Musical Dimensions of Prose Narratives: Musikant by Andre Hodeir

By Pautrot, Jean-Louis | Mosaic (Winnipeg), June 2000 | Go to article overview

Musical Dimensions of Prose Narratives: Musikant by Andre Hodeir


Pautrot, Jean-Louis, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


Hodeir, an avant-garde jazz musician in Postwar France, later published fictions entertaining relations to music. I consider Hodeir's careers, as instrumentalist, musicologist, composer, and his itinerary from music critic to novelist, arguing that his literary aesthetics derives from his musical aesthetics. I also examine Musikant (1987) for its musical dimensions.

W While studies abound on the influence of music on 19th-century and early to mid-2Oth-century literature, post-war literary production has attracted less attention. Among the authors examined at the 1997 Colloquium of the International Association of Word and Music Studies, only Anthony Burgess belongs to the second half of the century. A similar observation can be made about the 1997 Strasbourg colloquium "Music and Literature in the 20th-Century," which considered novelists Georges Perec and Marguerite Duras (Dethurens 231-32), as about Francoise Escal's earlier study of music in French literature (1990). Absent from these is novelist Andr[acute{e}] Hodeir, who published his first fictions in 1970, and whose literary works evidence multiple relations with music. Hodeir was among the first European theorists of jazz music. He received a formal musical education, unlike many writers attracted to music, and was, from 1947 to 1972, a composer. In literature, then, and in the field of music-literature interrela tions, the overlooked Hodeir is a unique case.

In this essay, I examine Hodeir's musical careers and literary itinerary, and argue that his literary aesthetics derives from his musical aesthetics. I then discuss Hodeir's most celebrated novel, Musikant (1987), approaching its musical dimensions from the perspective of the music-derived narrative strategies used by the author, and from the perspective of the reader. Hodeir's background as a composer informs the conception of his narratives. Consequently, a number of effects experienced by the novel's reader are similar to the perception of music by a listener.

Born in 1921, Hodeir grew up in Paris and studied music early. He played the violin, for which he received extensive training, at first with private teachers, then, in 1932, at the Conservatoire de Paris. Hodeir initially planned to become an instrumentalist, but later elected composing. Familiarity with the violin repertoire, however, as well as reminiscences of his training, and of the physical and psychological constraints imposed upon young violinists, later shaped his writing of Musikant. After a stay in a sanitarium from 1938 to 1942, memories of which surface in his novel Play-Back (1983), Hodeir returned to the Conservatoire from 1942 to 1947, to focus on composition. He attended Olivier Messiaen's Harmony class, and graduated with first prizes in Harmony, Counterpoint, and Music History. 1942 marked the beginning of his parallel career as a jazz violinist, under the pseudonym of Claude Laurence.

Hodeir had discovered jazz around 1935 (Dumont 25), and, during WWII, he started performing with renowned French jazzmen, including Andr[acute{e}] Ekyan and Django Reinhardt, the legendary Gypsy guitarist (whose more customary partner was, of course, St[acute{e}]phane Grappelli). In 1946, Django and Hodeir started a collaboration for a film soundtrack (Williams 134-35). Hodeir also played with American drummer Kenny Clarke on the first be-bop violin recording in France, Laurenzology (1948). Other collaborations followed, with Don Byas and James Moody (Tarting 469).

In 1954, Hodeir and saxophonist Bobby Jaspar founded the Jazz Groupe de Paris, dedicated to performing Hodeir's works, in which he no longer performed but conducted. The group, which remained in existence until 1969, recorded three albums, two of which were released in the U.S. From 1947 to 1954, Hodeir's compositional career developed through what he called a period of "bilingualism," consisting of the dual activity of composing jazz for jazz performers, as well as writing works, including a capella pieces, a symphony, and a sonata for solo violin (Dumont 6), for classically-trained musicians. …

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