Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2003 by Fred Flaxman

Program 35
"One-Hit French Composers"

MUSIC: Opening music from Giselle by Adolphe Adam, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Anatole Fistoulari [Mercury Living Presence 434 366-2, track 1], under

FLAXMAN: This is the opening music to the ballet Giselle by Adolphe Adam. Giselle is Adam's one big hit and, although you won't hear any more of this particular piece during the next hour, stay with me and I'll play for you some terrific music by other "One-Hit French Composers."

MUSIC: fades out

FLAXMAN: Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to "One-Hit French Composers."

A one-hit composer is a composer who had just one big hit in his career. That doesn't mean, of course, that he wrote only one piece. It doesn't mean that he didn't write several pieces that are worth listening to. What it means, to me at least, is that he wrote only one piece that makes the list of must-have compositions in every classical music lovers compact disc collection.

When I went through my own CD collection to pick-out one-hit composers, I discovered that there were quite a few, and they were of many nationalities. I picked out more than enough one-hit French composers alone to fill the next hour. The pieces include Emmanuel Chabrier's España - the one composition he is known for; the Violin Concerto Number Five by Henri Vieuxtemps; the Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français - Symphony on a French Mountaineer's Song by Vincent d'Indy; and as many pieces as we have time for from Canteloube's one masterwork, Chants d'Auvergne - Songs of the Auvergne.

One hour doesn't give me enough time to fit in Jacques Ibert's best-known composition, Escales - Ports of Call. Perhaps I'll include that piece in a future Compact Discoveries program.

Let's begin with Emmanuel Chabrier, who lived from 1841 until 1894. He is quoted as saying that "music must be beautiful at once and all the time." He did not want to bore his audience, which is just my philosophy in bringing you these programs. Chabrier's one big hit, España, is certainly a great example of that philosophy put into practice.

We'll hear it in a minute, but first a few interesting words about the composer. Chabrier was a son of a (clear throat) lawyer. He became a civil servant. I think he was about 40 years old before he quit his job to devote himself full-time to composing music. So he didn't have the usual conservatory training. He had, however, taken piano lessons with two Spanish musicians who had settled in his native town in France. And he wrote España after a visit to Spain in 1882.

His full-time work as a bureaucrat prevented him from writing more music during the first 40 years of his life. Syphilis did the same for his last years. So his musical output was not that extensive when he died at the age of 53.

There are many recordings of Chabrier's España to choose from. Here's the Erato compact disc with the Orchestre National de France conducted by Armin Jordan.

MUSIC: Chabrier: España , Orchestre National de France conducted by Armin Jordan [Erato ECD 88018, track 9] [6:27]

FLAXMAN: Emmanuel Chabrier's España. The Orchestre National de France was conducted by Armin Jordan.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries and I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman. This hour is devoted to "One-Hit French Composers."

Next up to the plate is Vincent d'Indy, who is indisputably French and whose one big hit is without question the piece we'll listen to now, Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français. This is translated as Symphony on a French Mountain Air or as Symphony on a French Mountaineer's Song.

D'Indy was born in Paris in 1851 and he died there in 1931. I guess you can't get more French than that. His Symphony on a French Mountaineer's Song is for orchestra and piano, but it is clearly not a piano concerto. The piano serves as one of the instruments of the orchestra, rather than as a solo instrument. This orchestration helps to give this composition a rather unique sound.

Aldo Ciccolini is our pianist in this EMI Classics recording. The Orchestre de Paris is conducted by Serge Baudo.

MUSIC: D'Indy: Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français performed by the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Serge Baudo with pianist Aldo Ciccolini [EMI Classics CDM 7 63952 2, tracks 1, 2 and 3] [26:32]

FLAXMAN: Vincent d'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountaineer's Song. The Orchestre de Paris was conducted by Serge Baudo. Aldo Ciccolini was the pianist.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to "One-Hit French Composers."

We'll conclude with Series 1 from Marie-Joseph Canteloube de Malaret's Chants d'Auvergne - Songs of the Auvergne.

Canteloube's name, which comes close to being derived from the French word for song, couldn't be more appropriate as he devoted most of his life to collecting and orchestrating French folk songs. In fact he may be single-handedly responsible for the preservation of a priceless heritage of French folk songs.

Canteloube, who lived from 1879 to 1957, studied in Paris with Vincent d'Indy, and he wrote several original compositions, which seem to have been totally forgotten. When I looked up his name in a catalog of compact disc recordings, I found 14 recordings of the Songs of the Auvergne and nothing else at all by Canteloube. Talk about a one-hit composer!

On the other hand, Canteloube orchestrated no less than five volumes of these songs, starting in 1923. It takes two CDs to include all five series. We'll listen to some excerpts from these sets now as sung by Kiri Te Kanawa with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate.
Notice Canteloube's use of wind instruments to convey the pastoral feeling, as they do in folk music. The songs are sung here in the original Auvergne dialect as noted by Canteloube, although he provided alternative texts in standard French. As they are country songs, they reflect earthy matters - love, seduction and sex, not necessarily in that order! The characters are primarily shepherds and shepherdesses.

MUSIC: Series 1 from Canteloube: Songs of the Auvergne with Kiri Te Kanawa, Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra [London 444 995-2]

FLAXMAN: Series 1 from Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne - Chants d'Auvergne. Kiri Te Kanawa was the soprano. The English Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Jeffrey Tate.

MUSIC: Excerpt from Jacques Ibert: Escales with Charles Dutoit conducting the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. [London 440 332-2, end of track 3]

FLAXMAN: An excerpt from the music of one-hit French composer Jacques Ibert - his Escales, Ports of Call - concludes this hour, which was devoted entirely to one-hit French composers. The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal is conducted by Charles Dutoit.

This is your guide, Fred Flaxman, hoping that you have enjoyed this musical journey. I welcome your comments on this and past Compact Discoveries programs and your suggestions for future themes. My e-mail address is That's all one word and Flaxman is spelled F-l-a-x-m-a-n.

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the generous, caring people who support classical music on public radio with their membership contributions, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach/Boca Raton/Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

MUSIC: concludes at 58:00

  2009 Compact Discoveries