For everyone who knew, admired and loved him, beginning with the numerous musicians who had the great joy of playing under his direction, Désiré Emile Inghelbrecht - or "Inghel" as he was fondly called by intimates - renowned conductor and founder of the National Orchestra, was also an exceptional musician whose unforgettable style set the standard for the greatest French masterpieces. Yet, too often, this overshadows the fact that he was, perhaps more than anything else, a great creative genius.
Indeed, the study of his works leads one to wonder if it is not that well-spring of music, that creative power within, that holds the secret of his immense success. The list of his works would fill a small book. No doubt generations to come will pick and choose among them (a selection evolving as times and taste change) just as was the case with musicians in the past. But, one may be assured even now of the permanence of certain ones, which all must unanimously agree are masterpieces, masterpieces in every sense of the word, hence, in that which, so rare in reality for any possible applications, it is a brilliant illustration of all that which, in the art, belongs to the craft - the most solid and the most sublime.
When one enjoys the privilege, as we did, of taking part in the recording of two major works (the ones on this disc), one sees, through the effects and emotions that he extracts from them, the depth of Inghel's understanding of all the resources of the instrumental and vocal score. One sees how he uses them with masterful economy and fullness to fit his great plan. In his works, where he demanded much of each and every musician, nothing is left to chance, nothing is indicated without its having an absolute musical efficacy, which is revealed only in the playing. Yet, with Inghel, one is far from that tyranny peculiar to certain composers whose unspoken heart's desire would appear to be the elimination of that bothersome intermediary, the interpreter. He is wonderfully clear in his scores, a precious help to the interpreter, yet his directions are worthless if one is not an artist of stature, if one has no great personality to apply to his art.
The two works on this record illustrate this perfectly. We were extremely fortunate in having unusually strong guarantees of authenticity. Madame Baudry-Godard worked for years with D.E. Inghelbrecht and the majority of the orchestra had already played the works under the composer's own direction. It was particularly moving to see, during the recording sessions, that some musicians recalled how Inghel, disregarding the printed score, played such and such a difficult passage, since, after playing it over and over, he had found a way to improve on it. It is truly a shame - and this is a fate Inghelbrecht shares with so many great musicians - that he had so few occasions to set the interpretations of his works during the last years of his life, i.e. at a time when recording techniques had progressed to the point that true music lovers felt the music came back to life. Just imagine what he would have added to the interpretations of his works - the inspiration, the genius - for he put so much of himself into his great scores. Nothing is more foreign to Inghel's music than the sometimes accepted idea that musical creation is pure creation only and not profound expression. Doubtless the music expresses only itself, according to Stravinsky; but, that's just the point: music is certainly more than just construction, assembly and combination.
The composer himself related the circumstances in which he wrote the "Requiem during the first winter of war, 1940-41, a particularly cold and desolate time.
"I wanted, " he said, " to write something for a dear old friend from my youth, Abbé Halot, head of the Ecole Gerson, a passionate lover of music. He promised me a text and when I received it, I noticed that it was nothing less than the Mass for the Dead. Now, fearing that the spell of Fauré's masterpiece would creep into my spirit, I mulled it over for a whole week before making up my mind. I decided I would risk it, believing that my deep knowledge of Fauré's work would at least prevent me from any resemblances. To confine my own conception, I strove to make my requiem strictly liturgical. I asked Felix Raugel, whose authority in the matter is indisputable, for some suggestions, and, even as I worked, I was imbued by the sadness of the times we were living and I dreamed of all those around me who would disappear. And Abbé Halot did die a few years later."
