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Avant-Garde Art \ Le Groupe des Six: Selected Works 1915-1945 [LTMCD 2533]

This 160 minute anthology features selected piano and orchestral works by Les Six composed between 1915 and 1945, including collaborations with Jean Cocteau, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Marcelle Meyer and Denise Duval. Highlights include a digitally remastered cast recording of the Surrealistic opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias, co-created by Francis Poulenc and Guillaume Apollinaire, and new recordings of Dada-related works performed by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen.

All selections were recorded between 1928 and 2007, including some personally performed or conducted by the composers themselves. The booklet includes archive images and detailed historical notes by James Hayward.

Tracklist:

Disc 1

1. L'Album des Six
2. Francis Poulenc Mouvements perpétuels
3. Arthur Honegger Trois pièces pour piano
4. Darius Milhaud Caramel mou (Shimmy)
5. Georges Auric Adieu, New York
6. Francis Poulenc Les Biches
Le Bestiaire; Huit nocturnes
Quinze improvisations pour piano
Caprice (Le Bal masqué)
7. Darius Milhaud Scaramouche
8. Germaine Tailleferre Ouverture
9. Louis Durey Le printemps au fond de la mer

Disc 2

1. Darius Milhaud La création du monde
2. Arthur Honegger Prélude, Fugue et Postlude
3. Francis Poulenc Les Mamelles de Tirésias


Liner notes:

Often referred to, but less often heard, the celebrated L'Album des Six of 1920 stands as a minor landmark in 20th Century modern music. Similarly the artful relationship between the composer members of Les Six and their sometime mentors Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau remains a cornerstone of the inter-war avant garde, and the celebrated années folles of 1920s Paris, when the city became a magnet for writers, artists and composers from around the world.

Polymath Jean Cocteau (1891-1963) had long wished to fuse music with theatre, and was profoundly influenced by early exposure to Serge Diaghilev's avant-garde Ballets Russes, who made their Paris debut in in 1909. After failing to persuade Stravinsky to collaborate, Cocteau found an ideal partner in Erik Satie (1866-1925), the eccentric musical prophet whose minimalist gymnopedies, vexations and 'furniture music' have been blamed for everything from the virus of muzak to the rigours of John Cage. The result was Parade, a riotous spectacle first staged by the Ballets Russes on 18 May 1917, with scenery and costumes by Pablo Picasso. Famously described as sur-réaliste by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Parade offered a kind of rallying point for young Parisians, deprived of gaiety and innovation by three years of war.

Just as early Futurist serata between 1909 and 1914 caused disturbances in Milan, Genoa and London, so too the gala premiere of Parade provoked predictable hostility and outrage. As the German writer Thomas Mann recorded in his novel Doktor Faustus: "In Paris, where the world's pulse beats, the path to glory is through scandal. A proper premiere must take place in such a way that during the evening most of the audience stands up several times, shouting "Outrage! Impudence! Ignominious buffoonery!', while five or six of those in the know exclaim from their box. 'How right! What wit! Divine! Superb! Bravo bravo!' For all this, no such evening has been halted before the end. Not even the most indignant would want this, since it is their pleasure to grow even more indignant instead. As for the small number of those in the know, in the eyes of all they retain a strange and inestimable prestige."

Parade saw Cocteau, Satie and Picasso pilloried by the press as boches. One particularly vitriolic review wounded Satie so deeply that he took to mailing insulting postcards to the critic in question. As a result the composer was prosecuted, and condemned to eight days in prison for 'public insults and slander.'

Cocteau and Satie were also keen to forge creative alliances with younger composers, Cocteau having issued a general appeal to 'young musicians' as early as February 1915. Under the patronage of Satie, Georges Auric (1899-1983), Louis Durey (1888-1979) and Swiss-born Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) came together as Les Nouveaux Jeunes (The New Youth) in June 1917, while the following year Cocteau produced his propagandist pamphlet Le Coq et l'Arlequin (Cockerel and Harlequin). Like Luigi Russolo's Futurist manifesto The Art of Noises in 1913, Le Coq was a collection of non-conformist opinions about music put forward by a non-musician. Wagner, Debussy and similar purveyors of 'misty impressionism' were rejected in favour of a peculiarly French form of neo-classicism, in which simplicity, economy and clarity of outline ('the line is the melody') was valued above all else. This aesthetic also embraced popular music - café chansons, fairground and circus music, parodies and comic songs, and even elements of American jazz.

Le Coq came to be regarded as a quasi-manifesto for the new musical grouping, which swelled to six with the addition of Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). The group was first labeled 'Les Six' on 16 January 1920 by Henri Collet, a columnist for arts journal Comoedia. In an article entitled Le Cinq Russes, les Six Francais et Satie, Collet declared that after the 19th Century musical group known as The Five (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov), France had gone one better by producing The Six. In reality, this snappy branding was little more than a flag of convenience, by which each of the composers involved might launch a successful career. Behind Cocteau's rhetoric stood six very different composers whose disparate styles and personalities shared little in common, and whose collective alliance as Les Six would endure for little more than a year. Indeed some of them adored strands of serious music disparaged by Cocteau. As Milhaud would later protest: 'Collet chose six names absolutely arbitrarily simply because we knew each other and we were pals and appeared on the same musical programmes, no matter if our temperaments and personalities weren't at all the same! Auric and Poulenc followed some ideas of Cocteau, Honegger followed German Romanticism, and myself Mediterranean lyricism.'

Early salon performances by members of Les Six were small, some staged in an artists' studio on Rue Huyghens, equipped with a malodorous heating system and hard wooden benches. A fashionable in-crowd flocked to hear the trend-setting new sounds, and before long these happenings also began to attract a highbrow society set. Poulenc: 'In the Montparnasse studio, under the title Lyre et palette, we became associated with the artists Picasso, Braque, Modigliani and Juan Gris, who exhibited there'. The group's only complete collaboration, the collection of pleasing piano miniatures known as the Album des Six, hardly rivaled Russolo or Antheil for avant-garde daring, and the music itself had less impact than the concept behind it. Auric's Prelude was genial and animated, Honegger and Milhaud provided a quiet central core, while the contributions of Poulenc and Tailleferre were respectively extrovert and playful.

In February 1920 Cocteau organized a 'spectacle-concert' at the Comédie des Champs Elysées, but called only upon Auric (Adieu, New York), Poulenc (Cocardes) and Milhaud (Le Boeuf sur le toit), as well as Satie, who contributed Trois petites piËces montées. In 1917 Milhaud had traveled to Brazil as secretary to the poet-diplomat Paul Claudel, and returned to France with a passion for samba rhythms and jazz. Composed in 1919, Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox On the Roof) was described by its creator as a 'cinema symphony' combining popular melodies, tangos, sambas and even a Portuguese fado. The bizarre title was borrowed from a popular Brazilian song. At the Champs-Elysées on 21 February 1921, the piece was presented as a farce performed by acrobats and clowns, the latter sporting large cardboard heads painted by Raoul Dufy. the piece also lent its name to the celebrated cabaret bar on Rue Boissy d'Anglas, an indelible emblem of the Roaring Twenties. Poulenc's contribution, Cocardes, was a breezy setting of three Cocteau poems. Six months later the show was also staged at the Coliseum in London.

Between May and June 1920 members of Les Six edited four issues of the periodical Le Coq, a continuation of Cocteau's earlier tract, but were never again fully reunited. When Cocteau and Auric were commissioned to create a new work for the Swedish Ballet, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, Auric ran short of time and sought help from his friends in Les Six. Durey feigned illness and declined to take part, thereby departing the group, and the hurried result was a musical cum ballet cum absurdist revue. Shorn of its visual trappings, it amounted to little more than a compositional prank, and was bluntly dismissed by Poulenc as 'merde'. Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower Wedding Party, but originally titled The Wedding Party Massacre) was premiered at the Thé‚tre des Champs-Elysées on 18 June 1920, but following the obligatory scandal surrounding this debut Les Mariés... fell into oblivion, the score remaining untouched and unpublished until the first full recording of the work in 1966, supervised by Milhaud. Other partial collaborations followed, notably L'éventail de Jeanne in 1927 (by Milhaud, Poulenc, Auric and others), and La guirlande de Campra (Honegger, Poulenc, Auric and Taillefaire) in 1952. However, L'Album des Six of 1920 remains the only true joint work.

