André Jolivet

1905 1974

André Jolivet



Andre Jolivet was a 20th century French composer with an extremely varied repertoire. He composed in diverse styles, from music inspired by ancient instruments to music inspired by atonal and serial composers such asSchoenberg <>. Eventually, Jolivet was able to create a unique fusion of styles, enabling him to win prizes such as the Grand Prix Musical de la Ville de Paris and the Grand Prix de la critique lyrique et choréopgraphique.

Andre Jolivet was born into an artistic family in Paris. His father was a painter and his mother a pianist. At the age of four he began piano lessons with his mother and displayed a natural ability for music. Despite this obvious talent, his parents encouraged him to become a teacher and sent him to teacher-training schools. Alongside his traditional schooling, Jolivet continued studying music.

From a young age, Jolivet enjoyed poetry, painting, and composition. Jolivet first encountered the Comédie-Française in 1917, and dreamed of becoming a member of the company. Jolivet began setting his own poems to music and composed and designed a complete ballet. During this time, he became fed up with the piano and saved up to buy his own cello, which he later studied with Louis Feuillard. In his youth, Jolivet became acquainted with Abbé Théodas, the choirmaster of Notre Dame de Clignancourt, under whom he studied harmony and was introduced to the renaissance, baroque, and classical music of Schutz, Palestrina, Monteverdi and Bach, among others. Jolivet also displayed interest in painting, and while studying under cubist painter Georges Valmier, was introduced to Paul Le Flem, musical director of Chœurs de Saint-Gervais.

Jolivet studied organ and the basic principles of composition with Paul Le Flem. During these studies he encountered works by composers such asBartók, Berg, Schönberg, and Varèse, in addition to the master polyphonists of the 16th century. Le Flem encouraged Jolivet to attend a concert of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, which left a lasting impression. Thereafter, he studied orchestration and composition with Varèse for four years. Jolivet’s experimentation with sound, orchestration, acoustics, and atonal methods is evidence of Varèse’s profound influence.

Jolivet’s first important works were written in 1930 and include his Air pour bercer, Suite for string trio and Trois temps, in which he experiments with twelve-tone and serial composition. Shortly after, he visited North Africa and also became interested in ritualistic and incantational music. When Varèse left to return to America, he left behind six objects, which Jolivet used to compose Mana(1935). These six objects – a puppet, a magic bird, statue of a Balinese princess, a goat, cow, and a winged horse – are  represented one by one inMana (1935), each movement representing an object. The suite is very personal and is inspired by both Berg and Varèse. The suite, as a whole, shows Jolivet’s fascination with rhythm, paganism, and contrasting musical ideas.Mana marked the beginning of Jolivet’s ‘magic’ period in which he used the techniques of repetition and the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas to mimic tribal music and the changing human condition.

The sounds of the North African flute influenced his Cinq incantations (1936-37) for solo flute.Cinq incantations focuses on the life cycle, each movement representing a part of life (inter-personal communication, childbirth, daily labor, spirituality, and death). In subsequent visits to Africa, he explored original instruments and was one of the first composers to write for theondes martenot, an early electronic instrument, which Olivier Messiaen also made use of. Beginning in this period, he began to incorporate various popular dance rhythms into his music, such as the tango and ragtime.

After a review of Mana, Messiaen and Jolivet discovered they both shared an interest in the spiritual and emotional side of music. In 1935, together with Nestor Lejeune, Daniel-Lesur, and Georges Migot, they founded the society “La Spirale”, whose mission was to defend contemporary chamber music. One year later, with Yves Baudrier, the group became known as “La jeune France”. The group rejectedStravinsky’s neo-classicism and the central European experiments. Instead, they valued spirituality and human qualities.

With the start of World War II, the group’s activities came to an end. Jolivet was stationed in Fontainebleau, where he wrote theMesse pour le jour de la paix (1940), which expresses the medieval mysticism representative of theLa jeune France society, and Trois complaints du soldat (1940).

Jolivet was a lover of French music and culture and declared, in 1945, that ‘true French music owes nothing to Stravinsky.’ He believed that the goal of music should be to rediscover its ‘original ancient meaning.’ Jolivet was particularly interested in acoustics, and found the twelve-tone system too artificial.

However, during the war he simplified his style. In place of atonality he strived for lyricism and relaxation. During this time he composed a comic opera and a ballet,Dolores, ou le miracle de la femme laide (1942) and Guignol et Pandore (1943), respectively. Despite his simplified compositional style, Jolivet remained interested in ritualistic and spiritualistic features. Several compositions show this continued interest, includingChant de Linos (1944), a chamber piece brimming with independent contrapuntal lines, evidence of La Flem’s influence, while showcasing the technical possibilities of the flute.

Much of Jolivet’s post-war work represents a synthesis of his earlier experimental and newer simpler styles. Pieces depicting this fusion include his Serenade for Oboe and Piano (also for wind quintet) (1945) Piano Sonata no. 1 (1945), Serenade (1956) for two guitars, and many concertos for an array of instruments, including the cello, violin,bassoon and trumpet.

Realizing his childhood dream in 1945, Jolivet became the musical director of theComédie-Française. While holding this post he composed 14 scores for plays, and was able to travel extensively. His travels reinvigorated his interest in rituals and prompted works such as his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1949-50). This concerto continues the tradition of French exoticism established byBizet, Chabrier, Debussy, and Messiaen by including musical influences from Africa, East Asia, and Polynesia. Further evidence of his interest in French culture can be seen in his oratorioLa vérité de Jeanne (1956), based on a rehabilitating text about Joan of Arc, and his orchestral workLes amants magnifiques (1961), which pays tribute to Molière and Lully. Les amants magnifiquesis a prime example of Jolivet’s fusion of styles, using baroque characteristics in terms of harmony, instruments (harpsichord), and rhythms, with the addition of 20th century features such as glissandos, harmonics, an emphasis on percussion, and block writing, creating a very unique style.

Throughout his life, Jolivet remained interested in pedagogical issues. In addition to teaching in primary schools as a young man and frequently lecturing around the world, in 1959 he founded theCentre Francais d’Humanisme Musical, an academy he led for five years. From 1961, he taught composition at the Paris conservatory. His last commission consisted of writing an opera,Le soldat inconnu, a task that was left unfinished at the time of his death on December 19/20, 1974 in Paris.