INVESTIGATION – The Great War Museum at Meaux (France) has devoted an extensive new exhibition to musicians in the period 1914-1918. One hundred years after the outbreak of World War I, little-known musical stories are coming to light, and shoring up History with a capital H.
Ravel was distressed at his inability to join the front. His diminutive height and slight weight stopped him from becoming a pilot. He badgered his friend Paul Painlevé, Minister of War. “As the result of his insistence, he was hired as a military truck driver in 1916 and sent to Verdun,” Karine Lethiec narrates. “Patriotism was natural at the time, and very much a part of one’s education.” Claude Debussy was too ill to take up arms, but, shattered by the war, he embarked on a wave of musical patriotism that went hand in hand with his rejection of German music. He signed his letters “Debussy, French Musician”, and his Sonata for violin and piano was premiered in 1917 at a benefit concert for “blind soldiers returning to their homes”.
Following the Ensemble Calliopée, other groups have plunged into this little-known repertoire. The Trio Hobkoen, the Diotima Quartet,, and, more recently, pianist Célimène Daudet and violinist Amanda Favier. The two musicians rummaged through the scores that Private Durosoir had sent to him at the front. « Dans la malle du poilu » (In the soldier’s trunk) became a recording where contemporaries (Fauré, Lili Boulanger, Caplet and Durosoir) cross paths with the German music that, in an irony of war, Durosoir adored.
In 1925, Caplet died at the age of 47, a victim of the war’s poisonous gases. Profoundly affected by what he saw and lived through between 1914 and 1918, Lucien Durosoir sold his violin and bought a retreat in the Landes. Up to his death in 1955, he composed some 55 pieces. “His style partakes of no school,” analyses pianist Célimène Daudet. “Expelled from the Conservatoire in Paris for insolence, Lucien Durosoir had no compositional mentor. He composed far away from the Parisian musical world, and refused to let his works be played.”He put his trust instead in Time, and, in the silence of the Landes, wrote: “We can do little in the face of the great upheavals of History. We can only remember, remember just a little. And pass on to others the invisible thread of memory.”
“Dans la malle du poilu” Célimène Daudet (piano) and Amanda Favier (violin). Label Arion. €22
« Jouvence »». by Lucien Durosoir, performed by Ensemble Callipoée. €11 (Alpha)
Article first published in Sud Ouest, Sunday 6 January 2014. Translated by J. A. Macfarlane