Charles Koechlin

Suite en quatour, for flute, violin, viola & piano, Op. 55

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Koechlin was frank, even proud, in acknowledging his influences, or, better said, his lineage, though the names that recur -- Franck, Chabrier, Gounod, Bizet -- may surprise. Debussy is also mentioned, though with some diffidence. In an autobiographical study written (in the third person) in 1939, a page is devoted to a "Refutation of the label 'Impressionist.'" Painted by a hostile critic as "among those most dangerously infected by Impressionism," Koechlin answers, "Whatever the case may be, if it is an exaggeration at least to call Debussy an 'Impressionist' is more inaccurate still to apply the word to Charles Koechlin. Not only as regards 'pure music,' strongly constructed, of which he offers so many examples, but also as regards the most fantastical and evocative pieces, which always retain their form, as is true of the freest songs...whose unity is irrefutable." With the passage of time the controversies that occasioned so much heartburning -- Gluckists vs. Piccinists, Tristan und Isolde vs. Carmen, d'Indyistes vs. Debussyistes -- have disappeared like the snows of yesteryear, leaving behind indelible profiles of strong, creative personalities. "If he is related to Debussy at all," Koechlin added, "it is rather to Fêtes than to Sirènes or La mer, and he stems first and foremost from Berlioz and Bizet...." The accusation of composing amorphous, nebulous music rankled Koechlin because it hit him in sensitive places. Explaining his abandonment of classical sonata-allegro form (which was still doing heavy duty for d'Indy and Dukas as the twentieth century dawned), Koechlin remarked, "But really each of his works is a unique piece whose design is determined by the organic development of themes and feelings, by their very life." The difficulty, apart from confounding commonplace expectations, is that for the unprejudiced listener to grasp the unique forms of individual pieces they require greater exposure than they ever achieved in Koechlin's lifetime, while his ventures into bitonality, polytonality, or -- best said, perhaps -- pantonality, by evading the drive toward a tonic, can seem wandering or lost before they settle on the ear as plausible and, eventually, coherent. And that perhaps explains why the three-movement Suite en quatuor (1911-1915), whose immediate -- even conventional -- appeal owes to its being among the closest approaches in Koechlin's work to the sound-domain of Debussy's chamber music, is not termed a sonata, though based on materials for a planned second flute sonata. The premiere was given chez the Société Musicale Indépendante on March 25, 1931 -- the last of Koechlin's works performed under its auspices.


    1. Moderato quasi andante
    2. Andante quasi adagio
    3. Final: Allegro con moto. Bien décidé

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    SWR Music
    SWR 19047CD