Marcelle Meyer

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Marcelle Meyer was a "pianist's pianist," the favorite pianist of Les Six and a principal interpreter of Baroque music on the piano. She entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 14, studying with Alfred…
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Marcelle Meyer was a "pianist's pianist," the favorite pianist of Les Six and a principal interpreter of Baroque music on the piano. She entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 14, studying with Alfred Cortot and Marguerite Long and taking the Premier Prix at age 16. In the years to follow, she studied Ravel with Ricardo Viñes and Spanish literature with José Iturbi and gave the first all-Debussy recital in history in the presence of the ailing composer, premiering his etudes. Meyer also became Erik Satie's favorite pianist and premiered Francis Poulenc's Sonata for piano four-hands with the composer; she premiered several of Poulenc's piano works throughout her career, and recorded with him as well. When Les Six had a group portrait painted, Marcelle Meyer was shown standing in the center.

In the early '20s, Meyer offered her talents to Darius Milhaud, whose noisy and riotous Cinq Études pour piano avec Orchestra, Op. 63, was written for her, and to Stravinsky; she, Poulenc, and Auric played through Les Noces with the composer at its first public hearing. Meyer's first recordings, of Stravinsky's Piano Rag Music, were made in 1925; that year she also premiered his Serenade for piano. By this time, word of Meyer's talent spread beyond Paris, and she played concerts in England, Holland, and Germany. She played countless premieres through the outbreak of the Second World War, including works by Honegger, Roland-Manuel, and Igor Markevitch; perhaps the most famous of the works she introduced in the 1930s was Milhaud's Scaramouche Suite, premiered in 1938 with Ida Jankelevitch as second pianist.

After the war, she relocated with her family to Italy; her second husband was Italian lawyer Carlo di Vito, and Meyer picked up the works of young Italian composers with the same zeal she had shown for those in her native France. Meyer also began a long association with recording engineer André Charlin in the late '40s, after which her heretofore-spotty recording activity kicked into high gear. Meyer recorded practically her entire repertoire, not only the modern works she'd championed, but Baroque music in large quantities; she was the first to record the keyboard music of Rameau, and she also recorded Scarlatti and a good portion of the solo keyboard music of J.S. Bach.

Meyer suddenly died at the keyboard of a heart attack while visiting her sister in Paris; she was 61. She had been planning her first tour of the United States; Poulenc in particular was devastated by her sudden passing. Although her name would pass into obscurity shortly after, in the 1990s EMI revived her catalog on a series of CD boxes entitled Les Introuvables des Marcelle Meyer that were worldwide best-sellers and helped reestablish her reputation.