French Pianism

On Sunday, June 1, 2008, AMSF welcomed summer with a fascinating lecture and masterclass that explored French piano music. The presentation was given by Dr. Charles Timbrell, Professor of Music at Howard University, and author of French Pianism (Amadeus Press, 1999). Dr. Timbrell's lecture explored French efforts to achieve and maintain a French musical identity--efforts which involved eliminating Germanic overtones and emphasizing influences from French pianism and composition. Eric Satie explained the process as taking the sauerkraut out of French music.

While Dr. Timbrell's presentation covered the "French Style" from approximately 1800 to 1950, he focused on French Composers of the 20th Century, contrasting them with those whose backgrounds were more European (i.e., Germanic). He discussed their compositions and gave attendees a host of ideas for French repertoire. As examples of French composition and pianistic style, Dr. Timbrell performed works by Faure and Debussy.

Following Dr. Timbrell's lecture and performance, there was a masterclass. Three AMSF members performed works by French Composers, and Dr. Timbrell directed his remarks to areas of performance that related to the inherent French nature of the pieces, listed below, that were played.

  • Novelette No. 1 in C Major, by Francis Poulenc, performed by Carol Barth
  • La Cathedral Engloutie, by Claude Debussy, performed by Anne Williams
  • Sonatine, I Modere, by Maurice Ravel, performed by Pat Shea

Dr. Timbrell stressed that 20th century French composers were very precise in their indications of how a work is to be performed, from metronome markings to dynamic changes . . . and this means there should be NO ritards unless one is indicated (as opposed to the practice of German Sentimentalism).