrored his compatriot Berlioz – 10 years his senior – who also had problems with the French musical establishment.  Berlioz composed nothing for the piano but some commentators said Alkan was ‘the Berlioz of the piano’.  They differed in that Alkan continued to follow the German tradition whereas Berlioz forged a new individual path whilst continuing to be an admirer of Beethoven.

The chair of the Society, in his vote of thanks said that, like many he suspected in the audience, he had heard little of Alkan, and Alan had shown what a remarkable and individual composer he was.  His music follows fairly straightforward musical forms – variations for example are quite easy to follow – but he pushed his technique to extreme limits.

There is a society devoted to his works http://www.alkansociety.org 

Peter Curbishley


The next meeting is on 18 March and continuing the French theme, is about great French singers of the past.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held on Monday 4th March 2019 at 7.30pm in our usual venue, when Alan Forshaw will present: “Charles-Valentin Alkan – Neglected Genius”

Alkan was a lonely 19th Century genius, virtuoso pianist and composer of some of the most difficult and powerful piano works written. Together with Chopin and Liszt was the darling of Paris musical society until he became a recluse and is now largely unknown and forgotten.

I hope you will be able to come on Monday.

Agostini Steffani

Steffani is not a well known composer today but in his day was admired and enjoyed patronage from a number of European courts.  Born in the middle of the seventeenth century he became a chorister at St Marco’s in Venice at a young age.

Angus Menzies played a range of pieces and set them in the context of his most interesting life.  In addition to his musical and compositional abilities, he was a diplomat being sent on various diplomatic missions around Europe including Brussels.  He was also involved in the various negotiations between the Hanoverian court and the Pope concerning the rights of Catholics in that city.  He did sufficiently well to be made a bishop by the Pope.

He offered encouragement to Handel who was embarking on his career and who admired Steffani.  We heard several works including a chaconne, arias and a trio sonata.  Also an extract from the opera Enrico Leone.

His music was original and showed a blend of Italian and French influence derived from his time in Paris studying with the great French composer Lully.

The Elector of Hanover became George I of England and some of his manuscripts are preserved in Buckingham Palace.  He was made president for life of the Academy of Ancient Music in England and in recognition of that, composed a Stabat Mater (and some other pieces) from which we heard an extract.

This was a fascinating evening listening to music that most members have never heard before.  It is truly surprising the number of artists and composers who were once famous and sort after, are now almost forgotten and in the case of Steffani, undeservedly so.


The next meeting is on Monday 4 March and concerns another composer largely forgotten today, a Frenchman, Valentin Alkan.  He composed much piano music but led an eccentric lifestyle.  If you haven’t come to a meeting before you would be very welcome and it is only £3 to attend.  There is free car parking outside.  Further details look at the ‘find us’

programme 1819

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held on Monday 1 April 2019 at 7.30pm in our usual venue, when we shall be very pleased to welcome our own Ed Tinline who will be presenting an evening on the trumpet and other brass instruments.

I hope you will be able to come on Monday.

Second half gets underway

The second half of the season gets underway on Monday 4th February at 7:30 as usual with a presentation on organ music.  We have not had such a presentation in recent years (if at all) and yet there is a large corpus of music written for this ‘king of instruments’.  The music will included works in the 17th century and some written in modern times.  At least one recording was made with the Cathedral’s organ.

Hope to see you there.