Vive la Jacquinot!

I would like to draw the world’s attention (are you listening, world?) to a neglected pianist — a virtually unknown pianist if my own, admittedly limited experience is any indication.

Fabienne Jacquinot was a superb musician, and it’s a shame upon the musical world that more of her performances were not recorded. The recordings she did make were done mainly in the 1950s, extraordinary renderings of JacquinotSchumann’s Études Symphoniques, L’Oiseau Prophète, Papillion, Davidsbündler, Carnival and Kinderszenen (Escenes d’Enfants). She also recorded  Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Theme and Strauss’s Burleske and the Saint-Saëns Concerto in F No. 5 with the Philharmonia orchestra under Anatole Fistoulari, as well as a few other pieces. But there is nothing extant of the Schumann concerto in A minor, the piano sonatas or any of the other works by Schumann and other composers I would dearly like, and would probably pay dearly, to hear. In fact, there is nothing but these few recordings available on CD, mp3 or on the second-hand vinyl market. There is not even a Wikipedia entry devoted to her!

Schumann, like Chopin, was not a composer I looked to when I turned to my stereo for all the different reasons I listen to music and now even attempt to play it. Chopin had seemed to me precious, a kind of high-falutin elevator music (I’m waiting for the lightning bolt to strike me). Schumann, apart from the concerto, I seemed to have no emotional access to.

Yulianna Avdeeva turned Chopin into a necessity of life for me. As one of the first writers on her Facebook page I wrote that her playing had made Chopin come alive for me — a trite, totally inadequate attempt in my boyish-like awe of her to describe what seemed almost to have literally happened. Chopin still gets on my nerves sometimes with his adolescent angst, and I would just as soon not have read anything about his life (always a mistake for me when it comes to artists of any kind). But the man’s music is now in my bloodstream and issues from the tips of my fingers, however ineptly, with the most exquisite pleasure I have ever known.

It was Yulianna who also gave me access to Schumann when I discovered her performance on YouTube of his first piano sonata, recorded in Switzerland in May of 2010, several months before her winning the Chopin competition in Warsaw which put her name securely on the musical map as a major artist. I was as gob-smacked by her performance of the Schumann sonata as I was by her Chopin, assuming wrongly that what I was watching and hearing occurred after, not before, the big boost the Chopin competition gave to her career and, I assumed, her confidence. But such was not the case, and to this day I have not heard her play better than she did at that Schumann or, for that matter, the Chopin pieces she also played that day to a half-filled auditorium, mostly women, not all of whom seemed to be paying attention.

And then I found Jacquinot, serendipitously, on YouTube. I don’t recall the circumstances. I may have been sampling other performances of Schumann by the big-name performers we mostly all assume are the best interpreters of this kind of music. And, to this day, many months later, I am astounded, intrigued and enraptured by her playing, not to mention being severely pissed-off that nothing more of her exists on recording than what I have already indicated. Even my searches on yield nothing further about her recordings or even biographical data. Such, I can only conclude, was the fate of women of talent fifty years ago.

I not only want more of her performances, I want to know what instrument she played. To my ear, it could have been a Steinway or any of a number of instruments I am not familiar enough with to recognize. But there is a special sound to it in some registers and passages, a kind of player-piano timbre. That may just have been the way a Steinway sounded fifty years ago, or she may have preferred an older instrument, but I’d like to know nonetheless. It’s the sort of biographical detail I do like to know, just as it was important to me to know it was a Yamaha that Yulianna played when she won that competition and that she tends to favor Steinways since.

I can’t characterize the qualities of Jacquinot’s playing the way more adept writers on this subject could (for an example of this, I recommend Rolf Kyburz’s music blog). I can only attest to the reaction it elicits from the deepest part of me. And that reaction is rich and satisfying and at times downright sublime. You may be lucky enough to feel the same way when you listen yourself, though I realize our brains are all configured uniquely with different tastes and needs as a consequence. But it your gray and red and white matter is configured anything like my own and you are not already familiar with Fabienne Jacquinot, you are in for not just a treat but a deeply moving experience.

And, please, if anyone can tell me where I can find out more about Mlle. Jacquinot’s career, discrography, etc.,  leave a comment. Thanks.




17 Comments to “Vive la Jacquinot!”

  1. I wish I had more detail on Mlle. Jacquinot — sorry, can’t help right now! But thanks for the “free advertisement” for my blog, Thomas! Just one little note on that: As you know, I’m moving my blog, and the progress with that move has been such that last weekend I decided to stop posting at the old address, and to focus my efforts on the new blog site at — which already now provides better facilities and access to all of my legacy content.

  2. I feel a deep need for the sublime right now and hope that my brain is sufficiently attuned to Jacquinot’s to access it. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been to the U-tube you suggested, and am definitely going back.