The piece, however, has nothing of despair in it. Taking it strictly on the musical level, it even seems highlighted with the mark of joyful trust, of serene faith, as in "life which is not taken away, but solely transformed." (Preface). In the refined orchestration, comparable to the most illustrious examples, Inghelbrecht took evident care to express the prayer of those gathered for the funeral mass. There are some particularly striking quasi-parlando passages where it truly seems that one hears the murmur of prayer said in unison echoing through the church, borne aloft "thanks to the holy angels" as the Canon text says, to the altar of God. All things considered, this requiem is quite different from Fauré's renowned composition. A vocalise like that tenor's in the Kyrie is much too evocative of the Byzantine musical tradition to not immediately place the work on a completely different plane. The pervasive bitterness and, for all that, the sentiment expressed in the Dies Irae (omitted by Fauré and abbreviated by Raugel for Inghelbrecht) further reinforces that impression. The most outstanding example of the musician's own genius is found perhaps in the Pie Jesu, admirably interpreted, moreover. The extraordinary simplicity of the melody, the brilliant instrumentation, the originality of the ideas - all are eclipsed by an emotion of almost childlike purity. Those who met Inghel during his final years remember a man old in years but amazingly youthful physically speaking, with an incredibly clear look in his eyes, one of absolute clarity like in this Pie Jesu. The a cappella Agnus Dei for the three soloists and the chorus poses formidable difficulties and bears the mark of a too infrequently seen mastery. The Libera Me is perhaps the most vivid part of the score. One should take the time to understand it in detail. For the In Paradisum, we were fortunate to have the voices of the Maîtrise, the children's chorus, whose youthful timbre is essential to the musical concept. It is said that Inghelbrecht was reared outside a religion, and I never had the privilege of speaking to him about this. But I am convinced that the musician who wrote this admirable conclusion could not, deep down inside, be a stranger to the notion of eternal life, of the beatific vision. For it is indeed, according to a sometimes overused theological saying, the proof of paradise lies in the desire for it.
Above the title of Vézelay, Evocations symphoniques, the composer ordered written: "A work commissioned and first played by Radiodiffusion et Télévision Française." So it is only natural to mention here what Henry Barraud said about the work when it was played in 1966 in the basilica of Vézelay in homage to Inghelbrecht:
"In this place where everything is on a grand scale - the horizon, the vaulting, the bell towers - the spirit of the man whose memory we evoke here today could find no more perfect a venue to feel so completely at ease, so fulfilled, and take on his true dimension. The only thing about Inghelbrecht that was in the least way small was his height, and that is irrelevant here. But nothing in our memory of him can deny the surging power and the nobility of these structures, the subtle balances which order their proportions, the purity of the air that circulates among them and which subsists in these outpourings of unyieldingly ardent faith which made them spring from the earth. Such was this artist, both in his personal creation and in his untiring, generous action where he forgot about himself in order to better serve the values he had embraced. The surging power was that natural verve that compelled him to act. The nobility was on his well-bred face, it was in the absence of personal interests, it was in his musical thought."
Jacques Madaule also spoke of Vézelay:
"Inghel called the house at Vézelay, where I would so much like to be with you today to dedicate the commemorative plaque, 'the house of happiness'. It was there that the great artist would go to escape the hurly-burly of life. Where he would contemplate from his window, or sitting in the garden, that vista of successive horizons like so many staves of music. He had but to fill them with the notes this holy place inspired in him. It is strange and significant that such a vast perspective should enframe such a warm and intimate tableau. Strange because of the apparent contrast, but significant, too, in the mental brackets that Inghel placed around the evanescent charm of a familiar presence and the sustained tone of those distant, immobile waves, as occurs in a piece by his beloved Debussy. What is the most quotidian and the most rare in the world - the close familiarity of two souls which mutually sustain and understand each other until it is impossible to say which one carries the other - corresponded so naturally to the expanse of a landscape that never ceased to embrace all the horizons of music. He gave it a name one day, the Oak and the Lime tree. How can our hearts not feel a twinge at the thought that, of those two trees, only one remains present today? But, I believe - and distance allows me to - that that is just a cruel illusion. It seems to me that the masterpiece that this house was, made of beautiful stones, with a garden where flowers intertwine in crazy profusion, with an ivy-covered bower where the apéritif was served; it seems to me, I was saying, that this masterpiece will never cease to be inhabited by the one who inspired it, and who rejoiced in it so deeply. That, no doubt, is the meaning which the crowd of visitors will attribute to the plaque dedicated today. Many among them certainly will remember that here on earth there is rarely such a house of happiness, just as there is rarely an artist so concerned with exactitude and perfection as Inghel. This great musician deserved his moment, somewhat longer than a symphony, of perfect harmony. How long, Germaine, did you share that harmony, which is so difficult to hold on to, with him? How many years was it? Those who caught a glimpse of it will never will be able to forget. Of course, the hill of Montmartre has as much reason as Vézelay to honor one of its sons. But haven't the two hills, so unalike, found themselves in agreement, celebrating in Inghel a link to the most secret harmonies? Is it not that, the masterpiece of the master whom we mourn?"
