1912 Ballets Russes program depicting Vaslav Nijinsky in L'après-midi d’un faune, composed by Claude Debussy
France is an immeasurable powerhouse of cultural achievement. Through French politics and history, philosophy, fine arts, and cuisine, our lives continue to be influenced by the Gallic vision of society. And in many ways, the history of French music is also the history of Western music. But what makes French music French?
Popular speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin combines lectures and piano demonstrations to explore the social, political, religious, and cultural influences that shaped the output of France’s great composers and presents a selection of the greatest works in the literature.
British-born Franklin has been a featured speaker for organizations including the Library of Congress and NPR, exploring intersections among classical and jazz music, film scores, and the fine arts.
March 21 700 Years in 2 Hours
Franklin leads a lightning tour of French music written before the 19th century, beginning with the mystery and beauty of early 12th-century polyphony by Léonin and Pérotin from the mighty School of Notre-Dame. Touching briefly on exquisite work by Guillaume de Machaut (14th century) and Josquin des Prez (15th century), jump forward to the Baroque period, which saw the meteoric rise of French opera and non-vocal instrumental music. Then enjoy splendid dance music and opera selections by Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau, plus witty keyboard pieces by master clavecinist Francois Couperin.
March 28 Excess, Outrage, and Virtuosity
In the 1800s, it seemed that the horrors of the French Revolution had unleashed a taste for massive scale and spectacle. The startling musical program of Hector Berlioz’s brilliant Symphonie Fantastique combines sexuality, drugs, and diabolism. The melodramatic grand opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer involves much death and destruction, plus perilous stage machinery. Meanwhile Georges Bizet’s Carmen was very different, featuring a revolutionary heroine who defies the social hypocrisies of the time. Franklin also shares dazzling piano music by Camille Saint-Saëns and Charles Valentin Alkan.
April 4 Passing the Flame
Saint-Saëns was Gabriel Fauré’s deeply revered teacher. And Fauré was equally influential as the chief mentor for Maurice Ravel. Connections continue on a less exalted level, as singer Emma Bardac was mistress to both Fauré and Claude Debussy. Whether composing religious works or fantasy tableaux, Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel combined sensuosity and extreme refinement. Explore Fauré’s beautiful Requiem, Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, and Ravel’s shimmering homage to his fallen friends during the Great War, Le Tombeau de Couperin.
April 11 Modernism Smashes Old Idols
"Enough of clouds, waves, aquariums, water sprites, and nocturnal scents; what we need is a music of the earth, everyday music." With those inflammatory words, mover, shaker, and trouble-maker Jean Cocteau relegated Debussy to the musical history books and ushered in the reign of eccentric genius Erik Satie and his group of rambunctious protegés, Les Six, which included Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc. Finally, Franklin spotlights the great Olivier Messiaen, whose place in musical modernism is utterly unique. His Quartet for the End of Time is a deeply moving 20th-century landmark.