    But just one question reflecting my abysmal state of ignorance: what is the relationship between la Jacquinot and Yulianna Avdeeva?

    • No reason, Terry, why you should know who Yulianna Avdeeva is. She happens to be my favorite living pianist — a young woman who came to prominence in 2010 when she won the Chopin competition in Warsaw. Her Chopin is unlike anything I’d ever heard before, and still is.

      I discovered Jacquinot by chance, but I love her playing as much as I do Avdeeva’s. I have a theory that much of the hype that surrounds some of the “greats” is based on willful blindness/deafness. But that’s another topic.

      Please let me know what you think of Jacquinot’s Schumann. If you’d like to sample Avdeeva’s Chopin, I recommend the videos still available from the competition site for all three stages of the the competition:

      She opened my ears to Chopin’s music, as well as Schumann’s.

      • I have listened with attention to Yulianna Avdeeva and Jacquinot and greatly enjoyed each of them. Lest I display the depth of my profound ignorance any further, however, I will not elaborate, save to say that I wonder how it is that I can find music like this so moving – even sublime, which is the word you used – and yet be unable to perceive so much of what you, and my musician sister, and so many others, do.

        Truly, Tom, I am not being humble when I say I am a musical moron in terms of even the most basic analysis. I don’t understand it at all. I can play the piano reasonably well, and the guitar well enough to have been invited in my youth to make a recording (I declined.) It’s as if the two sides of my brain are not connected when it comes to music. It might be a form of blindness/deafness, but it’s not willful!

        So I will keep listening to various u-tubes you appreciate and benefit from your taking the time to share your own experiences.

        Thank you.

      • Terry, I beg to differ. You understand music very well. Understanding in art means responding, which you certainly do. All the rest is gloss, as someone said. Really. I usually don’t know what key any individual piece is written in, though I pretend to play an instrument (and at nowhere near your own level, by the way; I’m a bit embarrassed by your revelation). I just follow the sharps and flats indicated. I couldn’t tell you what sonata form means if my life dependended on it. All I do know is that music has moved me, profoundly, from my earlierst youth on, from the popular music my sister listened to on the radio to the Gregorian chant and bits of more modern pieces I heard in church, until I finally was exposed to what we call classical music a bit later.

        Most people, some of them with very sophisticated musical knowledge, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Avdeeva’s playing and some better-known performer who doesn’t deserve the fame they enjoy. Such people wouldn’t know the difference because they couldn’t hear it, i.e. they couldn’t feel it as you and I both can. I admire those like Rolf Kyburz (referenced in my earliest posting) who both hear and feel and have the ability to analyse as well. But the sine qua non, as I’m sure Rolf would agree, is first the response. That’s all any artist hopes for, the deep emotional response. Anything more than that is not just gloss but, in my experience, suspect. Someone who creates can tell the difference and values the former only, which usually comes from those who are very diffident about their knowledge of art and scarcely dare offer their widow’s mite of appreciation.

      • Tom, thank you so much for this comment. We are definitely on the same page. I’ve sometimes thought that I’m lucky not to be able to analyze music. (I can tell the beat and whether it’s a major or minor key, and that’s about my total output.) Because my early education led me to believe that the epitome of art appreciation was the ability to analyze it. Well, I’m very good at that, so I did not learn until I retired and began to go to museums with my husband (who was not cursed with my “right answer” phobia) just to look and to respond. I already did that, per force, with music, and like you, it has taken me to places nothing else in the world has approached.

        On my “philosophy of life” bulletin board, I keep a saying of Victor Weisskopf: When life is very bad, two things make life worth living — Mozart and quantum mechanics.”

  3. Just listening to the Schumann recording — very nice, indeed; I only wish that a) the recording engineer hadn’t placed the microphone so close to the strings, and b) that they had tuned the Bösendorfer prior to the recording session …

  4. Who post this please ? She is my grandmother I am very proud and wants to thank the person who wrote this.

  5. Thank you, Eleonore. I love Fabienne’s playing and am appalled that there are not more recordings of hers available. I rank her with the very best of the 20th century.

  6. Listening to Fabienne Jacquinot’s 1988 Davidsbundlertaenze performance I would venture to guess it was recorded on a Pleyel.

  7. Correction: Fabienne Jacquinot’s 1980s Schumann performances were recorded on a
    Bösendorfer piano. See this link She
    studied with Yves Nat, a great Schumannist himself.

  8. Thanks again (belatedly), Dan. If you could point me to any other sources about her I’d be most grateful.

  9. Fabienne Jacquinot also recorded a marvelous performance of Poulenc’s “Aubade” with Anatole Fistoulari and the Westminster Symphony Orchestra. It was released in the USA in 1954 (MGM Records ‎– E3415 mono).

  10. Thanks very much for that info Mr. C. I’m sure you join me in regretting that so little was in fact recorded of her.

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