Hélène de Montgeroult, La Marquise et la Marseillaise


Livre, Symétrie, 2006, by Jérôme Dorival and a CD, Hortus, 2006. Bruno Robilliard, piano

Haunting works of great beauty…

Her life was like a novel: she taught at the Conservatoire and avoided the guillotine during the Terror, pleading her case by playing La Marseillaise; she was the friend of Madame de Staël, who may have portrayed her as the character Corinne; she was like the sibyl (or sylph) that haunted Chateaubriand; she had love affairs both in her youth and in the autumn of her life. And musically speaking, her works haunt us through their great beauty, which prefigures Schubert, Chopin and Schumann. Jérôme Dorival, is the musicologist who “discovered” her. (Dominique Dubreuil, Plumart, online magazine, July 2006)

…thirteen piano pieces that are true jewels, and often visionary…

Bruno Robilliard introduces us to thirteen piano pieces that are true jewels, often visionary, prefiguring through the tradition of Bach the great romantic composers such as Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt. (Radio Notre-Dame, Père Claude Ollivier, November 2006)

…Harmonic audacity and a romantic sensibility that makes these etudes moments of grace and of the unexpected…


This is an important discovery: that of the first woman to be appointed professor of the fortepiano at the Paris Conservatory in the last years of the 18th century. Born in Lyon in 1764, eight years after Mozart, and a great virtuoso, Hélène de Montgeroult wrote a “Cours complet pour l’enseignement du fortepiano”, whose later pieces are contemporary with the births of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann and Liszt. This composer would have remained forgotten were it not for the work of musicologist Jérôme Dorival, who has rediscovered a considerable body of work whose prophetic nature makes it particularly interesting. The title of Montgeroult’s work was probably not helpful in recommending her music – which is much more than just pedagogical pieces – to posterity. Montgeroult’s music is not concerned with thematic development, but displays harmonic audacity and a romantic sensibility that makes the etudes moments of grace and of the unexpected. Bruno Robilliard does them justice, playing with the transparency and brio that characterize this excellent exponent of the Lyon school of piano playing. Along with the CD, the same publisher has also brought out a thick volume resulting from the historical research carried out by Jérôme Dorival. The title, “La Marquise et la Marseillaise” refers to an incident in Montgeroult’s life (…) and also calls up Dorival’s considerable research, which culminates in a veritable history of the French Revolution as related to the musical life of the time. The volume also includes a complete catalogue of Montgeroult’s work, a lengthy bibliography, and several useful annexes. (Philippe Andriot. Le Tout Lyon n° 4715, December 2006)

An innovative artist, sensitive and inspired…

The attraction of this woman’s remarkable destiny is only intensified by the discovery of her works, which were well ahead of their time, if the Etudes composed in the first decade of the 19th century are any example. A few show a clear link to Bach (similar to the link between that composer and Mendelssohn); many others prefigure the style of the greatest composers of the future. One hears a Schubert Impromptu in Etude n° 62; the Chopin of Opus 10 n° 12 in Etude n° 107, and even a Brahms Intermezzo in Etude n° 104. (…) As far removed from salon music as she is from sterile pedagogical exercises, Montgeroult takes shape before us as an innovative, sensitive and inspired artist. (Jérôme Bastianelli, Diapason. The CD was awarded 5 Diapasons)

The Etudes are romantic works ahead of their time. They call up Schubert, Mendelssohn, and their contemporaries, and posterity would probably have paid them more attention had Hélène de Montgeroult entitled them Impromptus, Romances sans paroles, or Nocturnes. (Marc Vignal Le Monde de la Musique, December 2006)

A major discovery…a screwd pioneer, a wild rebel, an indubitably endearing character.

The pianist Bruno Robilliard reveals in this CD the fiery compositions of a piano virtuoso, professor at the Conservatory starting in 1795, and celebrated figure during the Revolution and the Empire, whose music heralds the smoldering romanticism of Schumann, Chopin and Mendelssohn. (…) She was a master at composition, writing with pre-romantic intuition that looked ahead toward Schumann and Chopin and emulated Beethoven. Her music sounds at times like she was Schubert’s sister, but she could have been his mother! This major discovery is vehemently championed by Robilliard, who enjoys obvious technical facility. (…) A vital recording of a composer that should not be overlooked! I would also like to point out the well-documented CD booklet, which is filled with delightful information that presents each piece on this exciting recording. (Camille de Joyeuse, classiquenews.com)

What a discovery! I never imagined that the “Romantics” had such a precursor!

Thank you for this “Marquise”; she delighted me. And as for the CD, what a discovery! I never imagined that the “Romantics” had such a precursor! These pedagogical piano pieces have a fascinatingly wide range. I have asked AP to notify our subscribers about them as quickly as possibly. (…) A marvel that shouldn’t be missed! (Robert-Yves Quiriconi Associated Press, December 2006)

This music sings …This music is very expressive…This is quite surprising and of surpassing beauty…

(…) You definitely hear Bach, then you say that this passage is like Schumann, but isn’t Schumann, that here’s it’s like Schubert, but isn’t Schubert. (…) This music sings. Hélène de Montgeroult asks in the introduction to her piano tutor “How to make sing, how to give the illusion of singing, to this instrument that is so little disposed to it?” This music is very expressive, it is stamped by a strong personality without ever seeming invasive, or making its point through swaggering. (…) This is quite surprising and of surpassing beauty. (Jean-Marc Warszawski www.musicologie.org, December 2006)

…Inspired, colorful music, that seems to come from nowhere, yet is fundamental…

A pianist from the time of the Revolution. Who had ever heard of Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836)? (…) The ten Etudes and the Fantaisie that accompany it make one think of similar music by Schumann or Chopin. This inspired, colorful music, that seems to come from nowhere, yet is fundamental, is championed by Robilliard with brio. (Jean-Luc Macia, La Croix, January 2007)

This musician should immediately take her rightful place in the History of Music!

The works of this composer are quite disconcerting: one hears sounds like those of Beethoven as well as writing for the piano that would appear much later in the pieces of Mendelssohn and Schumann. Could our French Marquise have been the first Romantic musician? Even for someone with a meager knowledge of the Romantic piano repertoire, the results are surprising, as many of Montgeroult’s pieces could have been written by the “great” composers mentioned above. This musician should immediately take her rightful place in the History of Music! (Frédéric Platzer, ResMusica.com April 2007)

Excerpts from personal correspondence

Thank you for the Hélène de Montgeroult recording! You are right a thousand times over to give a new life to this surprising composer, who isn’t even mentioned in the 1980 edition of the Grove Dictionary. (E.M., musicologist, November 2006)

I’m struck by the modernity of Hélène de Montgeroult’s etudes and fantaisie, her perspective on the piano, and her insightful texts. This will stimulate pianists who are searching for new repertoire and esthetic food for thought. (S.L., musicologist, November 2006)

I’ve just received your book. Bravo! (…) If only all female composers could find biographers like you! I very much appreciate your “gendered” approach and the way you sought out factors that influenced women, and especially aristocratic women, during this period, as well as the personal character of Hélène de Montgeroult… (F.L., musicologist, January 2007)

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