Irénée Bergé (1867-1926)

Irénée Marius Bergé was born February 1, 1867 in Toulouse, France. He was a prolific composer of music including classical suites, choral cantatas, at least one opera, and a large amount of photoplay music for silent film theater orchestras.

The name "Irénée," with its apparent feminine French ending, fooled me at first into thinking that Berge was a woman. In one 1920s Belwin, Inc. music catalog the composer listed as "Irene Berge," implying perhaps that "she" had adopted the American spelling. Popular and light classical music of the teens and twenties is full of gender-disguising pseudonyms, so the gender of unknown composers is always in doubt ("Dorothy Lee," for instance, turns out really to be John S. Zamecnik). But "Irénée" is a man's name in France despite the feminine ending. (Another male "Irénée" was industrialist E.I. DuPont.)

I wasn't the only one fooled — Irénée Bergé is listed in Aaron Cohen's 1981 International Encyclopedia of Women Composers, and is identified as a woman quite recently in Rick Altman's 2005 book Silent Film Sound. Old Who's Who in Music books referred to Irénée as "he," but it wasn't until I discovered the above portrait in the April, 1932 Etude magazine — complete with mustache — that I was convinced I had the final answer.

According to the 1938 Macmillan Encyclopidia of Music and Musicians, Bergé studied for eight years at the Paris Conservatory with Dubois and Massenet. After serving as "maitre de chant" at Covent Garden, London, he moved to the United States and became an American citizen. He wrote a grand opera, Corsica. Of his photoplay music, some of his more musically ambitious works are a series of "oriental suites," some beautiful "Dramatic Tensions" and the lovely Serenade Lointaine. He dabbled in popular music forms as well, with the lovely "galop" By Wireless, and a tango in the guise of scenic music, Southwestern Idyll.

Bergé died in Jersey City NJ on July 30, 1926 and thus never saw the end of the live orchestra era of movies. His music was still being published up to the very end of his life. He was survived by his wife Aurelie -- but not for long. Irenee and Aurelie were childless, and according to their great-great nephew Pierre Luc Bergé-Lefranc, Aurelie sailed to Le Havre to sign a will in favor of his nephew, but she died during the night before signing.

Pierre Luc Bergé-Lefranc also mentions that Irénée had a sister who sang at La Scala de Milan and married the Comte of Varvara.

The Mont Alto Orchestra has recorded many of Bergé's pieces, and for our 2016 commission of a score for René Claire's film Les Deux Timides by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, we used Bergé's music almost exclusively. The excerpts below come from that score.

Serenade Lointaine:

In Despair: