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A Biographical Chronology of Jean Barraqué

Author(s): Rose-Marie Janzen and Adrian Jack

Source: Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Winter, 1989), pp. 234-245
Published by: Perspectives of New Music
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Jean Barraque was introducedto the English-

speakingworldbya laudatorychapterin Since Debussy, a surveyof contem-
porarymusic by Andre Hodeir,publishedin the United Statesand England in
1961(NewYork:GrovePress,Inc., and London:Seckerand Warburg).Theterms
in which Barraque'smusic was describedmade manyscepticalof the composer's
importance,yet bythe time he diedin 1973 at the ageofforty-five,hissmalloutput
wasattractingincreasingattention.He leftonlysix workswhichhe recognised, all
of themon a largescale.Threebelongedto a hugeprojectinspiredbythephilosoph-
ical novelThe Death of Virgil byHermannBroch.Death wasa centralconcern
to the composer,
and he recognisedthat his ownLa Mort de Virgile wouldneverbe
complete. pupil of Messiaen,Barraqueevolvedhis ownserialtechniquewhichhe
put tofundamentallypoeticpurposes.Thecharacterof his musicis welldescribed in
an extractbelowfrom a letterhe wroteaftera rehearsalofChant apreschant. He
JeanBarraque 235

wasbitterlyopposedtoavant-gardeextremessuchas aleatoricism,whichhe thought

rootlessand irresponsible.He reveredBeethovenand Schubert,and he was not
ashamedto say that the Romanticperiodwas hisfavourite. But despitethe deep
respectBarraquewonfrom leadingmusiciansin Franceandabroad,and the loyalty
with which he inspiredhis students,he remainsan isolatedfigure and eachper-
formanceof his musichas the characterof a specialevent.Whichis no lessthan he
-Adrian Jack

The following chronology includes only properlyverified facts and dates,

enhanced by verbatim quotations from Jean Barraque(letters, articles, and
interviews published in his lifetime), their style often more spoken than
written. There are inevitablyimportant gaps as well as a certain imbalance,
for lack of precise information on some periods of his life.

1873, 5 June. Louis Millet, Jean Barraque'smaternalgrandfather,born in

Bue, near Sancerre(departement of Cher). (Died 26 January1945.)
1877, 28 January. Cecile Gresle, JB's maternal grandmother, born in
Paris. (Died 20 June 1954.)
1898, 9 July. Grat Barraque,JB's father, third or fourth of ten children,
born in Esquiule, near Geronce (in the Basque departementof Pyrenees-
Atlantiques). (Died 9 June 1975.)
1903, 9 January. Germaine Millet, JB's mother, the younger of two sis-
ters, born in Paris. (Died 25 December 1987.)
1923, 9 July. Grat Barraque and Germaine Millet married in Puteaux
(dipartementof Hauts-de-Seine).
1928, 17 January. Jean-Henri-Alphonse Barraque born in a clinic in
Puteaux, where his maternalgrandparentslived. Baptism at the collegiate
church of Montmorency (Val-d'Oise), where his parents lived. He was an
only child.
Circa 1931. The Barraquefamily settled in Paris, rue du Rocher.
Circa 1932. Grat Barraquebought business premises at 1, rue Jacquard,
with lodgings attached. JB lived there until 1950. Since both parents
worked, he was often left in the chargeof their maid FrancineLe Faucheur,
a native of Trelevern in Brittany (Cotes-du-Nord), where he stayed
236 of NewMusic

... Unfortunately I am not a Breton, I am a Breton by adoption. My

whole life, my whole artisticlife, is in Brittany. I was fascinatedby the
sea, by the rocks, by the tides, by a rhythm of life. Doubtless that is
where I became a composer, wanting to make something anew just as
the tide makes things anew, I wanted to make the UnfinishedSym-
phony anew, it was there that I dreamed of La Mort de Virgile,albeit
for later, so ... everythingoriginated there ... I was five years old, five
or six, when I firstgot to know Brittany. ("Propos impromptu," pub-
lished by Raymond Lyon in Le CourrierMusical de France26, [Second
quarter, 1969]:76)