Satie died in July 1925, having fallen out with all of his protègés except Milhaud, and instead promoting another (lesser) group of composers, L'Ecole d'Arcueil. Poulenc, Milhaud and Honegger alone would go on to substantiate the claim Satie made two years earlier that 'several members have entered irretrievably into the realms of Glory', and the subsequent careers of Auric, Durey and Tailleferre proved somewhat uneven. However, Cocteau continued to collaborate with several erstwhile members of Les Six. Auric, always his favourite, scored five films directed by the poet, notably Le Sang d'un poète (1930), La Belle et la Bête (1946), L'Aigle à deux têtes (1947), Orphée (1949) and Le Testament d'Orphée (1959), as well as The Wages of Fear (1952) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). He also scored ballets for Diaghilev, although his best known single work remains the waltz from the 1952 Hollywood version of Moulin Rouge. Durey's commitment to communism distanced him from the contacts and commissions necessary to sustain a commercial career, which was also punctuated by periods of silence, and eschewed theatre and orchestra in any event. Tailleferre also failed to establish herself as a major figure, lacking the panache of Poulenc, or the mischief of Milhaud, and later wrote mainly to commission. However, despite personal and financial problems she produced some pleasing neoclassical music, including opera and scores for film and television.

Claims that Les Six were linked to Paris Dada and Surrealism are somewhat tenuous. While Les Six were to some extent pranksters, their principle link with Dada was both retrospective and at one remove, after Satie hastily included Adieu, New York (Auric) and Caramel mou (Milhaud) in Tristan Tzara's riotous Soirée du Coeur à barbe in July 1923. Auric also briefly sat on a 'congress' organized by Andre Breton in 1922, but the Surrealists were dismissive of music as a creative form, and shunned Cocteau. Yet if the conceptual art credentials of Les Six are somewhat lacking, the fleeting collaboration between the protagonists retains more than mere historical interest, while the co-dependency of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol's exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia events in 1966 perhaps provide us with a valid modern comparison.

Nor were Les Six in any way Futurists. As a child, Arthur Honegger was fascinated by trains, and always made a point of inspecting the engine before boarding. In 1923 he was inspired to compose Mouvement symphonique no. 1 'Pacific', being the large engine used by heavy express trains in Europe. 231 referred to the wheel ratio. The thunderous piece now commonly referred to as Pacific 231 was premiered in Paris in May 1924, and is sometimes described as Futurist in character. True, it served to inspire some of the later 'machine music' of Socialist Realism in the USSR. However, Honegger arrived at the same destination by a very different route, for Pacific 231 was essentially architectural in character, and modelled on the chorales of Bach.

Honegger later wrote: "What I have tried to depict in Pacific is not the imitation of the noise of a locomotive but the reproduction of a visual impression and a physical sensation through musical design. This reproduction stems from concrete observations: the quiet breathing of the machine standing still; the straining at the start; the gradual gathering of speed to lyrical steadiness culmination in the powerful exuberance of a 300 ton engine rushing at 120 kilometres per hour through the night. I wanted to give the feeling of a mathematical acceleration of rhythm, while the actual motion of the piece slowed down."

James Hayward

Recording Notes:
Track (1) recorded by Jean Cocteau in 1953.
Tracks (2) to (7) performed by Andrew West (piano) in 2000. Released under licence from Hyperion Records Ltd, London.
Tracks (14) and (15) performed by Jean Cocteau with the Dan Parrish Jazz Orchestra in March 1929. The music track on The Goldren Fleece is Holidays (Dan Parrish) and on The Child Snatchers is Pourquoi J'ai Regrette (V Lowry).
Tracks (16) to (20) are dubbed from original prints of the films, and we apologise for flaws in the sound quality.

LE GROUPE DES SIX: SELECTED WORKS 1915-1945 [LTMCD 2533]

Reviews:

"Another wonderful Les Six collection from LTM, combining contemporary performances of the group members' compositions as well as far earlier documents, with some renditions dating back to the 1920s" (Boomkat, 04/2009)


Jean Cocteau's Introduction to Les Six

It seems to me that the privilege of the group called Groupe des Six was that it was a grouping not so much of an aesthetic as of a friendly nature. No shadow ever troubled our mutual understanding. This came about because our understanding was based more on feelings than on opinions. If there is a certain general tendency, it might have been toward 'life-saving' the melodic line, then somewhat drowned in the masterpiece of harmony. Each worked according to his own fancy, and nobody had to obey ukases. Six artists liked one another, and in me they found a seventh. And there's the entire doctrine of this group.

After so many years - it had its origin in 1916 - it now presents itself intact, despite the cortege of the dead who accompany it. I must salute the Groupe des Six as an example of a free bond, of a solid bloc, formed of contrasts and of a single fidelity of heart. It is only fitting, furthermore, to salute Erik Satie. He was not one of the group, but his melodic line, so pure, so discriminate, so noble, was always our school. We were all unbearable - and it was right to be, for only the spirit of contradiction saves one from routinism; and, if the role of youth were not to rear up against whatever exists (even if it admires it), it's part would be limited to obeying and to being cannon-fodder.

