Brought up in Dijon, Marie François Maurice Emmanuel became a chorister at Beaune cathedral after his family moved to the city in 1869. Subsequently he went to Paris, and he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where his composition teacher was Léo Delibes. At the Conservatoire he came to know Claude Debussy who was also a pupil there. In addition, he attended the Conservatoire classes of César Franck, about whom he wrote a short book in 1930 (César Franck: Etude Critique).
Emmanuel pursued a notable academic career. He wrote a treatise in 1895 on the music of Ancient Greece, and was appointed professor of the history of music at the Conservatoire in 1909. His students included Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux. Emmanuel’s interests included folksong, Oriental music, and exotic modes — his use of these modes in various of his works had appalled Delibes, who had vetoed his entering for the Prix de Rome. Other appointments included choirmaster at the church of Sainte-Clotilde from 1904 to 1907, assisted by Émile Poillot, during the tenure of organist Charles Tournemire.
The compositions of Emmanuel, seldom heard today even in France, include operas after Aeschylus (Prométhée enchaîné and Salamine) as well as symphonies and string quartets. Probably the creations of his most often performed now are his six sonatines for solo piano, which (like many of his other pieces) demonstrate his eclectic academic interests. The first of the sonatines draws on the music of Burgundy, while the second incorporates birdsong, the third uses a Burgundian folk tune in its finale, and the fourth is subtitled en divers modes hindous (“in various Hindu modes”).
This charming little sortie is over in just 2 minutes… alas, it is one of only 3 pieces Maurice Emmanuel wrote for the organ. One wishes he had written more or longer!
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