The piano 4 hands series introduces music for piano duet (four hands at one piano) and piano duo (four hands at 2 pianos) and includes works from the early to mid 19th century, the golden era of domestic music making, to the present day.
A selection from the celebrated Soirées Musicales by Léon d’Ourville
- Slumber Song
- Rustic Dance
- In the Garden
- The Lake
- Valse Impromptu
- Reaper’s Song
- The Smithy
- The Mill
The circumstances of Léon d’Ourville’s life and times remain shrouded in mystery. Although the Soirées Musicales originally appeared in print over one hundred years ago, it is, at the time of writing, impossible to find any hard evidence about when or where d’Ourville lived; indeed nothing can be presently reported concerning anything to do with his life or circumstances. One of the more plausible (if speculative) ideas to be considered is that the name d’Ourville may be a nom de plume, but it will take further research to take the story forward. The villages of Ourville-en-Caux and Saint-Lo-d’Ourville (in Upper and Lower Normandy respectively) might offer a clue but, again, there is no evidence at present to substantiate this suspicion.
The musical style of these masterpieces is essentially that of Schumann – the titles all suggest a fascination with people and places (The Reaper’s Song and In the Garden), moods and nature (Slumber Song and The Lake). The harmonic and melodic invention is of a particularly high order, and the compositions themselves could easily pass as being by Schumann, such is the craftmanship and sensitivity on display.
The eighteen piano duets that make up the complete Soirées Musicales appeared originally in four volumes published by Augener Edition, with titles given in English, French and German. Evidence from contemporary news items points to these duets as having been published in the 1880’s, and the thirty-three works by d’Ourville held in the British Library would suggest somewhere between 1879–1900. From this one might assume d’Ourville to have been born c.1830–1850. His country of birth, work and death all remain a mystery.
All the known music by d’Ourville is for piano solo or piano duet; most of the Soirées Musicales were originally written as piano duets and quickly arranged by others as piano solos. An early reference to Soirées Musicales is found in the Monthly Musical Record of September 1882. The Musical News makes reference to some of the pieces in their issue of 26 January 1895 and in other issues from 1895–1897. Berrow’s Worcester Journal provides a charming curio where, in a report of a concert given on 23 February 1895 at the Worcester High School for Girls, mention is made of a performance of Spring from Soirées Musicales by two pupils of the school. In the same report, mention is made of orchestral items performed at the concert where a certain Mr. Edward Elgar provides assistance as an orchestral violinist. Elgar was also a teacher at the school.
I have chosen eleven of these pieces and edited them in a way that is intended to make performance of the pieces clearer. The original edition was heavily edited, resulting often in inconsistent musical advice. I have eliminated much of this editing, preferring to leave the performer to follow his/her own instinctive musical thinking. In general, it seems to me that less editing means more musical freedom, and I would encourage the performer to experiment in these matters. One of the editorial problems (that of slurring and phrasing) was well summarized by Howard Ferguson in his preface to the Schubert Impromptus for solo piano, D. 811:
'It is as well to remember that Schubert, like most classical composers, often used slurs to divide a long legato line into shorter units, each generally ending at a barline. This does not generally imply a break in the legato…'
This habit of slurring in short units had started with Mozart and Haydn and continued largely unchecked and unchallenged throughout the nineteenth century. The idea of playing with more line and thinking in sentences sits ill at ease with the visual signals suggested by short slurred units, and it has been my intention to edit these works to encourage playing in longer units. Slurring does, in some cases, encompass rests; the sense of phrasing is affected as much by harmonic considerations as by purely melodic ones although, here again, solutions other than those indicated are possible. I have used slurring in this edition to indicate direction rather than exclusively legato.
The fingering that I have included is, of course, optional. I have endeavoured to keep this to a minimum. The use of the fingering shown should facilitate comfort and logic to play until the next signpost. Pedaling is of course a personal decision, albeit one that can have a considerable impact on texture. I have only included general advice (usually at the beginning of a piece) and leave the specifics to the performers.
I am indebted to Katy Hamilton of the Royal College of Music for much of the above research information, and will welcome any further contributions concerning Léon d’Ourville’s identity.
Graeme Humphrey - London, December 2011