Harmonie du soir: A CD in homage to Edith Lejet


by Gérard Denizeau, University of Paris IV-Sorbonne


(Article published in "L’Education musicale"  N° 519/520 - January/February 2005)




From an early calling to artistic fulfilment

Few contemporary composers have their vocational destiny so glowingly indicated. In childhood, fascinated by mysterious sensitivities veiled by words, colours or musical notes, Edith Lejet, “secretive, idealistic, thoughtful, ardent…”, began immediately to decipher their expressive secrets. Two influences were decisive: her discovery of Berlioz’immortal Symphonie Fantastique, and Chopin’s Etudes, played by Jeanne-Marie Darré (“ Thus a woman could indeed make a success of her life”!). Taught musical notation and the piano at an early age, and enjoying also the assemblage of shapes and colours on paper, as a very young girl, she decides eventually to concentrate on music.

In spite of her undoubted modesty, it is apposite to recall that her apprenticeship – under the guidance of Marcel Beaufils, Roland-Manuel, Jacques Chailley, Henri Challan, André Jolivet and Henri Dutilleux – was a triumphal progress. From student at the ‘Centre de preparation La Fontaine’, she became a teacher of music in Paris schools (to reassure her father, worried about her need for an income), then obtained top prizes for aesthetics, harmony, counterpoint, fugue and composition at the ‘Conservatoire de Paris’, followed by the Grand Prix de Rome in 1968 and residence at the ‘Casa de Velasquez’ in Madrid from 1968 to 1970 !

In 1966 she was initiated into the techniques of electro-acoustic music at the ‘Groupe de Recherche Musicale’ (GRM) at Radio France, she was lecturer in harmony in the Sorbonne from 1970 to 1972 (a brief sojourn, but one which has left many students, who were hardly her juniors, with striking memories), and in January 1972 she was appointed to the ‘Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse’ in Paris, where in 1992, she was made holder of the chair of ‘Ecriture, Musique du XXe siècle’, just created by Xavier Darasse.

If we add to all this, the many honours accorded to her by the highest institutes in France and abroad, (the latest being the Nadia and Lili Boulanger Composition Prize, on 19 November 2003), there is a real risk of reducing Edith Lejet to a great intellect, miraculously gifted, but distant from the contingent torments of a composer’s life. Nothing could be further from the truth; let us quote her own words: “I feel somewhat distant from researches which are essentially intellectual and speculative… I greatly value the freshness generated by spontaneity and intuition.” Words that the masters whom she reveres - and in particular Debussy and Ravel – would certainly not disavow.

It is perhaps as a result of the caution, which she has always exercised concerning the call of the inexpressible, that we discover the secrets of the resonant magic of her captivating music. The music on this CD, music whose reputation is international (it has been played in Canada, Japan, Portugal, Israel, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, Yugoslavia, etc.) will reveal to the music-lover, sonorous horizons, so far unheard.

Six works in search of listeners

The musicians who interpret the six pieces on the CD are all to be praised. The blending of their very competent performance and their musical intelligence serve in an inestimable fashion a particularly demanding composer. The keystone of this enterprise, Jean Thorel, has for many years been recognised as highly skilled among those creating the recorded music of the present day. No doubt, this latest production will reinforce an already enviable reputation.

Similarly, the guitar player Olivier Chassain, the organist Julien Bret, the orchestral ensemble Stringendo and the female choir of Saint-Quentin in Picardie, will provoke great admiration for their aesthetic sensitivities and their artistic competence.

Composed in the summer of 1976 for Radio France – which broadcast it with the Maurice Bourgue wind Ensemble in 1977 – the score of Espaces Nocturnes requires a group of instruments favouring a process of fusion, which forms its initial nature: flute, flute in G, clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion (3 kettledrums, 2 toms, 2 temple-blocks, marimba, vibraphone, gong, tubular bells, sliding flute), harp and double bass.

Consisting of ethereal variegated layers of sound, infinitely light and luminous, the work evolves in one movement, free and inventive, a moving nocturnal musical analogy of the painter’s palette in nature’s heart. The dominance of the flutes adds to the feeling that time and reality are no more. Yet the listener remains as enchanted and seduced by the musical finery as by the solidity of a structure based on the recall of fixed intervals and of a recurring composing process, the source of strange and penetrating contrasts and echoes.