At that period - do not forget what period I am talking about, that we are no longer, as with Dumas's titles, merely Twenty Years After, alas but late sequels like The Vicompte de Bragelonne - at that period, I repeat, our role as contradictors was not easy, for we faced two colossi armed with charm, Debussy and Ravel, and a colossus armed with thunderbolts, Stravinsky. Stravinsky, indeed, with his Rite of Spring, was to render our little fortress almost untenable, for if the Groupe des Six was free, its doctrine, full of admiring respect for those whom it proposed to fight against, made it nonetheless a Group, and a group has willy-nilly a common tendency. Ours was to go from the drum to the flute, and from the flute to the drum, and to reshape certain French qualities whose rings, as it were, were worn, and were leaking too much oil.

The Rite of Spring set up against our young shrubs the strength of a growing tree, and we should have had to admit that we were beaten, had Stravinsky not, sometime later, come over to our methods, and had not even the influence of Erik Satie become mysteriously perceptible in his work. The young musicians of 1953 therefore owe it to themselves to contradict a new kind of counter-charm. It is understandable that they take their stand on Schonberg, and find in him an arm against works which fear his science of numbers.

The post-1914 unbearables, apart from myself, who in Le Coq et l'Arlequin spoke out for them, were then, as the present programme bears witness, Auric, Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Durey, and Germaine Tailleferre. For this group had its flower, in a woman, in a girl, a musician. Strange as it may seem (since every woman is sensitive and good at figures), although there are many composers with feminine souls - Chopin remains the best example - there is, so to speak, no real woman composer. I salute Germaine as a charming exception; and I add, now in 1953, Elsa Baréne.

Louis Durey withdrew very soon; sober and modest, he had no appetite for the musical struggle. His soul, then disposed to aid the others, was withdrawn too much into itself. Georges Auric, right up to the amazing music for my film, Le Sang d'un Poète - to use the expression of the midi - 'pitched his voice high' (parlait pointu). His pen scorched and tore the page; it has now found its signature and its speech. Poulenc was, and remains, a well-spring. This spring has become a river, but the coolness of its running water never lets one forget that it comes from the depths.

Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger brought us their powerful aid; neither of these two indefatigables ever drew back, even when ill, from any great enterprise. Darius, a rhinoceros-horn switch in his hand, whipped with it columns of Greece and the lianas of the virgin forest. It was he who brought back from Brazil the rhythms of Le Boeuf sur le Toit. This title, which seemed ridiculous and subversive, was only a Brazilian sign, no stranger than any other, such as Cheval vert or Chien qui fume. As for Arthur, he felt his genius drawn towards a less tropical lyricism, one closer to the artisan concept of cathedrals or factories. In his work, machinism alternates with the gargoyle, the retable, the spire, and the stained-glass window.

So you see, our knot was the result of a thread, or shall I say of a melodic line, so diverse that you find its meaning only in friendship, and it is in friendship first of all that this ensemble glories.

Jean Cocteau (1953)

Jean Cocteau

Detailed notes on Les Six

Mentored by Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau, the celebrated grouping of young French composers known as Les Six comprised Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Taillefaire.

Often referred to, but less often heard, the celebrated L'Album des Six of 1920 stands as a minor landmark in 20th Century modern music. Similarly, the artful relationship between the members of Les Six and their sometime mentors Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau remains a cornerstone of the inter-war avant garde, and the années folles of 1920s Paris, when the city became a magnet for writers, artists and composers from around the world.

Polymath Jean Cocteau (1891-1963) had long wished to fuse music with theatre, and was profoundly influenced by early exposure to Serge Diaghilev's avant-garde Ballets Russes, who debuted in Paris in 1909. After failing to persuade Stravinsky to collaborate, Cocteau found an ideal partner in Erik Satie (1866-1925), the eccentric musical prophet whose minimalist gymnopedies, vexations and 'furniture music' have been blamed for everything from the virus of muzak to the rigours of John Cage. The result was Parade, a riotous spectacle first staged by the Ballets Russes on 18 May 1917, with scenery and costumes by Pablo Picasso. Famously described as sur-réaliste by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Parade offered a kind of rallying point for young Parisians, deprived of gaiety and innovation by three years of war.

