Granddaughter of the great violinist Joseph Joachim, soprano Irène Joachim was a magnificent artist in her own right, beautiful in voice, visage, figure, and musicianship. Although she came to be identified most closely with the role of Mélisande, she was fluent in the German language and mastered not only French mélodie, but also German Lieder. Indeed, Joachim had learned German, while French was but a second language. The care she brought to her enunciation worked in all of her repertory, bringing poignancy and specificity to the operas she essayed and the songs she sang. The daughter of Herman Joachim and Suzanne Chaigneau, a violinist, Joachim was given lessons in the basic elements of music as soon as she was able to grasp the concepts. Violin studies followed at home, as did piano lessons, and the keyboard instrument became her favorite means for music-making until her voice was discovered. By the time she entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1935, Joachim had acquired sufficient musical understanding to provide an advantage in the demanding regimen there. By July 1938, Joachim's end-of-term recital at the Conservatoire attracted the attention of Georges Auric (whose works the singer would come to espouse so eloquently). "Recall with me," Auric wrote in a July 1938 edition of Paris Soir, "the name of Mademoiselle Joachim...She impressed us with her enchanting voice, the quality of her style, of her enunciation, her honest and simple expressivity. In future days, Mademoiselle Joachim will be a cherished collaborator of our Opéra-Comique and no musician exists who will decline the pleasure of being in a position to collaborate with her." On Joachim's application to the Conservatoire, she had described herself as neither soprano, nor mezzo soprano, foretelling the middle ground she trod with such truth and lack of artifice. Gradually, a subtle tawniness began to inform the radiant color so clearly defined at the time of her first recording, the immortal Mélisande she contributed to the Pelléas et Mélisande recorded with conductor Roger Désormière and tenor Jacques Jansen. The glory of the Joachim instrument was her full and easily produced middle register, a characteristic that led the singer to describe herself as a "second soprano." Auric had correctly predicted Joachim's involvement with the Opéra-Comique: The singer appeared there between 1939 and 1956. During this time, she gained a reputation as a conscientious and expressive interpreter of the music of her time. Not only Auric, but also songs by Berg, Poulenc, Honegger, Satie, Milhaud, Dallapiccola, and Boulez. Her collaborator after the end of WWII was often Jane Bathori, the former singer who had premiered many French works and now served as coach and accompanist. During their first concert together in 1947, the soprano and accompanist performed works by the entire Les Six membership. Nor was Joachim a stranger to the premiere: In 1948, she was the first to perform Charles Koechlin's Le livre de la jungle, whose texts were drawn from Kipling's Jungle Book. Her conductor was Désormière. Joachim's initiative led her to perform the low-lying Vier Lieder, Op. 2, of Berg for the cycle's first French performance in 1947. Subsequently, she recorded the work in an orchestration by René Liebowitz. From 1963 to 1983, Joachim taught at the Conservatoire. Before her death in April 2001, the singer had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
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