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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Ernest Fanelli - The Romance of the Mummy (Adriano)


Composer: Ernest Fanelli; Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray
  1. Fanelli - Tableaux symphoniques d’après "Le roman de la momie" - Part I. Thèbes: 1. Devant le palais de Tahoser
  2. Fanelli - Tableaux symphoniques d’après "Le roman de la momie" - Part I. Thèbes: 2. Sur le Nil
  3. Fanelli - Tableaux symphoniques d’après "Le roman de la momie" - Part I. Thèbes: 3. Rentrée triomphale du Pharaon
  4. Fanelli - Tableaux symphoniques d’après "Le roman de la momie" - Part II. Fête dans le palais du Pharaon: 1. Dans une salle du palais - Jongleuses nues
  5. Fanelli - Tableaux symphoniques d’après "Le roman de la momie" - Part II. Fête dans le palais du Pharaon: 2. Danse grotesque de bouffons égyptiens
  6. Fanelli - Tableaux symphoniques d’après "Le roman de la momie" - Part II. Fête dans le palais du Pharaon: 3. Chants triomphaux - Orgie
  7. Bourgault-Ducoudray - Rhapsodie cambodgienne: 1. Introduction - Légende
  8. Bourgault-Ducoudray - Rhapsodie cambodgienne: 2. Fête des eaux

Lydia Drahosova, mezzo-soprano (1)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Adriano, conductor

Date: 2000 (1-6), 2001 (7, 8)
Label: Marco Polo



The avant-garde yet accessible music of Ernest Fanelli, who is the featured composer on this disc, was a ‘blind date’ and a fascinating one at that. Prior to receiving the disc I was unaware of this composer and have been unable to trace any previous recordings of his works.

Born in Paris in 1860 of Italian parentage Fanelli studied at the Paris Conservatoire until an acute shortage of funds forced him to leave and support himself as a rank and file orchestral player. Although his teachers, for a time, included the luminaries Charles Alkan and Léo Delibes he was largely self-taught and had begun serious composition by his early twenties. In his role as an orchestral player I can just imagine a bitter Fanelli burning with resentment at having to play the music of composers that he considered inferior to his own.

A lucky break came in 1912 when the influential composer-conductor Gabriel Pierné fortuitously studied one of Fanelli’s 29 year old compositions. Pierné was amazed and declared that it, "contained all the principles and processes of modern music used by recognised masters of today." Pierné commented that at the time of Fanelli’s composition he himself had won a Prix de Rome, but in those days, "our art was entirely different from that of Fanelli …Wagner did not win recognition until a few years later and Debussy was not talked about seriously until 1890. Thus one man had marvellously foretold our whole epoch."

Pierné hurriedly arranged an orchestral concert of ‘Thebes’ the first section of the Symphonic Pictures, to enthusiastic acclaim. Performances of other Fanelli compositions quickly followed but almost as swiftly as he became known he was forgotten and banished to obscurity. Even Pierné his champion lost interest and Fanelli became embittered and disillusioned. Although he was to live until 1917 Fanelli sadly did not compose more music after 1894. In spite of his short composing career Fanelli certainly managed to rattle a few cages. It is not clear how he came to know the music but the self-titled ‘bad boy of music’ composer George Antheil is said to have described Fanelli as, "one of the greatest inventors and musical iconoclasts of our time."

Fanelli based and subtitled the Symphonic Pictures on Gaultier’s 1857 novel ‘The Romance of the Mummy’; a fashionable subject so typical of the orientalism that was popular at that time. The work is programmed in two distinct sections, each comprising three movements which he called Tableaux or Pictures.

During the preparation for this recording of the Symphonic Pictures the conductor Adriano learned that the first section ‘Thebes’ had been Fanelli’s only published orchestral work. After much research the second section ‘Festivities in the Pharaohs Palace’ was discovered by Adriano ten years ago in the music library of Radio France. Although it is not stated in the booklet this must be the world premier recording of the Symphonic Pictures.

It has never been claimed that the Symphonic Pictures: ‘The Romance of the Mummy’ is great music but it is fascinating and well worth hearing. For example, there is arguably far less worthy music being performed at this year’s Promenade Concerts. More than merely novelty value the music has much significance for French musical history. Ravel even suggested that Debussy’s impressionism had been highly influenced by the 23 year old Fanelli.