With the poetically evocative title of Améthyste, the second work is testimony to Edith Lejet’s deep melodic insight. Composed in 1990 for Jean Thorel’s orchestral ensemble Stringendo, who performed it in the same year at the Salle Gaveau, the work is adapted for the strings of the quintet, arranged according to the rules of acoustic equilibrium (4-3-2-2-1). One is struck immediately by the incantatory style; in the first part, the privileged treatment of three instruments in turn, (violin, viola and cello), confers on the theme a poignant spirituality of profound significance. In contrast, in the second part, the emphasis seems to be on conflicting elements in concert. These are expressed by unforeseen rhythmic beats superimposed on a harmonic base, which suggests more a meeting of elements to be combined than of their vertical integration. This music refuses to be analysed into known forms, it escapes, and opens a luminous path towards the inaccessible.

A new musical form is born with Des Fleurs en Forme de Diamants. It is a concert piece for guitar and seven instruments (flute, clarinet in B-flat, bassoon, marimba, viola, cello, double bass) commissioned by the state in 1997 and first played on the 29 April 1998 in Bordeaux by Olivier Chassain and Michel Fusté-Lambezat’s Ensemble ‘Musique Nouvelle’. It was during her stay at ‘La Casa de Velasquez’ that Edith Lejet discovered the charms of the guitar, a “powerful, violent, passionate” instrument, heir to a long and noble tradition, privy to the secrets of flamenco, and inevitable companion to the ritualistic tragedies of the bullring. Thus the musical conflict is located symbolically under the dread sign of the arena’s mortal games. Hence the extreme tension, manifest from beginning to end, in this work based on the principle of a perpetual variation, the melodic sequences oscillating continuously between two complementary musical scales.

The Diptyque for organ and strings (2002-2003) results from a commission from Stringendo orchestral Ensemble. Here the organ is dialoguing with three first violins, two second violins, two violas, two cellos and one double bass. It was inaugurated on the 3rd January 2004 in the church of Notre Dame de Val de Grace, under the baton of Jean Thorel, with Julien Bret as the organist. Singularly pure, the musical discourse is predicated on special modal scales from which the composer extracts astonishing harmonic and ornamental effects. Again there are marvellously inventive melodies, particularly in the opening section, where one can witness a complex process whereby the different instruments transmit the varied motifs, the strings and the organ alternately battling for preponderance. The second section sees this insoluble conflict being resolved; the organ seizes the main theme which becomes obsessive in character without its trance-like aspect diminishing the control of the essential discourse sustained discreetly but powerfully by the strings.

The Trois Chants pour un Noël, based on texts by René David, were first performed by the “Maîtrise de Radio France” (which had commissioned the work), and conducted by Denis Dupays. The children’s choir, for three equal parts, may be discreetly aided by an accompaniment: oboe, clarinet, bassoon and percussion. Most remarkable in this score is the clarity of the melodic lines, marvellously adapted to the higher pitched voices. It is because of the fusion between the words and their musical expression, that the song seems to have a naïve freshness, although it is based on scales unknown to all treatises on harmony! One after the other, “En ce temps-là”, “Les mages” and “Berceuse” recreate for the delighted listener, the miraculous ambience of the sacred nativity.

Harmonie du Soir
(1975-1977), is a piece for twelve strings (4-3-2-2-1) commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and first performed in 1977 in Grenoble by Stéphane Cardon’s string orchestra. It seems little by little to suggest the dominance of silence. It is not by chance that the title is borrowed from Baudelaire, who wrote “sounds and perfumes revolve in the evening air”, while “the violin quivers like a grieving heart”! Here the viola is responsible in the heart of the composition, for the most moving musical plaint, distant echo of a plaint dissolving in the wind of time. So ends the enchanting cycle of these delicate sounds, destined for those who believe in the inherent beauty of music – even contemporary music! – and especially for those whose unfortunate experiences have led them to doubt this very beauty.



 Translated by Norman Graves

Texte reproduit avec l’aimable autorisation de Francis B. Cousté et Gérard Denizeau