Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Band Played On

by D. Kern Holoman
Alfred Cortot and Wihelm Kempff
 during the concert de clôture,
 Exposition Arno Breker
Orangerie, 1 August 1942.
Akademie der Künste, Berlin.
Even if you don't read a word of French, find and peruse a copy of this book for the pictures. La Musique à Paris sous l'Occupation (ed. Myriam Chimènes and Yannick Simon, Cité de la Musique / Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2013) presents the contributions to a colloquium of the same name that took place in Paris, 1314 May 2013—spoken version to book form in about six months. In some respects this constitutes a sequel to the precedent conference and widely admired book La Vie musicale sous Vichy (ed. Chimènes, 2001, rpt. 2004).

But the impressive extent and depth of the research ("scientific research," the French would say), documentation, and analysis of musical life in occupied Paris that has taken place in the dozen years separating the two conferences took me by surprise: all the periodicals scoured cover-to-cover, hundreds of archives—the Radio, the embassies, the concert societies—plumbed, pictures and recordings galore.

Many of the twenty or so contributions were, to a greater or lesser degree, eyebrow raising, perhaps most notably Yves Balmer and Christopher Brent Murray's reconstruction of Messiaen's activities in 1941, correcting the composer's liberally decorated accounts of his imprisonment and repatriation (and, thus, the history of such works as Visions de l'Amen). And, to no one's surprise, the polemics over wartime behaviors are far from done: the cases of Florent Schmitt and Jacques Chailley, for instance, remain the focus of sometimes heated debate.

Winifred Wagner at a reception
 at the German Embasssy, May 1941
La Semaine, 5 June 1941.

Meanwhile, as everybody knew already, concert life (and many other features of traditional Parisian culture) stumbled along, affording those who could gain admission some comfort and solace—and, for those who cared to mingle with the occupiers, the usual luxuries. Yet somehow, for me, the photographs (gathered between pp. 106 and 107) made these chapters come alive in a way I'd not experienced before: the stark juxtapositions of the concert room and the street below, and the agonizing conflicts of principle faced by music-providers week in and week out. “Anyone who was not there,” thought Simone de Beauvoir, “has little right to criticize those who were.”

Von Karajan and Rudolf Schleier,
German Consul General, same party.
Germaine Lubin, same party.

D. Kern Holoman is curator of Musicology Now.

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