Adriano the conductor discusses the various motifs and identifies two recurring themes that run through the music. He holds the opinion that this is, "perhaps the first example in French music history in which sound and instrumental colour become principal means of expression". In view of this it is fascinating that the Symphonic Pictures predates the evocative imagery of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ and Ravel’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe' by 19 and 26 years respectively. In spite of Fanelli’s visionary credentials I also hear echoes of the sound-world of Balakirev and Tchaikovsky whose music Fanelli may have known from Paris concerts featuring the increasingly popular Russian music of the day. Stravinsky-like pounding rhythms are also evident too, particularly in the fifth Picture and Stravinsky was a composer whose music Fanelli could not have known.

This is imaginative and varied fare, albeit with a few rough edges here and there. It holds the interest from the first note to the last. Conductor Adriano’s assured and subtle control brings out the sonorities of this strongly atmospheric music. Fanelli’s wide range of tone colours and brilliant orchestration are expertly balanced by the fine playing from the Slovak RSO. Adriano displays a clear conviction for this music resisting the temptation of self-indulgence. He expertly communicates, through the orchestral playing, Fanelli’s individual language. On occasions the music seemed to require slightly swifter tempos and more incisive tuttis. Particularly successful is the pulsating yet atmospheric first Picture ‘In front of the Tahoser Palace’, with the mezzo-soprano soloist representing the plaintive vocalise of a slave-girl. Also impressive is the way Fanelli likes to feature individual instruments, in turn, over a backdrop of low sultry strings which can be best heard in the wonderful second Picture ‘On the Nile’; which I feel is the highlight of the disc. There is so much invention to explore in the Symphonic Pictures. It would be remiss of me to not mention how frequently I was reminded of the film music of Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa particularly in the third and fifth Pictures. But how could that be? I must be mistaken? They were writing their great film scores some 70 years later!

The second composer on this CD is Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray who unlike Fanelli had the advantage of a wealthy upbringing. Born in Nantes in1840, Bourgault-Ducoudray became a composer after graduating from music study at the Nantes Conservatoire, aged 19. After winning a Prix de Rome, in 1882 he developed an eclectic taste in music discovering the polyphony of Palastrina and developing a life-long interest in world folk song. Bourgault-Ducoudray was instrumental in introducing unfamiliar and often exotic music to French audiences including the Paris premier of Balakirev’s tone poem ‘Tamara’. His appointment as Professor of Music History at the Paris Conservatoire was the ideal position for him to use his vast musical knowledge.

Bourgault-Ducoudray was reasonably active as a composer, writing two operas and a considerable amount of chamber music, particularly for the piano, and numerous songs. His orchestral output like that of Fanelli is fairly small consisting mainly of a symphony and tone poems.

The two movement Cambodian Rhapsody was composed in 1882. He gave the work the subtitle Khnenh Preavossa ‘The Feast of Water’, which is also the name of the second movement that follows a substantial introduction and tale. The Rhapsody contains melodies of French Indo-China, in keeping with the passion of the day for things oriental. The conductor Adriano considers the Rhapsody to be, "beautifully orchestrated…. but not as impressive and avant-garde as Fanelli’s."

Adriano directs an assured and convincing performance from his Slovak RSO who are now clearly well practised in playing rare and interesting repertoire. The well-crafted score is a credit to the composer but no matter how well the score is played by the enthusiastic conductor and his orchestra the truth is that Bourgault-Ducoudray was a very average composer who wrote unmemorable music.

The recording ambience varies between the two works, which were most likely recorded on separate occasions. There is a slightly muddy sound quality in the lower registers and some blurred edges in the louder sections of Fanelli’s Symphonic Pictures. In Bourgault-Ducoudray’s Cambodian Rhapsody a resonant acoustic in the Slovak Radio Concert Hall is the only real drawback. However I feel that the recording is well worth buying for the fascinating Fanelli work alone.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International

More reviews:


Ernest Fanelli (1860–1917) was a French composer of Italian descent who is best known for sparking a controversy about the origins of Impressionist music when his composition 'Tableaux Symphoniques d'apres le Roman de la Momie' was first discovered and performed in 1912 by Gabriel Pierné. Because the work predated the innovations of Maurice Ravel and Debussy there was speculation that either or both of them had seen the score in manuscript form. George Antheil asserted that Fanelli was "one of the greatest inventors and musical iconoclasts of all time", but he remains an obscure figure.


Adriano (born July 10, 1944) is a Swiss-born conductor-composer, now lives in Zürich. As a musician he is mostly self-taught. In the late 1970s he established himself as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi and he has conducted many other recordings of obscure or neglected symphonic repertoire. He also initiated and recorded a series of fifteen CDs mainly of European film music composers, and created and directed a series of classical music videos. All of his recording projects (49 in total) have found wide recognition and his commitment is totally dedicated and uncompromising.


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  3. And grazie mille from Adriano himself :-)

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