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Music and Ultra-Modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939

Music and Ultra-Modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939

Barbara L. Kelly
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 269
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  • Book Info
    Music and Ultra-Modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939
    Book Description:

    Music and Ultra-Modernism in France examines the priorities of three generational groupings: the pre-war Société Musicale Indépendente of Ravel and his circle, Les Six in the 1920s and Jeune France in 1936. Exploring the ideas of consensus, resistance and rupture, the book contributes an important and nuanced reflection to the current debate on modernism in music. It considers the roles composers, critics and biographers played in shaping debates about contemporary music, showing how composers including Ravel, Poulenc, Milhaud, Jolivet and Messiaen and critics such as Paul Landormy, André Coeuroy and Roland-Manuel often worked in partnership to bring their ideas to a public forum. It also expands the notion of 'interwar' through the essential inclusion of World War I and the years before, reconfiguring the narrative for that period. This book challenges some of the stereotypes that characterise the period, in particular, neo-classicism and the dominance of secularism. It shows how Stravinsky worked closely with Ravel, Satie and Poulenc and invited audiences and critics to rethink what it meant to be modern. The interwar years were also marked by commemoration and loss. Debussy's wartime death in 1918 stimulated competing efforts (by Emile Vuillermoz, Léon Vallas and Henry Prunières) to shape his legacy. They were motivated by nostalgia for a lost and glorious generation and a commitment to building a legacy of French achievement. Music and Ultra-Modernism in France argues for the vitality of French music in the period 1913-39 and challenges the received view that the period and its musical culture lacked dynamism, innovation or serious musical debate. BARBARA L. KELLY is Professor of Music at Keele University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-168-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Musical Examples
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Introduction: Consensus, Resistance and New Music in France
    (pp. 1-14)

    On 14 January 1914 the Société musicale indépendente (SMI) mounted what Satie described as ‘un grandissime concert’; Ravel called it ‘a stupendous project for a scandalous concert’.¹ Why did it seem so daring even to those participating in it? The concert included high-profile premieres by Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel and Maurice Delage. Two of these works were inspired by another that was planned for this concert but did not make it onto the programme, Arnold Schoenberg’sPierrot lunaire.² Other composers were included in this extraordinary programme, most notably Florent Schmitt and Erik Satie; the latter had recently been rediscovered by...

  8. 1 Remembering Debussy: Nostalgia and Modernism in Interwar France
    (pp. 15-36)

    Debussy was an important figurehead for the avant-garde of 1913. Although he kept his distance from the Société Musicale Indépendante (SMI), maintaining his involvement with the Société nationale, his works were regularly performed at the SMI’s concerts.¹ Debussy’s operaPelléas et Mélisandehad been a unifying inspiration for the group ‘les Apaches’, which centred on Ravel and included one of Debussy’s most vociferous spokesmen, Emile Vuillermoz. The period from 1913 to 1920 saw Debussy’s appeal spread from this relatively small group of experimental enthusiasts to the musical mainstream.² An important factor in this process was the role Debussy and his...

  9. 2 Musical Allegiances and Factions: Ravel, Satie and the Question of Leadership
    (pp. 37-66)

    There has been much debate about Satie’s role in inspiring distinctive and defining aspects of Debussy’s and Ravel’s achievements. HisSarabandesare credited with guiding Debussy towards the so-called Impressionism that became a hallmark of his originality; thus for some, including Léon Vallas, Satie has detracted from the achievement of the more famous and successful composer.¹ Ravel, for his part, drew inspiration from Satie’s ‘ simplicity’; the musical evidence is clear inMa Mère l’Oye, which Ravel chose for the inaugural concert of the Société musicale indépendante in April 1910: he inscribed a score of the suite to ‘Erik Satie,...

  10. 3 Polemics and Publicity: Composer-Critic Partnerships
    (pp. 67-94)

    Writing about the critic Gaston Carraud’s death in June 1920, Paul Landormy described him as ‘ the good soldier’, who despite ‘his sometimes obstinate biased opinions’, wrote articles that were the ‘model of sincerity, of conscience and were nearly always insightful’.¹ Carraud, the renowned critic ofLa Liberté, was an interesting case in having started as a Debussy supporter, before becoming sceptical of Debussy’s value and influence fromLa Meronwards.² He participated actively in the bipartisan musical politics of his generation, which centred round supporters and detractors of two groups, thedebussystesand thescholistes. Debussy acquired new supporters,...

  11. 4 Musical Continuities: Sonority, Exoticism and Abstraction
    (pp. 95-162)

    Léon Vallas explained the significance of thedebussysterevolution to his Lyonnais audience thus:

    With Debussy, instead of the broad melodic idea of Franck, infinite development, which is very intellectual, and the grand variation, in short, instead of the work being highly planned and solidly structured – all powerful food for the musical spirit – we find above all the possibly extreme search for the sonorous sensation, for sonority for its own sake, or, if you will, the sensation as a goal instead of sensation as a means … the revenge of the flesh on the spirit. And, from the perspective of...

  12. 5 In Search of the Musical esprit du temps
    (pp. 163-183)

    In the preceding chapters I have traced some of the musical exchanges that took place between composers of often different generations and schools across the pre- and post-war periods. Identifying the dialogues that emerge from musical scores enables us to perceive creative works and their performance, at often specialised concert series, as crucial sites for musical debate and emerging consensus. While critics had a role to play in publicity and in bringing particular individuals and groups to public attention (as Chapter 3 has shown), composers and critics used public forums such as the press and public lectures to voice the...

  13. 6 Surface Division, Deep Consensus: Classicism and Secularism and their Challenges
    (pp. 184-226)

    In June 1920 Georges Auric, echoing Cocteau’sLe Coq et l’arlequin, provocatively proclaimed his commitment to a music inspired by the fair, circus and the everyday:

    Why do you reproach us for the circus, the music-hall, the fair at Montmartre? … Too bad if this disperses the profound seductions ofdebussysme, the friendly grace of M. Ravel with too little pomp.… The jazz-band enthrals us. To create such easy, everyday music around some dance tunes, with such counterpoint, noises, rhythms, cries could well appear overwhelming… How many evenings have I preferred the banjo, the saxophone of the Casino de Paris...

  14. Conclusions: Music for the patrimoine – Remembering Interwar Music in France
    (pp. 227-234)

    Here is a tale of diplomatic brinkmanship. On 28 December 1927 Ravel boarded the S.S. France at Le Havre, bound for New York. His arrival on 4 January was the start of an exhilarating tour of America and Canada that lasted until 21 April 1928. Although audiences and critics were ambivalent about his abilities as a conductor and pianist, in Gaby Casadeus’s view, ‘America confirmed Ravel’s status [as a composer], even for the French’.¹ While the reviews and eyewitness accounts of his tour tell one story, there is another fascinating story behind the scenes that took place even before Ravel...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-250)
  16. Index
    (pp. 251-258)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)