Saturday 28 March 2015

French Romantic piano music with the support of the Palazzetto Bru Zane

Palazzetto Bru Zane
If you thought that English music from the late 19th and early 20th century was often in danger of being neglected by broadcasters and concert promoters, just spare a thought for those interested in French Romantic music from the 19th and early 20th century. The catalogue is full of works by composers rarely heard, and unheard works by major composers. The work of the Palazzetto Bru Zane - Centre de musique romantique francaise is dedicated to restoring this gap, and you can get a little flavour of their work tomorrow (Sunday 29 March 2015) when they are presenting a group of recitals at the Institut Francais in London, as part of the It's all about piano festival. Four piano recitals will take listeners on a journey through French Romantic music from the French revolution to the 20th century.

Pianists Laurent Wagschal, Dana Ciocarlie, Romain Descharmes and Nicolas Stavy will each give a recital (at 12pm, 2.30pm, 5pm and 7pm respectively, on Sunday 29 March 2015). Music to be performed includes the work of three women whose names you have probably not come across before -  Helene de Montgeroult (1764-1836) the French pianist/composer (born into an aristocratic family, reputedly it was respect for her compositions which allowed her to survive the Terror), Marie Jaell (1846-1925) who besides composing and teaching, was the first pianist to perform all of Beethoven's piano sonatas in Paris, and Mel Bonis (1858-1937) who was a prolific composer in a whole variety of genres. Also in the mix, will be music by Florent Schmitt, Louis Vierne, Paul Dukas, Gabriel Pierne, as well as Faure, Ravel and Schumann.

But who or what is the Palazzetto Bru Zane?

I have previously come across the work of the Palazzetto Bru Zane mainly in connection with recordings. My review of Laurence Equilbey's new recording of Felicien David's symphonic ode Le Desert has just been published, and last year I reviewed a disc of David's songs (see my review) and both had the support of the Palazzetto Bru Zane. This year they will be sponsoring performances of Herold's Le Pre aux clercs at the Opera Comique, Mehul's Uthal at the Opera Royal de Versailles, and Gounod's Cinq Mars in Munich, Paris and Vienna. All will be recorded for release, and you can already get Charles-Simon Catel's Les Bayadères, Saint-Saëns' Les Barbares and Salieri's Les Danaides (see their website for a complete list). They also produce composer portraits, and are exploring the music which French composers wrote for the Prix de Rome, not just for the competition but the pieces written when the prizewinners were in Rome.

Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice
Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice
This is an era that has always fascinated me, partly because the music is so little known. We cherry pick a few gems, and laud Berlioz (quite rightly) but all the rest has been just dusty scores. Now, the Palazzetto Bru-Zane's work means that if you read a biography of Bizet and come across a reference to his emulation of Felicien David then you can hear his work (the young Bizet seems to have admired Le Desert and planned a similar symphonic ode, and commentators hear echoes of David's music in Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles). Forgotten composers can often provide background and contributory knowledge, allowing us to experience the background that the works came out of. Surely our knowledge of, say, Berlioz's genius is illuminated by being able to explore the types of operas which were current in Paris when he was writing it. After all, who can read about Berlioz and his rejection of the libretto La nonne sanglante (The Bloody Nun) and not wonder what Gounod's setting of it is like?

So who, or what, is the Palazzetto Bru Zane. Well the foundation is based in a restored palazzo in Venice, and was created by Dr Nicole Bru in 2009. And simply the foundation and its staff of 15 devote themselves to researching, supporting and performing French music from the period 1780 to 1920, through scores, books, CDs, concerts and seminars. There are annual festivals in Venice and Paris. The Palazzetto Bru Zane and its work is supported by by Fondation Bru, which was started by Dr Nicole Bru to perpetuate the memory of Dr Camille Bru founded in 1935 the laboratories of the Union Pharmaceutique des Sciences Appliquées (UPSA) and his son Dr Jean Bru, who developed the first effervescent aspirin with Vitamin C, Efferalgan, and Betaine Citrate. Dr Nicole Bru is Dr Jean Bru's widow and continued to run UPSA after Dr Jean Bru's death until the firm was sold in 1994.

If you are in Venice, then you can visit the Palazzetto Bru Zane, it is open for guided tours on Thursday afternoons when you can see the frescoes of Sebastiano Ricci and admire the stucco work of Abbondio Stazio.
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