Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Yvonne Loriod - musician and muse

Yvonne Loriod has passed away, aged 86. All the newspaper obits are out, standard pieces, written long ago, some cobbled together from material on Olivier Messiaen. He was the love of her life and centre of her existence. But there was much more to "Mrs Loriod" as Pierre-Laurent Aimard charmingly calls her. She deserves a tribute in her own right.

Not so easy, because she was self-effacing, letting Messiaen take the limelight, but she was formidably talented. She was an extremely good pianist, playing at a high level, certainly not just Messiaen. She came to Paris to learn composition, and attracted the eye of Nadine Boulanger. Boulanger had a serious animus against Messiaen, so when Loriod took up with Messiaen she was immediately dropped from Boulanger circles. Not that Loriod cared. Messiaen's empathic, open-minded approach to music was much more Loriod's thing, anyway, apart from the fact she fell in love.

Because Messiaen was such a devout Catholic, marriage was out of the question, as his first wife was hospitalized for what seems to have been some kind of mental problem.  Loriod and Messiaen didn't actually live together but shared three floors of the same building.. One floor his, one floor hers and the one in the middle was teaching space. She taught too, becoming a professor at an early age.  Yvonne and her sister Jeanne were both pianists, both learning the Ondes Martenot and performing round the world.  (Both also continued playing piano.) In the late 1990's they both came to London to play: two tiny elderly ladies exuding charm. Sadly Jeanne died soon after. Yvonne lived on, but was too frail to come to London in 2008 to celebrate Messiaen's centenary (curated by Aimard, and bigger than the Paris commemorations).

Loriod and Messiaen were so much of a unit that it's arguable he would not have achieved quite as much as he did without her presence.  Her name means "Oriole", so when the song of an oriole appears in his music, there's an extra level of meaning.  Loriod is a presence in most of his music, even indirectly.  He composed entirely on his own, bringing out new works only near completion, but she was musician enough herself to comment intelligently.

Plenty can, and has, and will be written about Loriod's influence on Messiaen's art, but she contributed in simple, practical ways, too. She knitted the enormous, multi-coloured scarf he wears in one of the most famous photographs. It's too huge and too extrovert to be something you'd find in a shop. He knew what it meant, so he wears it with a huge grin. She was the "practical one" who made arrangements, fixed the tape recorders and apparently drove a car.  She was also the emollient one, who kept up friendships such as with Boulez (pictured here) with whom she was close (same age).  She mothered Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the son she never had, and adored his children. She'll be remembered of course as Messiaen's life partner and muse, but she was someone very special herself.

Coming up next : a report on Florian Boesch at the Wigmore Hall, and a special, which I've been promisiung for ages, on Krenek's Reisebuch  aus den oesterreichischen Alpen, which I've beeen  raving about since Holzmair recorded it in 1998. It's one of the 20th century's key song cycles.  In the meantime read more here. 

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