Nearly every year, we are treated to world premiere recordings of more Schmitt works. The most recent examples are the complete works for piano duo and duet as recorded by the Invencia Piano Duo … the children’s ballet Le petit elfe Ferme-l’oeil with Jacques Mercier and the Lorraine National Orchestra … and the Introït, récit et congé for cello and orchestra featuring soloist Henri Demarquette.
But back in the LP era, there were also a number of fine recordings made of Schmitt’s music — although many of them had only limited distribution beyond the borders of Schmitt’s native land. In too many cases the recordings didn’t stay in the catalogue for long, either.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s when I was seeking out recorded repertoire beyond Schmitt’s most famous work, La Tragédie de Salomé, I found it nearly impossible to acquire these recordings.
But then I was fortunate to become acquainted with a fellow classical music lover who lived in France, and we traded records: He passed along out-of-print French recordings of Schmitt’s music while I sent him RCA Camden LPs featuring symphonic recordings with America’s major orchestras that had been released originally on Victor 78-rpm sets in the 1940s. I still own those early Schmitt LPs, since most of the material never resurfaced on CD.
… Until recently, that is. And for that, we have a gentleman named Alain Deguernel and his family-operated boutique enterprise called Forgotten Records to thank.
Mr. Deguernel is a retired professor of Spanish literature. He is also an avid collector of classical music and recordings, in addition to playing the piano avocationally. He is described by music blogger Juliette Liu as “a soft-spoken, knowledgeable and extremely cultured gentleman — a species that is altogether rare nowadays.”
Over the span of a decade, Mr. Deguernel has taken hard-to-find recorded material featuring mainly French performers, and lovingly transferred these performances from mint-condition LPs to CDs. In this endeavor, he is assisted by his son, an IT engineer, and his wife.
Everything is “made to order” and shipped in the form of physical CDs (downloads are not offered). Having purchased more than a dozen CDs from Forgotten Records, I can personally attest to the precision and care that have gone into these releases – from the quality of the audio transfers to the design of the CD artwork and the inclusion of relevant online links to further information about the featured composers and performers.
Impressively, the Forgotten Records catalogue now numbers more than 1,500 CDs, generously filled (many containing more than 70 minutes of music) and priced affordably.
Most of the earlier CDs released by Forgotten Records were of commercial recordings from the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, Mr. Deguernel has also been transferring rare compositions and performances from radio broadcasts – some of them the world premieres of contemporary French compositions.
Among the trove of Forgotten Records releases are eight CDs that contain the music of Florent Schmitt. They include:
Hasards, Op. 96 (1939), performed by pianist Monique Mercier and the Pasquier Trio — the same ensemble that premiered the work in 1943 (radio broadcast performance from May 30, 1959). Forgotten Records FR 922, coupled with works by Jean Rivier and Arnold Schönberg.
Quartet for Strings, Op. 112, (1947), performed by the Champeil Quartet (recorded by EMI/Pathé-Marconi on December 7, 1956 at Maison de la Mutualité, Paris). Forgotten Records FR 323, coupled with Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet.
Une Semaine du petit elfe Ferme-l’oeil, Op. 58 (1912) and Trois rapsodies, Op. 53 (1903-4), performed by duo-pianists Robert & Gaby Casadesus (recorded in Paris by Columbia Records in June 1956). Forgotten Records FR 849, coupled with works by César Franck and Vincent d’Indy.
Sonate libre en deux parties enchaînées, Op. 68 (1919), performed by violinist Jean Fournier and pianist Ginette Doyen (recorded by Véga in 1959). Forgotten Records FR 345, coupled with the two Violin Sonatas of Gabriel Fauré.
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 (1907/10), performed by Pierre Dervaux and the Orchestre du Théatre National de l’Opéra de Paris (recorded by EMI in the presence of the composer on October 16, 1957 at Maison de la Mutualité, Paris). Forgotten Records FR 410, coupled with La Péri by Paul Dukas.