1939. At the beginning of the war, Grat Barraquewas called up at Talence

(Gironde). JB remained in Brittany, where he was on holiday.
1940. JB sat for his certificate of primary studies at Lannion (Cotes-du-
1940. During the evacuation of northern France, the Barraque family
stayed for a period in the Basque region, and then returned to Paris about
1940, October. JB entered the Choir school of Notre-Dame, then part of
the Ecole Diocesaine de Paris, rue Massillon. The school provided educa-
tion in the sixth to fourth classes. The pupils had to take part in the services
at Notre-Dame on Sundays and feast-days, either as choristers or servers.
(At the end of the fourth class, pupils who wanted to study for the
priesthood went on to the Petit-Seminaireof the Diocese of Parisat Char-
enton.) Subjects taught: Singing, French, Latin, Greek, German, Mathe-
matics, History, Geography, Science, Religion. JB's academic marks were

... I didn't think of becoming a musician at all, I was in a religious

school, and then one Saturday evening-I will always remember, I
was, what? twelve yearsold-a teachertook us to his room and put on
a record, and it was the UnfinishedSymphony. Previously I had had
very superficialcontact with music; I came from a middle-classfamily,
I had learntthe piano and the violin; at the Notre-Dame Choir School
where I started my studies they did nearly three-quarters of an hour
singing each day. But I didn't knowmusic. And then, suddenly, that
Saturday, with some of my school-fellows, I was made to listen to
the UnfinishedSymphony! I didn't know what it was. Brutally, from
that moment on, I was like a madman, obsessed ... ("Propos
impromptu," p. 75)
JeanBarraque 237

1943, 13 July. JB completed a Nocturnein C-sharp minor for piano solo

and dedicated it to a cousin.
1943, Autumn. JB entered the Lycee Condorcet where he went through
the third, second, and first classesand Philosophy, staying until 1947. The
same subjects were taught up to Philosophy as at the Ecole Diocesaine.
Academic marks:fairlyaverage.According to his schoolfellows, JB was nei-
ther very hard-workingnor very ambitious in his studies, but above all pas-
sionate about music. He talked of wanting to become a priest.
1945-47. Early composing: for piano, for voice and piano, for violin and
piano, for solo horn; a Sonata, a Symphony. JB took piano lessons without
working very hard; what he liked was to improvise at the piano for hours
on end.
Circa 1947. JB studied harmony, counterpoint, and fugue with Jean Lan-
glais. Piano lessons with a teacherwho followed the method of MarieJaell.

My Mouvement lent will be given its first performance by Denyse

Tolkowsky-de Vries at INR, Brussels [Belgian Radio] ... on Saturday
26 June. It's a piano piece written last June ... I don't think you will
like it and that you'll feel bewildered. Don't draw away! Get yourself
in a mood of absolute silence (have you ever listened to the silence of
nature). Don't tell yourself it's difficult, that you don't understand
music, etc. Let your soul and your heart listen free of everything that
fills your life, needs, affections, loves, sadness, emotions, etc. Only
then will you reach that thing of movement which is music... (Letter,
12 May 1948)1

1948. JB tried his hand at music criticism (for Liberation).Compositions:

for voice and piano, for voice and organ, Third Sonata for piano.
Autumn 1948. JB attended Messiaen's course in analysisas a free student
[auditeur]. He continued for about three years and met, among others,
Edvard Bull, Marcel Bedot, Jean Bonfils, Adrienne Clostre, Pierre
Cochereau, Marius Constant, Christiane Delisle, Michel Fano, Karel
Goeyvaerts, Sylvio Lacharite, Serge Lancen, Marc Wilkinson ....

... When I first went to Messiaen's class, I had some knowledge of

musical thought and its history; I had worked a lot on my own while I
was studying counterpoint and fugue .... In that class I acquired
knowledge, but above all something indefinable and precious, some-
thing which a young musician needs, a sort of love of music ....
("Propos impromptu," p. 77)
238 of NewMusic

1948-50. Compositions: songs, a cappella chorus, sonata for solo violin,

Symphony in C-sharp minor.
Circa 1950. JB took Maurice Martenot's course in Ondes.
1950. 1 March:JB completed the song "Je dors et mon coeur veille" (Song
of Songs 5:2); 4 April: song "L'Etranger" (Baudelaire,"Petits poemes en
prose"); June to September: song "L'Epoux infernal" (Rimbaud,
"Delires I"). These three songs, reworked and instrumented, with inter-
ludes and texts from Nietzsche, became Sequencefor voice, percussion, and
instrumental ensemble (1955).

