April 19, Birthday of Germaine Tailleferre (1892 – 1983)

If the name, Germaine Tailleferre, sounds familiar, it’s because she was hailed by Jean Cocteau as being one of “Les Six” (the six), all 20th century composers active in Paris between the two World Wars. The others were:  Georges Auric (1899–1983), Louis Durey (1888–1979), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud(1892–1974), and  Francis Poulenc (1899–1963).  

She was born Germaine Taillefesse (ass cutter) but changed her name to Tailleferre (iron cutter) because her father refused to pay for her studies at the Paris Conservatory where she won prizes for Solfège and later piano playing. There she met most of the composers in The Six and palled around with them and other painters, writers, and poets in Montmartre and Montparnasse between the wars.

The Six didn’t collaborate much and didn’t collaborate much, nor did they copy each other or try to outdo one another like Picasso–a contemporary–did with Matisse or Braque. She was friends with and encouraged and probably influenced most by Ravel, which I hear a lot of in her music.

She married an American, cartoonist Ralph Barton, and moved to Manhattan in 1925. The marriage ended after they returned to France and Barton, a manic-depressive, committed suicide.

In 1942, she fled France, first to Spain, then Portugal, and finally Philadelphia. Along the way, she had to abandon unpublished manuscripts of a substantial number compositions. After the war, she returned to France where she flourished composing up to her death.

Youtube has about 50 pieces of her music. You really should poke around and listen.

Concertino pour harpe et piano (1927)
Pastorale (1919)
Rêverie (1964)
Sonata per 2 pianoforti (1974)
Image (1918)
Partita Pour Piano (1957)
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Darius Milhaud: Scaramouche

I just heard this piece performed by two teenagers on a radio program called “From The Top.”  The melody is not new to me, but I always assumed it was by Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” or something by Louis Gottschalk, maybe the first American in Paris.

Anyway, I was happy to hear that it was Darius Milhaud, who was one of “The Six,” that is six 20th Century composers active in Paris early last century.  They included, Georges Auric (1899–1983), Louis Durey (1888–1979), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983).

This is fun, uplifting music and if you explore more of Milhaud, whom I’ve written about before, I’m sure you’ll be enchanted by him as well.

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