The French musical world had a large number of notable women composers in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, as Florence Launay has pointed out. Augusta Holmès, Cécile Chaminade, and Lili Boulanger come to mind in particular. Now a detailed study has brought to light one more: Marie Jaëll (1846-1925). If her name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Jaëll was a prominent pianist and member of the Liszt circle. Her books on piano technique are admired even today. But it turns out that she was also an extremely interesting composer.
Evidence of this is presented in a 3-CD album (published with a small hardcover book, bi-lingual in French and English) produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, which is located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. The CDs offer the two piano concertos, the cello concerto, and numerous tightly constructed and surprisingly experimental-sounding pieces for piano solo. Jaëll’s literary leanings are evident in the titles of the solo pieces (many refer to Dante’s Divine Comedy) and in a fascinating song cycle, La légende des ours (The Legend of the Bears), on poems of her own about a volcanic and finally brutal love affair. The CD set is reviewed at NewYorkArts.net by Ralph P. Locke (professor emeritus at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and Research Affiliate at the University of Maryland). Liszt called Marie Jaëll a “brave, ambitious, and subtle composer.” The new 3-CD set, as Locke’s review explains, helps us see what in particular Liszt probably appreciated in her remarkable works. In the upcoming International Liszt Symposium, Locke will be discussing Jaëll, and mentioning in particular some of her works that showed a modern stylistic direction.
The elegant CD/book set is available here (as well as on Amazon.)