When I left Messiaen, Siquencewas already composed. It wasn't my

first work. There had alreadybeen some thirty before it. I never com-
posed so much as before Sequence,but all the same, for me, Sequenceis
my first work, all the rest count as essays;a little bit of everything, try-
ing to get close to it, hovering round it ... ("Propos impromptu,"
p. 77)

1950, Summer. JB moved to 2, rue de l'Abbe Patureau, on Montmartre.

1951-54. JB took part in a course at the Groupe de Recherches pour la
Musique Concrete, together with Pierre Boulez, Yvette Grimaud, Andre
Hodeir, and Michel Philippot. He made his Etudefor tape there.
1950s. JB earned his living by doing variouskinds of work. He went on lec-
ture tours for Jeunesses Musicalesde France. During the years1951-53, he
worked for the Club d'Essai of French Radio on a monthly broadcast, a
radio magazine called "Jeune Musique," of which Andre Hodeir was the
editor-in-chief. In 1953 he started to work for Le Guide du Concert, for
which he wrote a "Guide de l'Analyse musicale" and numerous pieces of
musical analysis. He gave private courses, and from 1956 to 1960 he ran a
group course in musical analysis, which was attended by Christian Bellest,
Christian Chevalier, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Roger Guerin, Andre Riotte,
Henri Rossotti, Hubert Rostaing, Nat Peck, Mme. Candiani, and Rose-
Marie Janzen, among others. He wrote the analysesin the first volume of
Laroussede la Musique, published under the direction of Norbert Dufourcq
in 1957. Like other musiciansof his generation, he wrote articlesfor various
periodicalsand magazines, notably "Resonances privilegiees, leur justifica-
tion" (Cahiersde la CompagnieRenaud-Barrault[1953]: 27); "Des gouts et
des couleurs" (DomaineMusical [1954]: 14); "Rythme et developpement"
(Polyphonie [1954]: 47).

... We reach a stage of human sensitivity where we know (for the "I"
can no longer exist, we become historically aware of the state things
JeanBarraqu6 239

are in) that the history of God has only been the history of oblivion, of
the cowardlinessof man. Without a god, there is no meaning to life,
and we go around proclaiming that everything is absurd. But what
man can consistently accept that his acts are without any meaning?...
Are we not, in the end, men of the greatestfaith?The great mystics of
our day?And if I say yes, I know that we haven't made one single step
forward.... Creation, in its aesthetic necessity, remainsincomprehen-
sible, for one knows very well that it is not enough to make series or
fortes and pianos to make a work valid, but the moment "it bursts
forth" you enter a world that is so senseless that a rock can turn into a
man, and a man can leave reason behind involuntarily, enter into the
irrationaland go mad .... (Letter, November 1952)

... Having emerged from the nightmare and amphigory of my child-

hood and adolescence, I embarkedon and pursue the life of freedom
and independence that I have chosen-as much on the intellectual as
on the moral and social plane. (Letter, 15 September 1954)

... You certainly realise that my deep atheism (won with as much
courage and tenacity as my musical world) has nothing superficial
about it .... My artisticevolution, my creativityas it is now-after so
much suffering, frenzy, frustration, and disaster-may be fulfilled in
the isolated abundance of rigorousdespairwithout compromise, with-
out redemption, and without happiness (but without hell) only
through the attainment of that atheism. (Letter, 6 July 1959)

1952. The year given by JB as that in which he completed the Sonata for
piano. The manuscriptis not dated. It seems that JB made more than one
copy to send to interested pianists. Yvonne Loriod played a fragment of it
of about five minutes during a broadcast, "Tribune des jeunes com-
positeurs." Some performances and even recordings were planned, by
Marcelle Mercenier, Paul Jacobs, David Tudor, but they did not mate-
rialise. The Sonata finally became known through the recording Yvonne
Loriod made for Vega records (see below).
1955. Michel Foucault introduced JB to TheDeath of Virgil,the philosoph-
ical novel by the Austrian Hermann Broch.
1956, 10-11 March. First performanceof Sequenceat the Theatre du Petit-
Marigny, at a Domaine Musical concert, with Ethel Semser, soprano, and
Rudolf Albert conducting. The work was recorded live and issued shortly
afterwards on a ten-inch disc under the Vega imprint; in 1958 it was
reissuedby Vega on a twelve-inch disc (C30 A180) coupled with the Sonata
recorded by Yvonne Loriod.
240 of NewMusic

