Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Germaine Tailleferre, part two--and Christmas

from Berkeley

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Although it's not a particularly Christmas-y topic, today's blog continues the Tailleferre story I promised from last week.

But before we dive into the tale, the other modern French woman composer after Lili and Nadia Boulanger and Germaine Taillerre is...were you able to guess? No? This would be the influential and well-respected Betsy Jolas (1926- ).

Now, back to the rest of the story...

In most marriages, the announcement that the wife is pregnant is greeted with joy, or perhaps a smile mixed with resignation about another mouth to feed.

Germaine Tailleferre
But Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)--the only female member of Les Six, whom I wrote about last week--had a much darker experience.

Here's the back story....

It's 1929.* Tailleferre is 37 and has been married to NY caricaturist Ralph Barton for about 2 1/2 years, during which she has not been composing but rather, based on what she later says, hoping for a child. The couple had moved to NY in 1927, but Barton has been raging jealously about her career success.

Nonetheless, Tailleferre is delighted when she discovers she is pregnant! Quelle joie, non?

But Barton...loses it and what follows is a bit more of quelle horreur!

Ralph Barton
According to Tailleferre's memoire from nearly half a century later (excerpted and discussed here: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-274519831/trauma-and-recovery-in-germaine-tailleferre-s-six), he tells her he'll shoot her in the abdomen to terminate the pregnancy, but that she'll be fine.


Imagine the scene: Barton with shotgun in hand. Tailleferre hiding in the bushes. (Awful jokes about shotgun weddings spring to mind and must be expunged.)  Hidden, she hears shots ring out. Luckily they miss and she remains unharmed. She flees to a friend of Barton's for help and subsequently divorces Barton, who commits suicide the next year.** By her reports she never sees him again after that episode, although she suffers a miscarriage as a result.

Tailleferre's Six chansons francaises from later that same year (1929) are one of her very first post-Ralph compositions. While not truly autobiographical, the poems are an assortment of six 15th-18th century French texts that are uniformly and scathingly bitter towards marriage and husbands, with lines such as "la fidelite n'a jamais ete qu'une imbecilite" ("Fidelity has never been anything but  idiocy"), "...mon mari qui ne vaut pas un grand blanc" ("...my husband, who is not worth a fine white wine"), and "Je n'ai bonjour ni demi avec ce mari mechant..." ("I have neither good days nor even half of one with this spiteful husband...").  You get the idea.  If ever the creation of art can be considered an act of personal exegesis--as it so often is--this song cycle has got to be it.

Curious? (Gratuitous plug time...) I'll be performing them with the talented Dale Tsang and Ensemble for These Times (E4TT.org) next month on Tuesday January 19 in SF at Noontime Concerts, along with other works by Debussy, Maurice Delage, and the Boulanger sisters. And if you can't come, you can still hear them on my CD with the Athena Trio, Fabulous Femmes (Centaur CRC #2461), with the wonderful Sylvie Beaudette at the keyboard.

What I'm reading: Well-read Women (a beautiful book of with sayings and watercolor drawings of 50 famous women in fiction), and Infinitas.

What I'm listening to: Tailleferre, Poulenc, Delage, and Handel

What I'm working on: same

*Quick quiz: Remember what major U.S. event happened in 1929?  Major hint: Think of two pairs of words...financial meltdown and stock market...

**In all fairness, Ralph Barton was a talented artist who achieved immense success and recognition during his lifetime, but he was also severely manic-depressive, a condition that grew worse as his life progressed, ultimately leading to his suicide. Tailleferre was his fourth wife and fourth (and final) divorce. When he shot himself in 1931, he wrote in his suicide note that his third wife, Carlotta Monterey, who had divorced him in 1926 was "the only woman he'd ever loved."  Although Tailleferre's treatment at his hands was beyond cruel, one can only feel great sadness and pity for his own suffering and mental illness.
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