Both Cocteau and Satie were equally keen to forge creative alliances with younger composers, Cocteau having issued a general appeal to 'young musicians' as early as February 1915. Under the patronage of Satie, Georges Auric (1899-1983), Louis Durey (1888-1979) and Swiss-born Arthur Honegger(1892-1955) came together as Les Nouveaux Jeunes (The New Youth) in June 1917, while the following year Cocteau produced his propagandist pamphlet Le Coq et l'Arlequin (Cockerel and Harlequin). Like Luigi Russolo's Futurist manifesto The Art of Noises, in 1913, Le Coq was a collection of non-conformist opinions about music by a non-musician. Wagner, Debussy and similar purveyors of 'misty impressionism' were rejected in favour of a peculiarly French form of neoclassicism, in which simplicity, economy and clarity of outline ('the line is the melody') was valued above all else. This aesthetic also embraced popular music - Café chansons, fairground and circus music, parodies and comic songs, and even elements of American jazz.

Le Coq came to be regarded as a quasi-manifesto for the new musical grouping, which swelled to six with the addition of Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). The group was first labeled 'Les Six' on 16 January 1920 by Henri Collet, a columnist for arts journal Comoedia. In an article titled Le Cinq Russes, les Six Francais et Satie, Collet declared that after the 19th Century musical group known as The Five (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov), France had gone one better. In reality, this snappy branding of Les Six was little more than a flag of convenience, by which each of the composers involved might launch a successful career. Behind Cocteau's rhetoric stood six very different composers whose disparate styles and personalities shared little in common, and whose alliance would endure for little more than a year. Indeed some adored strands of serious music disparaged by Cocteau. As Milhaud would later protest: 'Collet chose six names absolutely arbitrarily simply because we knew each other and we were pals and appeared on the same musical programmes, no matter if our temperaments and personalities weren't at all the same! Auric and Poulenc followed some ideas of Cocteau, Honegger followed German Romanticism, and myself Mediterranean lyricism.'

Early salon performances by members of Les Six were small, some of them staged in an artists' studio on Rue Huyghens, equipped with a malodorous heating system and hard wooden benches. A fashionable in-crowd flocked to hear the trend-setting new sounds, and before too long these happenings also began to attract a highbrow society set. Poulenc: 'In the Montparnasse studio, under the title Lyre et palette, we became associated with the artists Picasso, Braque, Modigliani and Juan Gris, who exhibited there'. The group's only complete collaboration, the collection of pleasing piano miniatures known as the Album des Six, hardly rivaled Russolo or Antheil for avant-garde daring, and the music itself had less impact than the concept behind it. Auric's Prelude was genial and animated, Honegger and Milhaud provided a quiet central core, while the contributions of Poulenc and Tailleferre were respectively extrovert and playful.

In February 1920 Cocteau organized a 'spectacle-concert' at the Comédie des Champs Elysées, but called only upon Auric (Adieu, New York), Poulenc (Cocardes) and Milhaud (Le Boeuf sur le toit), as well as Satie, who contributed Trois petites piËces montées. In 1917 Milhaud had traveled to Brazil as secretary to the poet-diplomat Paul Claudel, and returned to France with a passion for samba rhythms and jazz. Composed in 1919, Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) was described by its creator as a 'cinema symphony' combining popular melodies, tangos, sambas and even a Portuguese fado. The title was appropriated from a popular Brazilian song. At the Champs-Elysées on 21 February 1921, the piece was presented as a farce performed by acrobats and clowns, the latter sporting large cardboard heads painted by Raoul Dufy. The piece also lent its name to the celebrated cabaret bar on Rue Boissy d'Anglas, an indelible emblem of the Roaring Twenties. Poulenc's contribution, Cocardes, was a breezy setting of three Cocteau poems. Six months later the show was also staged at the Coliseum in London.

Between May and June 1920 members of Les Six edited four issues of the periodical Le Coq, a continuation of Cocteau's earlier tract, but were never again fully reunited. When Cocteau and Auric were commissioned to create a new work for the Swedish Ballet, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, Auric ran short of time and sought help from his friends in Les Six. Durey feigned illness and declined to take part, thereby departing the group, and the hurried result was a musical cum ballet cum absurdist revue. Shorn of its visual trappings, it amounted to little more than a compositional prank, and was bluntly dismissed by Poulenc as 'merde'. Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower Wedding Party, originally titled The Wedding Party Massacre) was premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 18 June 1920, but following the obligatory scandal surrounding this debut Les Mariés fell into oblivion, the score remaining untouched and unpublished until the first full recording of the work in 1966, supervised by Milhaud. Other partial collaborations followed, notably L'Éventail de Jeanne in 1927 (by Milhaud, Poulenc, Auric and others), and La guirlande de Campra (Honegger, Poulenc, Auric and Taillefaire) in 1952. However, L'Album des Six of 1920 remains the only true joint work.

