Magazine article Musical Times

Deep Water

Magazine article Musical Times

Deep Water

Article excerpt


La vie musicale sous Vichy

Edited by Myriam Chimenes editions Complexe (Brussels and Paris, 2001,); 420pp; FF189. ISBN 2 87027 864 0.

The music of Maurice Ohana

Caroline Rae

Ashgate (Aldershot. 2000); 311pp: L45. ISBN 0 7546 0288 5.

La Vie musicale sous Vichy is an important book - the first to tackle a delicate period in French musical history, and one which does so by offering detailed glimpses of particular issues. It is derived from a conference held in Paris in 1999, and the contributors include several distinguished historians and musicologists. First among these is the book's editor - and the initiator of the conference - Myriam Chimenes, who contributes not only a substantial and valuable introduction, but also a revelatory article on `Alfred Cortot et la politique musicale du gouvernement de Vichy'. Cortot's conduct during these years makes for disturbing reading, and Chimenes provides an array of documentation which constitutes incontestable evidence that he was the leading musical advisor to the Vichy regime. On behalf of the Vichy government, he established the so-called `Comite Cortot' (modelled, according its founder's wishes, after the Reichsmusikkammer) in 1943, and there is plenty of other material to trace his involvement with the Laval government at the highest level. More damaging still for his postwar reputation were some illadvised public appearances in Paris, such as his performance (alongside Wilhelm Kempff and Germaine Lubin) at the Arno Brecker exhibition in Paris in May 1942, followed in June to November the same year by an extended tour of Germany. He was arrested as a collaborator at his house in Neuilly-sur-Seine on 1 September 1944, but was freed a few days later thanks to the intercession of Claude Delvincourt. In 1945, Cortot was summoned to appear before two committees of enquiry. The first recommended that his professorship at the Conservatoire should be revoked and the second decreed that he should be suspended from giving concerts for a period of one year. Cortot moved to Switzerland and was not to return to Paris until a Chopin centenary concert in 1949. After reading this harrowing account, even the most generous apologist for Cortot must confront a worrying question: was it simply naivete and a passionate attachment to the music of Wagner and other German composers which led him to embark on an extended tour of the Reich? This outstanding chapter is the first in the book, and it sets the highest possible standards.

Equally fascinating is Jean Gribenski's chapter on 'L:exclusion des juifs du Conservatoire'. Again, disturbing evidence is presented with the greatest care, and the stark reality of the situation is set out in the first sentence: `The truth is generally ignored, or passed over in silence: the Conservatoire was the only public teaching establishment in metropolitan France from which Jewish pupils were excluded in totality under the Vichy regime'. The systematic exclusion not only of Jewish teachers but also Jewish students while the Conservatoire was under the leadership of Henri Rabaud and (from 1941) of the otherwise enlightened Claude Delvincourt, comes as shocking news.

Natalie Dompnier's interesting consideration of Vichy anthems (the 'Marseillaise' and `Marechal, nous voila!') helpfully reproduces wartime editions of both. Her article reaches the conclusion, unsurprisingly perhaps, that the former remained the true national anthem while the other was an enduring popular success, though en route there are fascinating accounts of performances of `Marechal, nous voila!' in connection with official ceremonies and youth rallies.

Philippe Morin offers a substantial essay on the extraordinary series of forty recordings made by the Association Francaise d'Action Artistique (AFAA) which reveals the extremely enterprising recording work undertaken by a small company during the period. Perhaps the most covetable of these discs is one which has never been reissued: Desormiere conducting Messiaen's Les offrandes oubliees. …

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