Charles Koechlin

Nouvelle Sonatine for piano No. 1, Op. 87/1

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    As Heraclitus anciently observed, "One does not step twice into the same stream." The first of the Nouvelles Sonatines -- and the brace of four generally -- wears a retrospective air of joy recalled. But there is also a masterly concision -- three of its four movements play less than a minute, as if to assert that the pith and moment of the idea is sufficient in itself, being echt Koechlin, and that the familiar tropes of sonata form and development are extraneous. In a way, this is unfortunate for one wishes to prolong the dreaming mood of the first movement. True, Koechlin can sometimes lose the thread of even very striking ideas, as he does in some of the longer movements of the Cinq Sonatines, Op. 59, of 1915-1916, where they are overtaken by prolixity. The nostalgic wistfulness of the second movement and the folk-like dance of the third -- joy returning mostly memory -- are subtly colored by foreign harmonic inflections providing the merest hint of disquiet. The jigging fourth movement, playing not quite a minute-and a-half, is less happy than an energetic search for happiness. Spates of triplets in Koechlin's music, as often as not, represent attempts to generate spirit and fantasy where none are felt -- the manner devolves into mannerism. In the upshot, the putative innocence or naïvety of the sonatine is variously -- and, one senses, unintentionally but revealingly -- undercut to disquieting effect. Composed between August 1923 and October 1924, the First Sonatine and its companions loom from a time when Koechlin's ideals and sheer originality, seldom very prominently on display, were drowned by noise. For instance, going Stravinsky's prewar audacities in Le Sacre du printemps one better, so to speak, during the same months in which Koechlin was occupied with the Nouvelles Sonatines George Antheil was at work on the brutal, riot-provoking Ballet mécanique, scored for, among other instruments, a siren, propellers, electric bells, and 16 pianolas. If the Ballet mécanique represented the most glaring excesses of the jazz age, it was nevertheless heard, becoming music audiences loved to loathe, thereby achieving cult status, as Koechlin's music -- and that of such genuinely original contemporaries as Kaikhosru Sorabji and Matthijs Vermeulen -- receded more deeply into shadow. The early 1920s were also a period when Koechlin, feeling the financial pinch of a growing family, devoted much of his creative energy to theoretical treatises. The First Sonatine was given its premiere at the Université Mercereau by Koechlin champion Jeanne Herscher-Clément on February 13, 1927.


    1. Moderato, sans lenteur
    2. Andante moderato
    3. Bien allant, gai et doux
    4. Finale. Allegro con moto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19047CD
    2008 Haenssler 93220
    2001 Skarbo 10556
    2000 Arcobaleno 9438