Satie died in July 1925, having fallen out with all of his protégés save Milhaud, and instead promoting another (lesser) group of composers, L'Ecole d'Arcueil. Poulenc, Milhaud and Honegger alone would go on to substantiate the claim Satie made two years earlier that 'several members have entered irretrievably into the realms of Glory', and the subsequent careers of Auric, Durey and Tailleferre proved uneven. However, Cocteau continued to collaborate with several erstwhile members of Les Six. Auric, always his favourite, scored five films directed by the poet, notably Le Sang d'un poête (1930), La Belle et la Bête (1946), L'Aigle ‡ deux têtes (1947), Orphée (1949) and Le Testament d'Orphée (1959), as well as The Wages of Fear (1952) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). He also scored ballets for Diaghilev, although his best known single work remains the waltz from the 1952 Hollywood version of Moulin Rouge. Durey's communism distanced him from the contacts and commissions necessary to sustain a commercial career, which was also punctuated by periods of silence. Tailleferre also failed to establish herself as a major figure, lacking the panache of Poulenc, or the mischief of Milhaud, and later wrote mainly to commission. However, despite personal and financial problems she nevertheless produced some pleasing neoclassical music, including opera as well as scores for film and television.

Claims that Les Six were linked to Paris Dada and Surrealism are somewhat tenuous. While Les Six were to some extent pranksters, their principle link with Dada was both retrospective and at one remove, after Satie hastily included Adieu, New York (Auric) and Caramel mou (Milhaud) in Tristan Tzara's riotous Soirée du Coeur à barbe at the Théâtre Michel on 6 July 1923. Auric also briefly sat on a 'congress' organized by Andre Breton in 1922, but the Surrealists were dismissive of music as a creative form, and always shunned Cocteau. Yet if the pure art credentials of Les Six are somewhat lacking, the fleeting collaboration between the protagonists retains more than mere historical interest, while the co-dependency of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia events in 1966 may provide us with a valid modern comparison.

Track-by-track notes:

disc one

1-6. L'Album des Six (11.03)
(1) Georges Auric Prélude (Assez vite); (2) Louis Durey Romance sans paroles Op 21 (Andante con moto); (3) Arthur Honegger Sarabande (Sostenuto); (4) Darius Milhaud Mazurka (1914) (Doucement); (5) Francis Poulenc Valse (Assez vif); (6) Germaine Tailleferre Pastorale (Enjoué). Originally published in 1920. Performed by Andrew West, piano. Recorded at the Henry Wood Hall, London, 20-22 April 2000. Recording producer: Mark Brown. Recording engineer: Tony Faulkner. Released under licence from Hyperion Records Ltd, London.

7-9. Mouvements perpétuels (5.35)
Cocteau once caricatured Poulenc (with his approval) as a pig. Trois mouvements perpétuels is one of Poulenc's best-known piano pieces, written in Paris in 1918 while the composer undertook national service as a typist at the Ministry of Aviation. This cycle of three pleasant 'ultra-easy' miniatures combines flippant Parisian urbanity with provincial simplicity, and was popularized by his mentor Ricardo Vines. The piece also formed part of the repertoire of Nelly Van Doesburg, described below; the first part was also used by Alfred Hitchcock in the film Rope (1948). Performed by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen, piano. Recorded in 1999 at Bloomline Coryphée.

10-12. Trois pièces pour piano (8.16)
A Swiss national born in France, Honegger studied in Zürich and Paris. After graduating from the Paris Conservatoire, Honegger concentrated on composition. His early Trois pièces pour piano (1915-19) already reflected his eclectic tastes as a composer, commencing with a dark, dissonant Prélude, followed by a graceful Hommage à Ravel, and closing with the harsh, atonal Danse, based on a single chord. The suite formed part of the avant-garde piano repertoire of Nelly (aka Petro) Van Doesburg, wife of De Stijl founder Theo Van Doesburg, and performed at various De Stijl and Dada events between 1923 and 1929. Indeed the couple lived in Paris for several months in 1923, where Nelly frequently visited Honegger, performing his compositions as well as collecting music by other members of Les Six, including Auric, Milhaud and Poulenc. However, at this time their pianist of choice remained Marcelle Meyer (1897-1958), the young virtuoso also favoured by Satie. Performed by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen, piano. Recording information as tracks 1.7-9

