Charles Koechlin

Seven Stars Symphony for orchestra, Op. 132

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    "Towards 1933, I grew more interested in the cinema. Until then I had shown considerable disdain for it because of its too often vulgar and demagogic nature. But I confess without shame that on getting to know this very uneven art-form better, I could not fail to appreciate the spiritual grace or the 'insolent beauty' of certain Stars...This led to my Seven Stars Symphony." From this diffident and rather disingenuous acknowledgement one would hardly guess Koechlin's obsession with film divas or the creative renewal they prompted. The 1920s had seen a slowing of composition as Koechlin's faltering finances necessitated lecturing, journalistic work, and the writing of treatises on harmony, fugue, and the chorale to supplement his dwindling fortune. His inner life through that decade centered on work with his student, Catherine Urner, who became something of a soror mystica to his master alchemist. With her return to the United States in the early '30s, he was adrift. A viewing of The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings on June 29, 1933, began the habit of regular moviegoing. His response was immediate and potent -- as he completed the tone poem Sur les flots lointains (based on a song by Catherine Urner), composed over July/August 1933, he plunged into the composition of the Seven Stars Symphony (title in English) in July, completing it in September, and finishing the orchestration in October. Its seven movements form a suite rather than a symphony, each with its specific references and distinct character. The first movement celebrates Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in The Thief of Bagdad in "a little oriental improvisation." Lillian Harvey (a menuet fugué), Greta Garbo (choral païen), and Clara Bow are each allotted a movement, though Koechlin is responding to photographs -- he had yet to see any of the three in films. Dietrich is graced with a set of variations on a theme formed, by cipher, from the letters of her name, while the movement bearing Jannings' name is frankly subtitled "Choral pour le répos de l'âme du Professeur Rath (du film L'Ange bleu)." But Chaplin takes the cake -- his movement, playing over a quarter of an hour, is another variation set recalling elements of his creation, Charlot, in The Gold Rush, The Circus, and City Lights. The Fairbanks, Garbo, and Chaplin movements were premiered by the French Radio Orchestra, led by Manuel Rosenthal, on December 14, 1944; the entire work was heard on November 16, 1969, with Norman del Mar conducting the London Philharmonic.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Douglas Fairbanks
    2. Lillian Harvey
    3. Greta Garbo
    4. Clara Bow et la Joyeuse Californie
    5. Marlene Dietrich
    6. Emil Jannings
    7. Charlie Chaplin

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    Rca Red Seal 74321