View our radio program essays dating from 2002.
The first Saturday of each month from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 FM. Hosted by Kile Smith, former Curator of the Fleisher Collection, and Jack Moore, Program Director of WRTI. Encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. on WRTI-HD2
In Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, we uncover the unknown, rediscover the little-known, and take a fresh look at some of the remarkable treasures housed in the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, at the Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world.
The music of Charles Koechlin is not performed much; that much is certain. We may even call it neglected. While there are logical reasons his work may have been neglected, we also can’t fully understand why.
The French composer worked at a time when the composers of every European country were creating, in one way or another, music particular to their countries. There has always been regional colors in music—the Spanish Renaissance is tinted differently from the Italian—but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries nationalism was bubbling up all over Europe. It was fueled by political realities, by the re-discovery of folk cultures, and by Romanticism, which reigned in art, literature, and philosophy.
In France, the standard-bearers of a new French sound were Debussy, Ravel, and then the new generation who followed the modernism of Satie. Where did that leave Koechlin?
His music is not the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. It has been called impressionistic, and while it is lovely, but it is darker and cooler. Sometimes it is Bach-like in the inner workings of its voices. It is also modernist, but not the French modern of his time. A German piquancy of atonality runs through Koechlin’s music.
Its being hard to place may explain why it isn’t performed so much. But here’s where we may not understand the neglect of the music of Charles Koechlin: It is downright gorgeous.
Rudyard Kipling wrote his series of The Jungle Book stories in the 1890s, and it grabbed the attention of Koechlin. Today we’ll hear three of his stand-alone Jungle Book works, in reverse order of their completion, although he worked on them over decades. The Law of the Jungle does not suggest the me-first nihilism it has come to mean now. For Kipling and Koechlin, it is Baloo the Bear laying down the governing precepts of civilization to Mowgli the man-cub. It is Confucius rather than Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” A holy man’s mysticism and sacrifice informs The Meditation of Purun Bhagat. Spring Running, the longest, is in four sections: Spring in the Forest, Mowgli, The Running, and (when Mowgli leaves the jungle) Night.
These Jungle Book selections and all of Koechlin’s music show a predilection for exquisite orchestration and concision—two qualities of French music, indeed.
You can hear Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM Philadelphia, 97.7 Reading, 97.1 Allentown, WJAZ 91.7 Harrisburg, 90.7 York, WRTL 90.7 Lancaster Ephrata Lebanon, WRTY 91.1 Mount Pocono, 94.9 Wilkes-Barre, 99.1 Pottsville, 106.1 Scranton, WRTQ 91.3 Ocean City, WRTX 91.7 Dover, and on the web at www.wrti.org.