Charles Koechlin (1867-1950)

French Composers’ Names — Charles Koechlin

Charles Koechlin is, without a doubt, one of the most important (and influential) French composers of the 19th and 20th centuries with quite a unique path. His Traité de l’orchestration is still a reference to this day, even if its 4 volumes (and consequent price) make it hard to own. He orchestrated for Fauré and Debussy, and created the Société Musicale Indépendante with Ravel and Schmitt in 1909. He made a living as a music educator, and I’m happy to own a couple of his books that I love (Étude sur les notes de passage (1922), Précis des règles de contrepoint (1927), etc.)

His name tends to puzzle a lot of French speaking people, myself included. Is the o+e combination a misspelled œ (e dans l’o, a letter that does not technically exist in the English alphabet)? What about that [ch]? Is it a [sh] sound or a [k] sound? I got it all wrong until I heard one of my composition teachers (a fellow Frenchman) pronounce it correctly. I later found a great article in French about the pronunciation of this patronymic of German origin where people argue a lot. I chose one that I give here, that makes sense to me and sounds really nice…

[audio:] Link to MP3: ICIYL – Charles Koechlin

Here, the [oe] is pronounced like a French [é] and the [ch] is a [k] sound. One could write this pronounciation out [kéklin] …

Finally, here’s a recording of Koechlin’s Vers la voute étoilée op. 129, my favorite poème symphonique of his!

Charles Koechlin: Vers la voûte étoilée op.129 (1923/1933, rev. 1939)

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