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 (1907/10), performed by Pierre Dervaux and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (radio broadcast performance from May 20, 1958). Forgotten Records FR 918, coupled with works by Emmanuel Chabrier, Achille-Claude Debussy, Édouard Lalo and Maurice Ravel.
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 (1907/10), performed by Pedro de Freitas Branco and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (radio broadcast performance from February 21, 1955). Forgotten Records FR 928, coupled with works by Louis Aubert and Guy Ropartz.
Trois Dances, Op. 86 (1935), performed by pianist Françoise Gobet (recorded by Véga in 1958). Forgotten Records FR 541, coupled with works by Georges Auric, Claude Delvincourt, André Jolivet and Jean Rivier.
In a recent note to me, Mr. Deguernel wrote, “I always try to find Schmitt recordings. It is not so easy!”
That may well be true … but we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Deguernel for his efforts on behalf of the music of Florent Schmitt and many other composers and performances — recordings that wouldn’t be available today were it not for the work he is doing with Forgotten Records.
In the future, I am hopeful that he will be successful in unearthing more “forgotten” Schmitt treasures – such as several French Radio broadcast performances of Schmitt’s monumental Psaume XLVII: Fine renditions exist featuring conductors Igor Markevitch (1953) and Désiré Inghelbrecht (1958), ably supported by famed soprano soloists Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Régine Crespin.
Even better, releasing Charles Munch’s stunning 1958 world premiere performance of Florent Schmitt’s Symphony No. 2, conducted in Strasbourg in the presence of the composer just a few months before his death, would be an important historical as well as musical document to bring to the public. (This broadcast performance appeared very briefly in the early years of CD – and was difficult to obtain even then.)
For those who are interested in exploring the Forgotten Records catalogue, you can do so here. Orders can be placed directly from the website, and the company ships worldwide. (Forewarning: Plan to budget at least an hour’s time to browse through the voluminous offerings!)
Update (6/26/14): Forgotten Records has now released its ninth CD containing music of Florent Schmitt. In this case, the entire CD (Forgotten Records FR 972) is devoted to two important works.
The main selection is the complete ballet music to Oriane et le Prince d’Amour, Op. 83, composed in 1932-33 and first produced at the Paris Opéra in 1938. The complete score of this piece has never been commercially recorded; this particular performance emanates from a 1956 French National Radio broadcast featuring Pierre Dervaux conducting the the Orchestre National de l’ORTF and the ORTF Chorus, along with tenor soloist Pierre Peyron.
Also on this generously timed CD is Florent Schmitt’s penultimate work, the Symphony No. 2, Op. 137, written in 1957 near the end of the composer’s life. That performance is a live broadcast dating from 1960, masterfully interpreted by Jean Martinon who conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de l’ORTF.
We owe a particular debt of gratitude to Forgotten Records for releasing the complete Oriane ballet — the first time that music lovers have ever had the opportunity to obtain this music on recordings.
Update (11/16/15): A tenth CD from Forgotten Records that contains music of Florent Schmitt has just been released. It is a disk (Forgotten Records FR 1136) featuring pieces for wind ensemble recorded by the French record label Ducretet-Thomson in 1954 and 1956.
Two of Schmitt’s most famous wind works headline the recording: Dionysiaques, Op. 62 and “Le Camp de Pompée,” a fanfare for brass and percussion extracted from the first suite from Antoine et Cléopâtre, Op. 69, originally composed as incidental music to André Gide’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. The performances are by Musique des Equipages de la Flotte de Toulon, conducted by Jean Maillot. Also on the CD are works for wind ensemble by Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud.
Update (1/14/17): Yet another CD from Forgotten Records that features the music of Florent Schmitt has now been released. It is a disk (Forgotten Records FR 37LD) of newly recorded selections (2016) that features French organ music performed by Guillaume Le Dréau, principal organist at Rennes Cathedral.
