S p o t l i g h t   o n   C h a m i n a d e

Here is an exclusive Q&A interview with British pianist Mark Viner, one of today's foremost interpreters of Cécile Chaminade's music. Viner's album of selected piano works by Chaminade is available on YouTube, Spotify, and other platforms; visit this page for more information. Viner is also chairman of the Alkan Society and the Liszt Society, and his Facebook page can be found here. Many thanks to him for sharing his experiences of and thoughts about Chaminade's music!

When and how did you first encounter Chaminade’s music, and what drew you to playing and recording her works?

I think the first time I encountered this music was on an LP recording of Ronald Smith which was a compilation of popular piano pieces and included the Etude de concert, op.35 no.2 ‘Automne’. I am given to understand this LP was sold in Waitrose upon release and earned Smith the most out of all his recordings! So, with that as a very healthy introduction, I simply became curious and whenever I saw the name Chaminade, I felt I ought to investigate - this lead to gradually collecting her scores wherever I found them.

 

How would you describe Chaminade’s style, and what do you find unique about her music?

Well I would start off by saying that her style is instantly recognisable. Aside from this, much of it is written in a sort of elevated salon idiom. It’s almost always intensely melodic; it’s, at times, delicately ironic and slyly insinuating yet also, sometimes, brusque and pompous; it can be witty to the point of hilarity yet also serious and very clever in its pianistic innovation and musical development. On top of all this, it is unmistakably French. I suppose one thing I find unique about it is that it is music which isn’t in the slightest bit pretentious and does exactly what it sets out to do: to enchant, entertain and, sometimes, deeply move us. What’s more, I feel that to modern ears, it is poignantly evocative of yesteryear, giving it that tendency to linger in the memory which, perhaps, is another reason for the general rekindling of interest in her music.

 

Did you encounter any particular challenges in working on Chaminade’s music?


Not really. There were times when I found some of the character pieces somewhat illusive but I think this was merely because the idiom of the music occasionally took a little longer to reveal itself, especially in the more pastoral conceptions which can sometimes feel a little tame a prima vista but reveal an inner purity on closer acquaintance. The one absolutely essential thing, of course, is simply lifting much of it off the ground – there’s nothing worse then earthbound Chaminade! It must never be too literal, but ravishing, spritely and effervescent.

 

How do you think Chaminade fits into the context of piano repertory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?

I think she holds an important place in the piano literature in that she exerted rather a powerful influence over not merely amateur pianists, but professionals too. It’s no strange thing that Godowsky and Cherkassky were seduced by her charms - they both happily played and recorded her music. Aside from this, her music being on the pianos of just about every drawing room in Europe at one stage must have subconsciously influenced the musical sensibilities of generations in some way or another.

 

How would you like to see Chaminade’s music integrated into today’s repertory?


I don’t think it will ever achieve more prevalence in the standard repertoire than it already has; there will always be the evergreens - Automne, the Concertino, op.107 for flute etc. - but I can’t imagine many other works enjoying quite the same popularity. Having said this, the Thème varié, op.89 has enjoyed something of a vogue in recent times so who knows! 

© 2020 Frances Lee

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