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COUP 009 - Yvonne Lefébure



Beethoven Piano Sonatas Op. 2 No. 1 and 111, 8 Bagatelles.



Sleeve Notes

"Had I been born a boy, I would have been a conductor". The great love of Yvonne Lefébure's life was the conductor, musicologist and 'walking encyclopaedia' Freddy Goldbeck. Friends since childhood and finally married in 1947, they became known as 'les inséperables'. The musicians she admired most, and learned most from, were conductors: Bruno Walter, Paul Paray, and Wilhelm Furtwängler. She appeared with Furtwängler only once, in Lugano in 1954, playing Mozart's concerto K 466. It was for her "the most beautiful experience I ever had of an orchestral be inspired, carried by the orchestra. Imagine being completely given to Mozart, no fingers any more, the audience forgotten. For me Furtwängler was the ultimate, the pinnacle of performance, of emotion, of sound, of all that makes music."

"She is born for Beethoven", said Gabriel Fauré famously when Yvonne was still a young girl. She was later to say, "Everyone who knows me, even just a little, knows how much I love Beethoven. In Beethoven I see the first modern musician. For each work he invented a new form, a specific architecture. Still today, the Quartet 'Grande Fugue', the Sonata op.106, the finale of the Ninth, all seem difficult, abstract, intellectual works."

Of the sonata op 111, she said, "Only two movements - but what movements! They combine extreme violence and superhuman serenity. The first movement, this is the imperious, the tragic, the fighting Beethoven who speaks with such authority - the man who wanted to seize destiny by the throat. This introduction, Maestoso, keeps the performer and the listener prisoner to that implacable rhythm. Violence is so beautiful when it's Beethoven's violence! And this Arietta. How to speak of it? One doesn't dare to put its mystery into words. One can hardly dare play it. It took me time, you know, before I could play it in public. Here we are beyond life. Listen to that simple. By what magic are we transported into an unreal world, into this vision of the Absolute, here and now? One can try to analyse of course, but this is much harder than it looks. Here we are faced with Beethoven the builder; the writing deepens progressively and at the same time the piano is growing to the dimensions of an orchestra". Furtwängler considered the Arietta the peak of human feeling, and while he was to perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony over five hundred times during the course of his career, so Beethoven's last three sonatas were Lefébure's constant companions.

Lefébure refused to play in occupied Paris and declined many lucrative invitations to play in Germany. She fled to the south of France with Freddy Goldbeck. Several times during the war years she met with her friend and chamber music partner, Pablo Casals, in the Pyrénnées. Life was difficult, and the 'cellist wrote often to comfort her. From 1943: "I think a lot about what you are, about your concerns, your ordeals - be patient dear friend, you'll get over all this. It has to arrive, the moment when we will be proud to have endured, to have not weakened." Later, in '44: "I must thank you with all my heart for your kind words, before you return to Paris where you'll be received as deserves your courage, your dignity as a French woman and as a genuinely great artist."

By the end of the war, Alfred Cortot's accommodation to the Vichy government had soured his relationship with the couple, especially with Freddy. Lefébure spoke tactfully with the BBC about this period. "It is with great emotion I speak to the BBC which has been the sole source of our comfort during these hard years of occupation of France. The suffering endured by all French people, even the guilty ones, calls for the return of French Unity, compromised by the unhappiness of the war. So I am going to ask you to allow me not to mention any of my fellow-countrymen among the musicians whose behaviour has been motivated by this or that opinion. I can't forget my feelings and personal opinions on this emotive subject. I am afraid I would be too hard." Lefébure expressed her deepest admiration for only one man - her old friend Casals.

To restart a stalled career is not easy. In '46, one of her former pupils, Dinu Lipatti, tried to help by introducing her to a concert agency in Switzerland, but to no avail. She wasn't the only one looking for engagements. In March1948 she gave, with Benjamin Britten, a recital at the French Institute in London. The following November she made her American debut at Town Hall, New York City, under the auspices of the Cultural Relations branch of the French Embassy. The programme perfectly reflected her taste and her range of repertoire: Bach-Liszt: Prelude & Fugue, Mozart: Fantasy in D minor, Beethoven: sonata op 110, Debussy; 3 Images, Fauré: Nocturne No 13, Bacarolle No 6, Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin. The critics were impressed. 'Slight of build and reminding one, in her blonde frailness, of Lillian Gish, Mme Lefébure is considerably more than ethereal at the piano. Her forcefulness is in inverse ratio to her size. She is instinctively dramatic in her approach to music and she uses this gift vigorously to project many different styles with a wide range of color and dynamics. Among the many assets of Mme Lefébure's playing were the ability to vary the quality of her tone with a lively imagination and the utmost discreetness in pedalling. She is the kind of musician for whom one has both respect and love'. And another: 'She catches aflame but does not burn up. She is at all times spontaneous, but she never improvises a reading.'

In 1950, Casals invited her to perform at the first Prades festival.

She was appointed teacher at the Paris Conservatoire in 1952. At the end of her first year, all seven of her students were awarded First Prize, an unparalleled achievement. In January 1960, she received, along with Vlado Perlemuter, a fellow Cortot student, the 'Croix de la Légion d'Honneur'. In 1964 she founded the 'Juillet musical de Saint-Germain-en-Laye' where she gave an interpretation class, and in 1968, the Debussy Competition. She also gave masterclasses in Salzburg. She resigned from the Conservatoire in 1967.

Deeply affected by the death of Freddy Goldbeck in 1979, she retired from the concert stage. She passed away in 1986 at the age of eighty-seven.

"La perfection n'existe pas; le perfectionnement, si!"

Track listing

Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, op. 2 No. 1

  • Allegro
  • Adagio
  • Menuetto: Allegretto
  • Prestissimo

Eight Bagatelles

OP. 33 No. 3, Op. 119, Nos. 4, 9, 1, 2, 5, 3, 11

Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111

  • Maestoso - Allegro con brio ed appassionato
  • Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile

All titles recorded 6/7/61. Issued with kind permission of Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, Paris.

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