These two tributes, one addressed to the audience of the O.R.T.F., the other to the woman who had been the faithful companion of the great musician, deserved to be mentioned. It will be seen in reading the text the composer himself wrote when he had the Vézelay music printed, specifying that it had to be printed on the program of any future performances or be spoken, before each piece played on the radio. With characteristic concern for precision and effect, he even specified that "in the latter case, Parts III and IV must not be separated...". Punctilious he may be, but one will see that the detailed program is no more than a point of departure for the wonderfully evocative music.
"Vézelay, written in 1952, was inspired by the famous basilica and town in Burgundy. In these evocations, folklore was an important element.
I - En route, midi sur la colline (On the road, at noon on the hill) After turning off the road to Auxerre and Saulieu at Sermizelles and following the pleasant valley of the Cure river, one doesn't immediately see Vézelay. But, a few kilometers on, at a bend in the road, there suddenly appears, at three hundred meters of altitude, the magnificent basilica which makes one think of the Holy Grail and Parsifal's town high on Montsalvat. At the end of the only street, bordered with climbing roses and windowsills abloom with geraniums and fuchsias, one comes to the plaza in front of the basilica just as the bells ring out the noon hour.
II. - Légende des pierres (Legend of the stones). As one enters the basilica, the chant of monks seems still to fill the air. One peruses the captions on the columns: the vision of St Anthony, the capital sins, the golden calf, the death of the bad rich man, and many other stories told by the stones. Passing through a small door surmounted by an angel blowing a horn, one discovers a marvel: the narthex with a Byzantine Christ, surrounded by his apostles dressed in flowing robes; they seem to be performing a sacerdotal dance.
III. - Nocturne. In the silence of the beautiful summer nights, broken only by the rhythmic croaking and chirping of frogs and crickets, one thinks of the time when, behind the thick walls of the old homes, jugglers, hurdy-gurdies and itinerant troubadours, detained to distract the lord of the place, sang of the love of Rambaut for his Dame Beatrice.
IV. - Croisades et combats (Crusades and battles) Under the secular lime and walnut trees below the ramparts ring out the chants of motley troops: soldiers of St Bernard leaving for the Crusades, the companions of St Louis or of Philippe-Auguste and Richard the Lion Heart; French, English, Calvinists of Theodore de Béze and Revolutionaries of 89, the beheaders of saints. All dispute faith or liberty amid shots of their harquebus, on the doorstep of the indestructible basilica.
V. - La demeure heureuse (the happy home) Conclusion on six verses of a sonnet by Plantin,
The happiness in this world
- To have a nice house, clean and beautiful
- A garden filled with fragrant blooms,
- To have, quietly, a faithful wife,
- To be content with little, to hope for nothing from the great
- To preserve a free spirit and a strong judgement,
- Is to await, at home, ever so sweetly, for death
A long analysis of this work is impossible here - citing the sources of the sung parts, reproduce their texts, noting at which point Inghelbrecht's instrumentation, within a very descriptive and clearly evocative musical score, was surprisingly modern for a musician born in 1880. One could wonder why the last movement, for the strings only, is not yet a bestseller in chamber music, especially when one thinks of the famous finale of Mahler's third symphony. But perhaps it would be better to hope that the true music lovers will look for all that themselves as they listen to the five parts on this recording of Vézelay, with score in hand (Editions Salabert).
One last point - as we listened to La demeure heureuse during the final recording session, we were gripped in a wave of intense emotion. That part is one of the truest and, I believe, the most enduring musical translations of authentic happiness, the kind that everything within us knows is forever.
Carl de Nys