Pierné, Gabriel

Impressions de “Music-Hall”, ballet suite for orchestra and suite for piano solo


Gabriel Pierné –Impressions de “Music-Hall”. Ballet Suite & Suite for Piano

(b. Metz, Loraine, 16 August 1863 – d. Ploujean, Finistère, 17 July 1937)

Chorus Girls (French Blues) p.1
L‘Èxcentrique p.28
Le Numéro Espagnol p.49
Clowns Musicaux p.66


Preface (Roderick L. Sharpe, 2018)
The Impressions de Music Hall suite comes towards the end of Pierné’s long and distinguished career – a composer and executant at the height of his powers. It demonstrates the composer’s catholic tastes and capitalizes on the breadth and fluency of his creative experience. Although he was influenced by Satie, Chabrier, Milhaud, and Stravinsky in borrowing musical elements from popular entertainment such as parody, burlesque, music-hall, ragtime, jazz, circus, and Spanish influences, his music remains rooted in the mainstream French tradition inherited from his teachers, Thomas, Franck, Massenet, and Saint-Saens, making it a little more refined, perhaps, than that of his younger contemporaries. That he loved to write for the ballet and held a special affection for the music-hall and other forms of popular entertainment is certain. The present score, originally conceived as a piano suite in the summer of 1925, was transcribed for orchestra a year later. It was then performed as a ballet score (à la Americaine), and transcribed yet again in a version for violin and piano in collaboration with the eminent virtuoso Samuel Dushkin.

The orchestral suite in its present form includes a section that derives from the ballet not in the original piano version, implying that the score was further modified for the run of performances at the Opéra Garnier in 1927. The raucous curtain music (Rideau), scored for winds and percussion, appears at the end of the first movement (p. 22), with a note by the composer suggesting it could be omitted in concert performance, or played first if desired. As it stands, the score suggests that the first movement, Chorus Girls – (French Blues), served as an orchestral prelude to the ballet, though this is doubtful as it is hard to imagine that an opportunity for the portrayal of such ladies in their sultriest and most seductive mode could have been passed up. Suffice it to say that, with choreography by Nijinska, Carlotta Zambelli, the leading ballerina of the most conservative of the Parisian dance companies created quite a stir dancing a cakewalk!

The opportunity of comparing the solo piano and instrumental versions of the suite helps to illuminate Pierné’s mastery of orchestration. This is an especially subtle score. Apart from certain gimmicks such as the use of car horns (in l’Excentrique) and of plectra for the pizzicato passages (in Les Espagnols), the work as a whole displays a control of the overall sound canvass that is busy and transparent, and peppered with delicate and imaginative strokes of orchestral color. One can easily follow the strands of melody as they pass from one instrument or section to another. Recurring motifs, particularly a short chromatic descending figure, help bind movements together. Formally, the composer is sufficient master of his craft that each movement is structurally cohesive but never trite. To achieve his effects, he calls for a large orchestra with a full complement of brass and a particularly wide array of percussion instruments, (these are heard most notably at the start of the Rideau (I bis) movement). His large forces are seldom the occasion for an epic sound à la Mahler, Strauss, or even La Mer of Debussy. The effect is closer to Ravel of, say, La Mere l’Oye. The English conductor, Sir Adrian Boult, who collaborated with Pierné during WWI, remarked on his authoritative and straightforward method of working with orchestras. One senses this in the numerous precise instructions to conductor and players that litter this score. For instance, at one place he asks the muted trumpet player to play “a little brassy and comic.”

The first movement, Chorus Girls, opens with a descending chromatic motif before settling into a bluesy foxtrot. The theatre ambience is enhanced by the scoring for divided oboes and violas, paired with solo trumpet. It is immediately obvious that these girls are not intending to dance a Can-Can, but something much more slinky and seductive. A skipping motif provides contrast before the initial theme repeats with varied scoring. A change of key (G major) strikes up a more forceful mood but a couple of raucous outbursts quell the music’s spirit, resulting in a more subdued iteration of the main theme, complemented by a lyrical counter melody from the cellos. The opening section returns with subtle decoration, especially touches like the strings’ col legno effect….

Read full preface > HERE

Score No.



Repertoire Explorer




210 x 297 mm






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