13. Caramel mou (Shimmy) (3.13)
14. Adieu, New York (6.22)
On 24 May 1921, Erik Satie's absurdist 'lyric comedy' Le Piège de Méduse was given a belated public premiere at the Théâtre Michel. The event was organized by Pierre Bertin, husband of the pianist Marcelle Meyer, and also included amiable fox-trots by two members of Les Six. Darius Milhaud contributed Caramel mou (Soft Caramel), a shimmy dedicated to his friend Georges Auric, while Auric himself provided incidental music for a one-act play by Raymond Radiguet. This may well have been the same fox-trot published as Adieu, New York, composed by Auric between 1919 and 1920 and dedicated to Jean Cocteau. Milhaud later recalled of this Bertin soirée: 'Shows of this kind, so variegated in character, were excellent training for us, enabling us to experiment in all sorts of techniques and to strive constantly after new forms of expression.' Both tracks performed by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen, piano, and recorded in 2007 for LTM Recordings.

15. Les Biches (5.19)
In 1923 Poulenc completed Les Biches for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The title contains several nuances in French, but translates best as The Does or The Darlings, although when performed in London in the 1930s a more banal title was chosen: The House Party. There was, however, a risqué element to Les Biches, Poulenc describing his work as a 'contemporary drawing room party suffused with an atmosphere of wantonness, which you sense if you are corrupted, but of which an innocent-minded girl would not be conscious'. The ballet was premiered at the Théâtre de Monte Carlo on 6 January 1924 and became Poulenc's first great success, after which he wrote to a friend: 'The first night was, if I may say so, a triumph. They had to give eight curtain calls, something that is extremely rare for Monte Carlo. The scenery, the curtain, the costumes are completely successful as for the music, although it's immodest to talk to you about it, I won't hide from you the fact that I'm very pleased with my orchestration. It's very striking and I think the colouring very personal. Auric, who is difficult on this point, approves wholeheartedly Satie was here a few days for his recitatives in Le Medécin malgré lui. I think he was very pleased if I can judge from his excellent mood during his short stay'. However, Les Biches would trigger a rift between Poulenc and Satie. While the light, carefree music has become well-known as an orchestral score, the two extracts featured here - No. 2 Rondeau and No. 3 Adagietto - were performed by Poulenc on piano in 1928. First issued on Columbia D 15094, LX 488.

16. Le Bestiaire (3.53)
Composed in 1919 when Poulenc was just 20, Le Bestiaire (Book of Beasts) or Cortège d'Orphée is a Satie-esque setting of six quatrains by Apollinaire, the abbreviated menagerie comprising: (a) Le dromadaire (camel); (b) Le chèvre de Thibet (Tibetan goat); (c) La sauterelle (grasshopper); (d) Le dauphin (dolphin); (e) L'écrevisse (crayfish); (f) La carpe (carp). Coincidently Louis Durey was also working on a setting of all 26 poems. Cocteau wrote of the difference between the two versions: 'Where Poulenc frolics on puppy paws, Durey treads with the step of a doe. Both are wholly natural. That is why one appreciates them with the same enjoyment'. In 1920 Poulenc recycled elements of La carpe for his contribution to Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel. Recorded in 1928, and performed by Poulenc with Claire Croiza, mezzo-soprano. First issued on Columbia D 15041, WLX 328/9.

17. Huit nocturnes (5.59)
Written by Poulenc between 1929 and 1938, the composer here performs the first three of his eight Nocturnes: (a) No. 1 in C major; (b) No 2 in A major; (c) No. 3 in C minor. All are gentle, melodic night scenes, the second to be played lightly 'in a halo of pedals'. Recorded in 1934, performed by Francis Poulenc, piano. First issued on Columbia LF 142, CL 5101/2.

18. Quinze improvisations pour piano (5.29)
Further examples of Poulenc's exceptional gift for melody. The four extracts featured here are: (a) No. 5 in A minor; (b) No. 10 in F minor; (c) No. 9 in D major; (d) in A flat major. Recorded in 1934, performed by Francis Poulenc, piano. First issued on Columbia LF 143, CL 5103/4.

19. Caprice Pour Piano (Le Bal masqué) (3.39)
Poulenc wrote his 'profane cantata' Le Bal masqué in 1931, a carnival in sound scored for chamber orchestra with the piano centre stage, and a surreal text by Max Jacob. This is a piano version of the extrovert finale, reworked and performed by Poulenc himself, who wrote: 'It is 100 per cent Poulenc. If a lady in Kamachatka wrote to ask me what I was like, I'd send her the sketch Cocteau did of me at the piano, my portrait by Bérard, Le Bal masqué and the Motets pour un temps de penitence. I think she'd have a very clear idea of the Janus-Poulenc'. The poet, writer and painter Max Jacob (1876-1944) was an important link between the symbolists and surrealists; following his arrest by the Gestapo he died in the transportation camp at Drancy. Recorded in 1932, performed by Francis Poulenc, piano. First issued on Columbia LFX 266, WLX 1614.