Schmitt’s Marche nuptiale, Op. 108 is included, along with organ works by Claude Delvincourt, Jean Roger-Ducasse and Maurice Emmanuel. In addition, Le Dréau’s own organ transcriptions of orchestral works by Gabriel Fauré (Pénélope) and Henri Rabaud (La Procession nocturne) are on the recording.
Update (7/13/17): The latest release featuring the music of Florent Schmitt now makes a dozen such recordings in the Forgotten Records catalogue. It is a disk (Forgotten Records FR 1346) that showcases the artistry of the conductor Albert Wolff in recordings he made in 1931 and 1932 with the Orchestre Lamoureux.
The three musical selections, painstakingly digitized from the 78-rpm record collection of Claude Fihman, include Vincent d’Indy’s Symphonie cevanole (with pianist Jean-Marie Darré), Roussel’s Symphony No. 3, and Florent Schmitt’s Rapsodie viennoise, Op. 53, No. 3.
Whereas numerous recordings of the 1904 Rapsodie viennoise exist in Schmitt’s original version for two pianos, the 1931 Wolff recording remains the only commercial release of this music in its orchestral garb — an arrangement prepared by the composer in 1911.
Update (9/9/18): Guillaume Le Dréau‘s newest organ recital recording has now been released in Forgotten Records’ 13th recording containing works by Florent Schmitt. The recital was recorded at Rennes Cathedral in February, April and May 2018. It contains the recording premiere of the newly rediscovered Opus 11 Prélude by Schmitt. The fascinating back-story of this composition’s rediscovery is recounted in this article on the Florent Schmitt Website.
In addition to the premiere recording of the Opus 11 Prélude by Schmitt, the recital includes music by Jean Huré, Albert Roussel, Charles Koechlin, Jacques Ibert and Vincent d’Indy — many of them rarities as well.
Update (12/19/18): A new Forgotten Records release that includes music of Florent Schmitt — #14 and counting — (Forgotten Records FR 1574) contains an important addition to the composer’s discography: Marcelle de Lacour’s 1957 RTF broadcast performance of Clavecin obtempérant, Op. 107 (“The Ill-Tempered Clavier”). This fascinating 1945 composition, which has never been recorded commercially, was dedicated to Mme. de Lacour who gives a robust and winsome performance here.
Also featured on this CD is Schmitt’s Suite en rocaille (1935), in a 1960 commercial recording by the Marie-Claire Jamet Quintet. The performance appeared originally on an Erato LP along with chamber music by Maurice Ravel and Albert Roussel.
Update (1/10/20): Along comes the 15th recording of Florent Schmitt’s in the Forgotten Records catalogue (Forgotten Records FR 1710). It contains performances of two works that have never been commercially recorded: Schmitt’s 1900 prize-winning Prix de Rome secular cantata Sémiramis, Op. 14 and the choral work Danse des Devadasis, Op. 47. The Sémaramis performance dates from 1954 and features Schmitt’s fellow-composer Henri Tomasi directing the proceedings, while Devadasis is led by Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht.
Also on this CD is the suite from Schmitt’s 1933 ballet Oriane et le Prince d’Amour, Op. 83b, in a 1953 performance conducted by Jean Martinon. All three works were broadcast over French National Radio and haven’t been available to hear again until now. Both the music and these particular performances are winsome and well-worth hearing.
Update (9/1/21): The Forgotten Records portfolio of recordings containing the music of Florent Schmitt has grown to 16 with the release of the original recordings used during the 1937 Paris Expo’s Festivals of Lights presentations on the banks of the Seine River (Forgotten Records FR 1849).
The new release features two of the 18 works created by contemporary Parisian composers for the shows: Florent Schmitt’s Fête de la lumière, Op. 88 (with the Lamoureux Orchestra conducted by Eugène Bigot) and Arthur Honegger’s Milles et une nuits (under the direction of Gustave Cloëz). Both works also feature vocal soloists and chorus plus a force of ondes martenot performers. The Forgotten Records transfers are from rare mint-condition copies of the original shellac disks, and they present the music in best-ever audio fidelity.
