Franck's Prelude, Chorale & Fugue revisited
Original disc label (BL shelf mark 9CL0043737-9CL0043738)
A previous blog on murdered Chicago pianist Marion Roberts garnered a considerable amount of attention. One reader supplied information from a local Chicago paper stating that Roberts was a composer and also a pupil of none other than the great pianist Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938). She performed his works, opening one recital in 1925 with Godowskyâ€™s recently published transcription of Bachâ€™s Cello Suite in C minor.
In order to put Robertsâ€™ recording of the Prelude Chorale and Fugue by Cesar Franck into context I listened to contemporary recordings of the work. I was familiar with those by Alfred Cortot, Blanche Selva and Marcel Maas but had not heard the one by Yvonne LÃ©vy. While musically not in the same class as the Roberts recording, LÃ©vyâ€™s is still of interest and makes for fascinating comparative listening. However, the comparisons donâ€™t end there â€“ both were young women whose only solo piano recording was of the Franck work and it is possible that both were murdered, in LÃ©vyâ€™s case by the Nazis. Extensive research has not been able to confirm this as there were a number of people with the same name born around the same time in France.
There is very little information on LÃ©vy and she does not appear in the standard reference works. Yvonne-Elisabeth LÃ©vy was born in Paris on 24th July 1894. From the age of fourteen she studied at the Paris Conservatoire in the preparatory class of Madame ChÃ©nÃ© winning a troisiÃ¨me prix medal in 1908. The following year she gained a premier prix. ChÃ©nÃ©, was a respected teacher of young students whose pupils include Blanche Selva, Marguerite Long and Jean Doyen.
Towards the end of 1911 LÃ©vy was accepted into the piano class of one of the most famous professors at the Conservatoire, Isidor Philipp, gaining a deuxiÃ¨me prix in 1914 and a premiÃ¨re prix the following year.
RÃ©sultais des concours de piano (femmes) Comoedia 28th June 1914
During the 1920s and 1930s she performed with violinist Edmond Bastide and the Bastide Quartet primarily programming modern French works. At the Theatre Marigny in 1921 the Bastide Quartet performed the String Quartet by Ravel during the Festival de musique moderne franÃ§aise. Later LÃ©vy joined them in the Quintet in F minor by Franck and accompanied Bastide in the Violin Sonata by Lekeu leading a critic to describe her as an â€˜excellente pianisteâ€™. In 1932 they broadcast the Franck Quintet but disappear from view around 1938. An Yvonne LÃ©vy died in Paris in 1977 and one hopes it is the same person. If any reader has information on LÃ©vy the pianist, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
The only other recording LÃ©vy made, for the same label, was of the Piano Quartet in A major Op. 30 by Chausson with the Bastide Quartet.
Nick Morgan, who had donated the Roberts recording to the British Library, also donated the LÃ©vy recording which was published on the unusual Tri-Ergon label. He supplies some information on the label here.
Shortly before the end of World War I, three German engineers invented a â€˜sound on filmâ€™ system. Typically, early talkies used â€˜sound on discâ€™ synchronised with the images. In the German system, sound waves were captured by an electrostatic â€˜Kathodophonâ€™, converted by a photoelectric transducer and written onto the film itself. Baptised â€˜Tri-Ergonâ€™ (â€˜Work of Threeâ€™), the system had a difficult birth amidst post-War inflation. The inventors found German and Swiss backers to launch the system in Europe, where it enjoyed some success. They also sold rights to an American entrepreneur, who waged prolonged commercial and courtroom campaigns against big US concerns such as Paramount and MGM â€“ and lost.
Reportedly devised as a further money-spinner, â€˜Tri-Ergon Photo-Electro-Recordsâ€™ were made and sold in several European countries. Outwardly conventional, these 78s were mastered by transferring Tri-Ergon film strips onto wax at one hundredth speed, taking four hours per side. The quality was variable, but an ambitious catalogue was built up, mainly popular music plus a little folk, classical and speech. In France, Tri-Ergonâ€™s talkie technology was unveiled in 1929, and adopted almost immediately by the great director RenÃ© Clair. But the first locally recorded Tri-Ergon discs were apparently released only in 1932. Only two classical French Tri-Ergon sets are known, both with pianist Yvonne LÃ©vy â€“ a fascinating if flawed echo from an earlier age of technological innovation, competition and globalisation.
LÃ©vyâ€™s recording of the Franck Prelude, Chorale & Fugue can be heard here.