Rediscovering Fernande Breilh-Decruck, Part 1

Carrie Koffman-Professor of Saxophone, The Hartt School

In the fall of 2009 I was judging the preliminary round of the Van Rooy Competition at The Hartt School. I heard a saxophonist, Scott Edwards, perform the Decruck Sonata for Saxophone (or Viola). The music was sublime and I quickly asked Carrie Koffman, my fellow panelist and the saxophone instructor at Hartt, about Decruck. She told me that the Sonata was an important work for classical saxophonists, but that she didn't know much more. I had to find out more. What else had Decruck written? Were there works for horn (my instrument), winds or orchestra? A Google search quickly revealed several links for performances of the Sonata, but there wasn't even a Wikipedia entry about Decruck. Finally, after clicking what seemed like the 17th page of the Google search, I found an article by a French saxophonist, Nicholas Prost. It described some biographical details about Fernande and the most intriguing information—a list of other works. It turned out that Fernande was not a one-hit-wonder, but instead had composed many large-scale works for the best performers, conductors and orchestras of her time. Why didn't I know about them? Where was the music now?

Nicolas Prost, Saxophone

I searched more using specialized library databases. The databases turned up a few early-career solo pieces and saxophone works, but where were the large, orchestral scores? I tried checking with some contacts that I had in both French and American libraries, but no luck. Finally, after several years of on and off again hunting, I contacted Nicholas Prost directly (I probably should have done this earlier, but hindsight...). Prost provided contact information for Decruck's daughter Jeanine and granddaughter Hélène. I emailed Hélène and she quickly replied with more information about her grandmother including a catalogue of works that were lost and a catalogue of works that her uncle Alain (Decruck's youngest son) had kept mostly in manuscript form. It turned out that she had done a significant amount of research about her grandmother in 2004. I had to see this music...