Update (10/3/21): Hard on the heels of its release of the 1937 Fête de la lumière recording, Forgotten Records has now issued another performance of the piece — this one a composer-sanctioned cut version featuring musical forces of the 1955 Vichy Festival under the direction of Jean Fournet.
Also included in this newest release (Forgotten Records FR 1952) is a 1954 performance of Schmitt’s blockbuster choral composition Psaume XLVII, featuring soprano Geneviève Moizan, the Strasbourg Municipal Orchestra and the St-Guillaume de Strasbourg Chorus under the direction of Fritz Munch (the older brother of Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Charles Munch).
Update (12/11/21): This next Forgotten Records release (FR 1984) of music by Florent Schmitt is particularly interesting in that it contains three performances that were presented at a memorial concert on October 9, 1958, five weeks following Schmitt’s death. The celebrated conductor Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, who had been a close friend of Schmitt for many decades, led the ORTF in one movement from Musiques en plein air, Op. 44 plus three selections from Schmitt’s Reflets d’Allemagne, Op. 28, a set of pieces for piano duet dating from 1902-5 that the composer later orchestrated for a ballet production.
Also included in the 1958 concert and on new the CD is the ballet La Tragédie de Salomé, Schmitt’s most famous orchestral piece and one that Maestro Inghelbrecht had premiered in Paris back in 1907. The new release is filled out with Debussy’s La Demoiselle élue, featuring soprano soloist Micheline Grancher.
Update (3/7/22): The newest Forgotten Records release (FR 2013) of Florent Schmitt’s music includes four works aired over French national radio. One of the pieces is Pupazzi, Op. 36, which is particularly interesting in that it has never received a commercial recording. It’s the composer’s own orchestration of a set of piano pieces inspired by commedia dell’arte characters, in a 1958 broadcast performance conducted by Maurice Babin. The recording also features another lesser-known Schmitt concertante piece — Habeyssée, Op. 110 — in the composer’s version for violin and orchestra. The 1958 performance features violinist Madeleine Vautier, with Jean Giardino conducting.
Rounding out the CD program are two large-scale choral works — Psaume XLVII in a 1956 Vichy Festival production featuring soprano Jacqueline Brumaire and the Chorale Elisabeth Brasseur directed by Louis Frémaux, and Fête de la lumière in a 1949 French National Radio Orchestra performance joined by the René Alix Chorus and soloists, all under the direction of composer-conductor Henri Tomasi.
Update (4/25/22): Yet another recording of broadcast performances of Florent Schmitt’s music from the archives of French National Radio has now been released by Forgotten Records (FR 2032). It features three of the composer’s famous “orientalist” compositions including La Tragédie de Salomé, Antoine et Cléopatre, Op. 69 (Suite No. 2), and Salammbô, Op. 75 (excerpts from Suite No. 1 plus the entire Suite No. 3).
The performances — noteworthy for their vitality — are led by a trio of conductors who were prominent in France during the 1950s and 1960s, but who were commercially recorded only rarely (Charles Bruck, Rémus Tzincoca and Tony Aubin).
Update (5/15/23): Forgotten Records’ latest recording of the music of Florent Schmitt features three French Radio broadcast performances from the 1950s (FR 2149). Included is the highly sought-after 1953 performance of Psaume XLVII featuring soprano soloist Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, with the French Radio Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Igor Markevitch. That work is coupled with a 1957 ORTF broadcast performance of La Tragédie de Salomé led by Pierre-Michel Le Conte, as well as a near-rarity titled La Tragique chevauchée (the second of Florent Schmitt’s two Mirages), presented in a 1956 ORTF performance under the direction of Pierre Dervaux.