Koechlin: Seven Stars' Symphony & Vers la voûte etoilee / Matiakh, Basel Symphony Orchestra

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Music by the marvelous, criminally underrated composer and “Aural Alchemist” Charles Koechlin is always a discovery and invariably. “Koechlin can daub with notes as Seurat daubed with bright pigments on canvas [he] could, whenever he wished, bathe his music in the impressionist glories of Debussy and Ravel or give it the delicacy of Fauré and then toughen it up with some Roussel-like grinding rhythms.” (Robert Reilly)

Koechlin is an impressionist dreamboat. With a title like The Seven Stars Symphony (the seven are Douglas Fairbanks, Lilian Harvey, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Charlie Chaplin) and following so closely on the heels of the equally enchanting Vers la voûte étoilée (Toward the Vault of the Stars), you’d think the work was some spectacular colorist bonanza of celestial ambitions. Actually, it’s Koechlin’s ode to his favorite film characters as portrayed by these actors – but no less bewitching for it.


The Basel Symphony Orchestra’s performance under Ariane Matiakh has a wonderful lithe elegance, which matches the beauty and refinement of Koechlin’s writing in every respect.

-- The Guardian (UK)

Charles Koechlin was a prolific composer with a list of works encompassing more than 200 opus numbers. His interest in film stars resulted in several compositions, the most spectacular being The Seven Stars’ Symphony written in 1933. He was a skilled orchestrator as evidenced in this work. He employs a gigantic orchestra, comprising substantially expanded woodwind and brass sections, including an alto saxophone, a large assortment of percussion, and in the third movement, an Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument, invented just a few years before the work was written. Stylistically there are influences from most French composers, from Berlioz and Fauré (who was his teacher) to a modernist like Messiaen. Formally it isn’t a symphony, rather an orchestral suite in seven movements, each movement a portrait of a famous actor in Hollywood at the time the suite was composed, but all of them are still well-known today. His interest in movies emanated from the then quite recent arrival of the sound film, when he saw The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings.

That [Lilian Harvey] was the ageing composer’s dream-girl, is clear from the second movement of the symphony: jolly and charming, light-toned music with glittering flutes creating an aura around her. It is the shortest movement, lasting just over two minutes. The contrast between Harvey and the cool and mysterious Greta Garbo is striking. This is slow, almost melancholy music, and the use of the Ondes Martenot with its eerie glissandi paints a picture of an icy Nordic princess...Clara Bow['s] movement is racy and full of life – the scherzo of the symphony, and the finale is rather boisterous, presumably illustrating the hectic stream of fan letters – in January 1929 she received 45,000 letters!

...Marlene Dietrich is still well-remembered...Her movement is slow and beautiful with a deep clarinet solo featured. It is a set of variations on a theme that is built on the letters of her name. [Emil] Jannings’ movement is dramatic and dark, and the end is gloomy. The final movement is devoted to Charlie Chaplin, and it is by far the longest, occupying more than one third of the total playing time of over forty-three minutes. Though it refers to some of his merry pranks in silent movies like Gold Fever and Circus, a surprisingly large part of the movement is contemplative and chamber-music like, transparently orchestrated.

This effort by Sinfonieorchester Basel under Ariane Matiakh fills the need [for new recordings] admirably. The playing is excellent and the recording very good. Whether the work is the masterpiece some pundits maintain is another question. Koechlin’s masterly orchestration cannot be called in question, and that is reason enough to wallow in the music...This issue is well worth getting to know.

--MusicWeb International (Göran Forsling)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 03, 2022

  • Catalog Number: C5449

  • UPC: 845221054490

  • Label: Capriccio

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Charles Koechlin

  • Conductor: Ariane Matiakh

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Basel Symphony Orchestra


  1. The Seven Stars' Symphony, Op. 132

    Composer: Charles Koechlin

    Ensemble: Basel Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Ariane Matiakh

  2. Vers la voûte étoilée, Op. 129

    Composer: Charles Koechlin

    Ensemble: Basel Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Ariane Matiakh