The French pianist Élizabeth Herbin has long been a champion of the music of her father, the composer René Herbin (1911-1953). This includes making recordings of his music, including one featuring Herbin’s Quartet #1 for Piano & Strings, composed in 1949.
Recently, I asked Mme. Herbin to share her views about the music of Florent Schmitt, as well as to talk about the relationship between Schmitt and her father. (Her observations below are translated from French into English.)
PLN: What are your thoughts about the music of Florent Schmitt and of his influence as a composer?
EH: I find his music very interesting and original – certainly as a pianist, but in broad terms as well. Schmitt forms an important link in a chain that connects classical music of the past with the truly modern. Unfortunately this link has been largely missing in France. For various reasons, this era was strongly boycotted for years in favor of the more revolutionary or avant-garde music.
PLN: It seems this has finally begun to change, thankfully! Do you have any works of Schmitt that you enjoy particularly?
EH: I love the two compositions I’ve recorded [the Légende and Hasards]. The piano music for four hands is also very interesting, but I haven’t played them very often.
His music is very difficult to perform, you know! Works such as the Piano Quintet.
PLN: The four-hand piano music of Schmitt is finally getting its due – with some works getting their first recordings only now, thanks to the efforts of the Invencia Piano Duo. Have you enjoyed playing these and other music of the era in recital?
EH: I love the recital because it offers very intimate and special moments of sharing – unique sensations, even flight! Chamber music concerts are a little different, but they also have their joys – and for the musicians, they provide the possibility of wonderful “exchanges.”
PLN: Did Florent Schmitt and your father, René Herbin, know each other? Were they friends?
EH: They did know each other! Schmitt, being much older than my father, was very fond of the young composer who came to him to present his work – but I don’t know the dates of those meetings.
It seems that Schmitt had something of an intemperate disposition; he could be intimidating, which made it somewhat difficult for younger musicians to have good relationships with him. This is what made his positive opinion of my father so appreciated!
(I do not remember my father — he died before my second birthday — so this information comes from my mother, who passed away recently at age 94.)
PLN: Do you know what your father’s opinion was of Florent Schmitt’s music?
EH: He liked the music of Schmitt very much, as he did the music of other composers such as Alexandre Tansman and Henri Dutilleux, who were more of his contemporaries and who also greatly admired my father’s music. In fact, Dutilleux, who is nearly 100 years old today, is the honorary president of the René Herbin Association.
PLN: Do you have any particular favorite compositions of your father’s?
EH: I find the music of my father to be very expressive – even visionary. I love and play his sonatas for violin and cello, and the quartets. In fact, in September 2013 I am planning to record one of the sonatas with the violinist Patrice Fontanarosa.
My father’s Piano Concerto, which was premiered by Vlado Perlemuter in 1956, is beautiful. The Ballade is also very impressive. His last orchestral work – Trois Reveries – hasn’t been scored yet. Orchestral scores are very expensive to produce, so we are looking for a patron!
I have sampled some of René Herbin’s music, and it’s easy to understand why Florent Schmitt held his fellow composer in such high regard.
For those who may be interested in learning more about this fine French composer, who died tragically young (at age 42) in an airplane crash which also claimed the life of the renowned violinist Jacques Thibaud, you can find additional information here.