20. Scaramouche (8.21)
Dating from 1938, this recording was performed by Milhaud himself together with Marcelle Meyer, who had commissioned the suite the previous year together with Ida Jankelevitch. Milhaud based the three movements (Vif, Modéré and Brazileira) on themes already used to score several plays, including Moliere's Le Médecin volant, and thought it had no commercial potential. To his great surprise, the suite became exceedingly popular, blending truculence and tenderness, beguiling rhythm and vivid colour. Recorded December 1938, from HMV DB 5086-2LA.2855/6.

21. Ouverture (4.19)
Satie was so impressed with Germaine Tailleferre's Jeux de plein air that he christened her his 'musical daughter'. Written in 1932, her Ouverture for orchestra accords closely with the compositions generally associated with Les Six, and involves a contrast between a principal idea modelled on the dance movements of minor 18th Century composers, and subsidiary (lyrical) material of more recent origin. Recording credits as track 1.22

22. Le printemps au fond de la mer (6.35)
The eldest of Les Six, Durey wrote this song for voice and orchestra early in 1920, with words by Jean Cocteau. It is sung here by the chic soprano Denise Duval, also a favourite of Poulenc. Recorded at the Maison de la Mutualité (Paris) on 6-10 November 1953 by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, conducted by Georges Tzipine. Produced by René Challon. LP matrix numbers XLX 226-227; 228-229

disc two

1. La Création du monde (14.35)
Milhaud's trips to Brazil and New York inspired both Le Boeuf sur le toit and La Création du monde, the latter a ballet nègre created for the édois of Rolf de Maré. The premiere took place on 25 October 1923 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, with scenario by Blaise Cendrars, choregraphy by Jean Borlin, and primitif costumes and scenery by the Cubist painter and aesthetician Fernand Léger. Of the jazz and African elements at the centre of the piece, Milhaud wrote in My Happy Life (1987): 'At last in La Création du monde I had the opportunity I had been waiting for to use those elements of jazz that I had studied so seriously. I adopted the same orchestra as used in Harlem, 17 solo instruments, and I made wholesale use of the jazz style to convery a purely classical feeling... Léger's contribution helped to make it an unforgettable spectacle. The critics decreed that my music was frivolous and more suitable for a restaurant or a dance hall than for the concert hall. Ten years later these same critics were discussing the philosophy of jazz and learnedly demonstrating that La Création du monde was my finest work.' Recorded in 1932, ensemble conducted by Milhaud. First issued on Columbia LFX 251/2.

2. Prélude, Fugue et Postlude (12.35)
Three pieces by Honegger arranged from Amphion, a ballet-melodrama based on words by Paul Valéry, and produced by Ida Rubenstein at the Paris Opéra in June 1931. Choreography was by Léonide Massine (formerly of the Ballets Russes), and décor by Alexandre Benois. However after only a few performances the piece was neglected until 1948, when this powerful triptych was abstracted for concert use. Recording credits as track 1.22

3. Les Mamelles de Tirésias (51.38)
A surrealistic two act opéra bouffe by Poulenc, The Breasts of Tirésias (or Teats of Tirésias) is based on the verse-drama of the same title by Guillaume Apollinaire, written as early as 1903 but first performed in 1917. Despite the chronology, Apollinaire described the play as a dramé surrealiste, with action including a pair of flyaway breasts, cross-dressing and the manufacture of 40,000 babies. The setting by Poulenc premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 June 1947 and was an immediate success. Poulenc first considered adapting the play in the 1930s, and began composition in 1939, finishing five years later. He altered the setting of the opera from the real African island of Zanzibar to an imaginary town called Zanzibar near Monte Carlo on the French Riviera. Performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra Comique under the direction of André Cluytens. Chorus master: Henri Jamin. Introduction by Francis Poulenc. Cast: Denise Duval, Marguerite Legouhy, Jean Giraudeau, Emile Rousseau, Robert Jeantet, Julien Thirache, Leprin, Serge Rallier, Jacques Hivert, Gilbert Jullia. Recorded in 1953.

James Nice