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COUP 011 - Michèle Auclair/Jacqueline Bonneau



Bartok No. 1, Prokofiev No. 2 Violin Sonatas.

Michèle Auclair was born in Paris on November 16th 1924, into a family where arts and culture had an important place. Both her father and grandfather were painters and amateur musicians, and it is to them she owes her passion for music. At the age of four she heard Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata and was moved to ask her parents for a violin. Her first teacher was Line Talluel, known also for teaching Ginette Neveu. At the Paris Conservatoire she became a pupil of Jules Boucherit before studying under Boris Kamensky and Jacques Thibaud. While still at the Conservatoire she was giving concerts with fellow students like Janine Andrade, another gifted young violinist.

In 1943 she was prizewinner of the first Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition - Samson François won the prize for piano. Included in the prize was the opportunity to make a record. With the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under Thibaud himself, she recorded Haydn's C Minor Violin Concerto for Pathé. In 1946, the year before Johanna Martzy's success there, Michèle won the first prize for violin at the Geneva Concours. Thus began the career that would take her across Europe and the Americas.
In 1956 Auclair began an important collaboration and musical friendship with the pianist Jacqueline Bonneau (later Robin), herself a deep and cultured musician. A classmate of Paul Tortelier and Henri Dutilleux in the harmony class at the Conservatoire, Jacqueline Bonneau was a pupil of Lazare Levy. In the disciplines of piano, harmony, music history, fugue and accompaniment she received 'First Prizes'. She gave her debut concert in 1945. Later that year she formed a two-piano duo with Genevieve Joy, critically regarded as the best in its field for their presentation of contemporary music. Though known primarily as an accompanist, given her years with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Irma Kolassi, Gedda, Sciutti, Sénéchal and Pierre Fournier, Bonneau was an accomplished and respected solo performer in her own right.

They gave their first performance in May 1957 at the Comédie des Champs Elysées performing the third of Bach's accompanied sonatas, Brahms' third and Bartok's first. The critics were immediately attracted by this new partnership. 'Mme Auclair's bow was by turns warm, violent, harsh or tender, but always personal, especially in the medium and low notes. By her side, Mme Robin showed herself to be an excellent performer.' The duo was to make but one record together, for Discophiles Français, a 10" disc featuring the Debussy and Ravel sonatas.
In 1962 Michèle began a new collaboration with Genevieve Joy-Dutilleux. Five years Auclair's senior, Joy was professor of chamber music at the Paris Conservatoire, and had considerable experience (notably with Jeanne Gautier and the Trio de France). They made two records of Schubert's duo works for Erato. Touring extensively, music lovers and critics alike reproached Auclair for not performing enough in Paris. Her playing amazed them all, so full of energy and passion, and much was made of her evident development.
When David Oistrakh invited her to play in Russia with the Moscow Philharmonic under Kondrashin she chose her repertoire bravely. If she nonplussed the orchestra during rehearsal by not only playing their very own Tchaikovsky, but also playing very much in the Russian manner, they were stunned when she told them that she had been a pupil of Kamensky. Indeed many were reduced to tears! "No one admires the Russian school more than I do, and my own approach is a combination of the Russian and the Franco-Belgian schools"French from my origins and from my first teacher, Line Talluel, but Russian too, from a man to whom I owe everything 'violinistic', Boris Kamensky - a student of Auer and the ex-first violin to the Tsar! He had such a passion for his instrument to the point that, on the eve of the Revolution when he found himself obliged to quit the country, Kamensky found himself with a serious problem - whether to take his wife or his Stradivarius...and he carried off his Strad!"

In matters of interpretation she has always freely admitted her debts to Jacques Thibaud, to Charles Munch, to Georges Enescu, "who advised me a great deal in the USA", and Edwin Fischer, "with whom I had the joy of playing as soloist". According to her, to make a career as a violinist requires a strong physical constitution and very good health. She likes to tell how Oistrakh, who turned up at her last recital of the three-week Russian tour, joked "I simply wanted to see how you would make it after 20 concerts!"

For Auclair, "The idea of a violin recital is not valid these days. One could give a session of sonatas, but hardly a recital, properly speaking. As much as it is thrilling to play a sonata, by Beethoven for example, or Ravel, Prokofiev, Bartok, it is equally without interest to me to perform the well-known 'Zapateado', the 'pearls' of the violin, the 'jewels' or other 'encore pieces'! Paganini did us an injustice in the last century, in making the violinist a 'stage monkey', an acrobat of the four strings!" The two masterpieces of twentieth century violin literature for her are the Alban Berg concerto and the Bartok Sonata for Solo Violin. Of the latter she has said, "'s something hardly imaginable! It seems hardly believable one can make a violin sound like that, without ever going beyond the proper limits of the instrument! It's genius!" Auclair's chosen instruments during her career were a Guadagnini and a 1732 Guarneri del Gesu

A modest woman, Michèle Auclair has always preferred to discuss someone or something apart from herself and because of this, her life has remained somewhat mysterious. By choosing the relative anonymity of teaching and jury work on the international competition circuit, she has only increased the curiosity of her many admirers. She is an intensely private person, and truly professional, as attested by musical partners Robin and Joy. Although they worked with Auclair for years, they know little or nothing about the woman behind the violin or if they do, are loyal in their silence. However it is clear that the close of the sixties was a difficult time for her, given the automobile accident that precipitated her abrupt withdrawal from the concert stage, and in 1970 the loss of her dear friend Samson François. She has been married twice, first to the composer Antoine Duhamel, later to the prominent music critic Armand Panigel.
Auclair was appointed professor of violin at the Paris Conseratoire in 1967 alongside Pierre Doukan. Over the next twenty years their students collected more than 45 international prizes. She continues to teach at the New England Conservatoire in Boston, and is honorary professor at the Conservatoire Nationale Supérieure de Musique de Paris. In 1995 Michèle Auclair was awarded the Légion d'Honneur for her contributions to music.

"Personally, I prefer the violin accompanied by piano or orchestra. Then there is a greater fullness, and that's what I ask first of music, it's that feeling of fullness which counts more than everything, that forms the true purpose of the artist's life." She has always expressed regret that she had not performed more chamber work. Given her meagre recorded legacy perhaps this recording will restore the balance just a little.

© Glenn Armstrong/Jean-Marc Harari 2002


Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1

  1. Allegro appassionato
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro



Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D, Op. 94a

  1. Andantino
  2. Allegro
  3. Andante
  4. Allegro con brio
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