Charles Koechlin

Les Heures Persanes, 16 pieces for piano, Op. 65

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    There are recordings of Koechlin performing two pieces from his piano suite L'ancienne maison de compagne in 1947, his 80th year, and he played well enough throughout his life to take the difficult piano parts in performances of some of his chamber works, but seems to have had little interest in the piano as an instrument sui generis. The 16 pieces of Les Heures persanes, composed over 1913-1919, were orchestrated in 1921. On either hand, for Les Heures persanes, divinatory performances are required to realize the effects Koechlin wrote into them -- that is, they do not play themselves, nor does the auditor grasp them as he would most other music for, in parts, at least, they touch the penumbra of consciousness. That is, Les Heures persanes is something other and odder than the collection of exotic genre pieces ostensibly inspired by Pierre Loti's travelogue, Vers Ispahan, as it is usually described. The suggestively titled opening pieces "Sieste, avant le depart" and "La caravane (rêve, pendant la sieste)" are an invitation to what Koechlin's contemporary, psychologist Pierre Janet, termed an abaissement du niveau mental -- a lowering of the conscious threshold -- affected in the latter by a gentle but steadily hypnotic, repetitive lulling. By the end of the third piece, "L'escalade obscure," it is one's own inscape that is being explored, and -- in a sense -- one's own song being sung, for seldom has so much been left to the imagination. Koechlin suggests or evokes an interior music in plangent silvery outlines -- repeated figures, ostinati, tolling, rumbling, and lulling -- setting off what philosopher Kenneth Derus terms melodic archetypes ("genera of melodic shapes," rather than snappy tunes) to engage and constellate psychic archetypes, to resort to Jungian phraseology. The incantatorily repeated tone slowly rounded with a simple turn, representing moonlight and heard many times throughout these pieces, is a prime instance. One must listen with half-closed eyes, so to speak, for this music reveal its secrets. The muted aura of most of the collection is suddenly dispelled in the eruption of "À travers les rues," a depiction of an Arab bazaar, with its shifting meters and cascading éclat -- as eventful as Ives at his most raucously effusive and revealing of the masterful complexity underlying Koechlin's apparent simplicity. Koechlin, himself, gave the premiere of several pieces (unspecified) on June 10, 1925, though it was left to Herbert Henck to perform the cycle complete for the first time on November 30, 1986, at Lüneburg.


    1. Sieste, avant le départ. Lent
    2. La Caravane (rêve, pendant la sieste). Pas vite
    3. L'Escalade obscure. Adagio (non troppo)
    4. Matin frais dans la haute vallée. Pas trop lent
    5. En vue de la ville. Moderato
    6. À travers les rues. Allegro vivo
    7. Chant du soir. Très calme
    8. Clair de lune sur les terrasses. Andante moderato
    9. Aubade. Moderato
    10. Roses au soleil de midi. presque adagio
    11. À l'ombre, près de la fontaine de marbre. Moderato
    12. Arabesques. Allegro (non troppo)
    13. Les Collines, au coucher du soleil. Très calme
    14. Le Conteur. Assez lent - Le Pécheur et le Genni - Le Palais enchanté - Danse d'adolescents - Clair de lune sur les jardins
    15. La Paix du soir au cimitère. Assez lent
    16. Derviches dans la nuit. Assez animé, nocturne, mystérieux - Variante - Clair de lune sur la place déserte

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19047CD
    2012 Naxos 8572473
    2009 Haenssler 93246
    2003 Chandos 9974