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Marcelle Meyer (Piano)

Born: May 22, 1897 - Lille (northern) France
Died: November 17, 1958

The French pianist, Marcelle Meyer, received her first piano lessons at the age of five from her sister Germaine, nine years older and herself an excellent pianist. Marcelle entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1911 at the age of fourteen enrolling first in Marguerite Long's class. She quickly changed to Alfred Cortot's class who was to guide her to her Premiers Prix in 1913. She played her Camille Saint-Saëns concerto so wonderfully that Alfred Cortot threw himself onto the stage to kiss her. A period under the tutelage of Ricardo Viñes opened her up to the world of Ravel. However she received her essential lessons in Spanish music not from Viñes but from José Iturbi.

In 1917, her marriage to the actor Pierre Bertin introduced Marcelle Meyer into the circle of Eric Satie and his friends. Responsible for presenting Satie's Piège de Méduse, Bertin was a vibrant and talented character who moved freely between the theatrical and musical worlds of Paris. Meyer immediately became Satie's favourite pianist. He called her his 'pretty little lady'. She was still only twenty years old. She worked with Debussy shortly before his death on his Préludes and was the first to play them in recital at Salle Gaveau, a recital notable also for being the first devoted wholly to Debussy's work..

In 1918, at a Lyre et Palletes concert (a series of concerts where artists and musicians could meet), Marcelle Meyer gave the debut performance of Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Piano Four Hands with the composer at her side. This was the beginning of a life-long friendship. She would premier several of his works - the Impromptus in Brussels in 1921 (F. Poulenc absolutely wild with joy!), Napoli in May 1926 and Mélancolie in May 1941. It is no surprise that he was her partner in the recording of Chabrier's Valses Romantiques on the DF LP set. During the same season she played works by Louis Durey (a lesser known member of the 'Six'), the rare melodies Images to Crusoë with her husband and Auric's Carillons et Neige with the composer. In April 1920 Ravel invited her to play with him a two piano version of La Valse privately before Igor Stravinsky, Diaghilev and F. Poulenc. Other notable creations the same year were Milhaud's Printemps for solo piano and the controversial Five Studies for Piano and Orchestra under the Vladimir Grolschmann. Despite the noise made by the scandalised audience, and to Milhaud's great satisfaction, Meyer never faltered.

Diaghilev found Marcelle Meyer as enchanting as a Modigliani - "If she can play as well as she is beautiful.." he was heard to comment. After seeing her perform Ravel's Jeux d'Eaux and Alborada del Gracioso, he was totally convinced and immediately engaged her to play one of the two piano parts in his production of Satie's Parade. Not only was she regarded as a faithful and brilliant pianist but for most French composers of the early 20th century, she was their muse. A modest and delightful person, she remained a close and indispensable performer for the Groupe des Six, Ravel and I. Stravinsky, ignoring the inevitable personal quarrels and never taking sides. She served their music with an equal and total devotion - and always avoided over-playing the score. In 1921 she was asked by I. Stravinsky to play one of the extremely difficult piano parts from Petrouchka under the direction of Pierre Monteux - without rehearsal. For the composer it was "a reference performance". In June 1923, Meyer, Auric and F. Poulenc played three of the four piano parts of I. Stravinsky's Les Noces. The same year, at a concert at the Sorbonne devoted to the newly formed Ecole d'Arcueil (Satie's circle), she premiered the work of a young composer and protégé of Désormière - Henri Sauguet's Trois Françaises for piano. To be able to serve and associate with composers of such different personality and aesthetic as Ravel, I. Stravinsky, Sauget, F. Poulenc or Satie (the latter three being notably 'anti Ravelian') without friction, tells us more about Marcelle Meyer than a thousand words.

Marcelle Meyer made her first recording in 1925, in England - I. Stravinsky's Piano Rag Music and Albeniz' Navarra. She premiered I. Stravinsky's Serenade for Piano. In the late 1920's her career took a more international turn, invited by Willem Mengelberg to Amsterdam, by Thomas Beecham to London, by Ernest Ansermet, Adrian Boult, Pierre Monteux. In 1930 she was invited to Budapest by Richard Strauss to play his Burleske under his direction at a festival devoted to his work. She was one of the few pianists invited to play at the 10th Salzburg Festival. In contrast her career at home seemed very low-key indeed.

Marcelle Meyer was rarely invited by any of the French musical associations - between the two wars she played at the old Société Nationale only once, in April 1920, with a performance of Debussy's En Blanc et Noir with Juliette Meerowitch on second piano). She was invited twice to play by the Société Triton - in April 1937 at the Ecole Normale she took part in Delannoy's Rhapsody for Saxophone, Trumpet, Cello and Piano, and in Ravel's Trio. On Febuary 6, 1939, she gave the premier of Roland-Manuel's Concertino for Piano and Orchestra under Rosenthal. At the Société La Sérénade it was no better. In May 1932 she gave the debut performance of the Partita for Piano and Orchestra by the newly discovered young composer, Igor Markevitch, conducted by Désormière. In February 1938 a recital featuring the Ravel Trio and Paul Hindemith's Sonata for Flute and Piano. Having divorced Bertin in 1937, she married Carlo Di Vieto, an Italian lawyer in 1932, with whom she would have two daughters. Her last major musical creation before World War II was Milhaud's Scaramouche in 1937 with Ida Jankelevitch on second piano.

Incredibly Marcelle Meyer did not receive an invitation to play at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire until 1940. In November she played Franck's Symphonic Variations under Charles Munch. In March 1941 she was again one of the four pianos for Les Noces, together with Février, F. Poulenc and I. Stravinsky himself, and in May, again with Charles Munch, Arthur Honegger's Piano Concerto. In 1948 she repeated the Franck under André Cluytens with Strauss' Burleske. This year she established herself with her family in Rome. The Italian tour in November with André Cluytens and Mainardi, seemed to serve as a transition between her 'French' and her 'Italian' careers, for as she had served French composers so would she celebrate and champion the Italians, befriending and performing the works of Luigi Dallapiccola, Veretti, Rieti, Petrassi and Alfredo Casella,while continuing to play with such figures as Paul Kletzki, Herbert von Karajan and Hermann Scherchen through the 1950's.

One of Marcelle Meyer's greatest adventures also began at the end of the 1940's, and indeed her greatest legacy – her collaboration with Les Discophiles Français and the sound engineer André Charlin. It was for this label she made the greater part of her recordings, producing some of the most remarkable records ever devoted to French music. But not only do we have François Couperin, Chabrier, Debussy, Ravel and Rameau, there is also Scarlatti, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Schubert and I. Stravinsky. For an artist who was at the forefront of the music of her day and centre of her circle, it is interesting to see how she could embrace the composers of the eighteenth century. Her phrasing pure and fluid, capturing the deep spirit of the music, never allowing the ornament to interrupt the melodic line, her rediscovery and reinstatement of Rameau was perhaps her most miraculous achievement. However, Mozart was always her first artistic love.

On November 17, 1958 Marcelle Meyer died suddenly at the piano while staying at her sister's apartment. After a career confined to the Old World, at the invitation of Dimitri Mitropoulos she had been planning a tour of North America. From her focal involvement in the post First War musical avant-garde during the heady 1920's, to her startling reappraisal of a decidedly unfashionable classical tradition in the 1950's, her life had been rich beyond words.

Source: Coup of Archet Website (© Jean-Marc Harari/Glenn Armstrong 2003)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (December 2006)

Marcelle Meyer: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

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Marcelle Meyer (Coup of Archet)

 

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Last update: żAugust 23, 2014 ż00:25:26