1956, Saturday, 24 March. On two facing pages of a notebook, JB drew

up and dated an outline of La Mort de Virgile,a huge composition to which
he expected to devote the rest of his life.
1957, 20 October. JB completed a first version of Le Tempsrestitue(La
Mort de Virgile), a seventy-four-page manuscript score signed and dated
March 1956-Paris 20 October 1957. The cover is dated 11December 1957.
1957-59. Work on two projects of "dramatic composition" in collabora-
tion with Jean Thibaudeau and JacquesPolieri. The projects did not mate-
rialise;some of the music was later used in... au-deladu hasard.
1959, 22 December. JB completed and signed the manuscript of... au-
delkdu hasard(La Mort de Virgile).He later dedicated the work to Andre
Hodeir, 12 June 1961.
1960, 26 January. First performanceat the Concerts du Domaine Musical
of... au-deladu hasard,for four instrumentalgroups and one vocal group,
by Yvonne Loriod, Ethel Semser, Marie-Therese Cahn, Simone Codinas,
Hubert Rostaing, the Jazz Groupe de Paris (musical director Andre
Hodeir) and the Ensemble du Domaine Musical, conductor PierreBoulez.

... au-deladu hasardis a kind of multidimensionalmusicalvision. Sev-

eral movements are interrelated, appearing, reappearing,and vanish-
ing, embodying the idea of strangeness and heterogeneity. The per-
petual variation has to do with the notion of "musical oblivion." All
parameters... pitches, durations, register, timbre, set up a complete
contradictionwith the orchestration.The jazz group is conceived here
as one block of sound among others, as a harmonicagglomeration.(JB
interviewed by Lucien Malson, LesCahiersduJazz 4 [1961]:70)

1960, Autumn. On the initiative of Gunther Schuller, JB met Aldo

Bruzzichelli, a Florentine businessman and former theatre producer and
director, who had just started a music publishingbusiness and subsequently
published all of Barraque'swork.
1961, 1 January. JB became a researchfellow at the Centre National de la
Recherche Scientifique. He was appointed researchassistanton 1 October
1962 (philosophy section, Etienne Souriau, director), a position he held
until 30 September 1970.
1961, 21 June. Date on the first page of Discours(La Mort de Virgile), an
incomplete manuscript of nine pages (soprano, contralto, five tenors, four
basses, solo piano, and orchestra).
1962, 23 April. JB began composing the Concerto, Easter Monday.
JeanBarraque 241

... I received a letter from Boulez asking for a new work for the next
season of the Domaine Musical, something within their performance
possibilities. I wrote back suggesting the Concerto. (Letter from JB to
his publisher, 19 December 1962)

1962, October. Editions du Seuil published Barraque's book Debussy

(afterwardstranslatedinto German, Japanese,Swedish, and Spanish).
1963, September. Aldo Bruzzichelli published Sequence.
1964, 18 January. JB had a car accident and was taken to the Ambroise-
Pare hospital at Neuilly.
1966. Chantapreschant (La Mort de Virgile)was composed in a few weeks,
with a view to first performance at the Strasbourg Festival. The undated
manuscript was completed at the end of April. (It was dedicated to Maria
and Michel Bernstein, 20 August 1970.) The published score (1968) was
dedicated to Madame Edouard Blivet, known as "Riri," daughterof Fran-
cine Le Faucheur.

[After a partial rehearsal] ... So I have heard C.a.C. for the first
time .... For the first time I am happy .... The score that I dreamed,
austere, tough, violent, sumptuous .... In short, the work I owed to
the Sea, to my country. The voice part... gripping [etreignante].A
work that is [illegible], strict, pure, tumultuous, economical in utter-
ance .... (Letter, 24 May 1966)

1966, May. Aldo Bruzzichelli published the Sonata.

1966, 23 June. First performance of Chant apres chant at Strasbourg:
Berthe Kal, soprano; Andre Krust, piano; Percussionsde Strasbourg,con-
ducted by CharlesBruck.
1966, July. JB began the composition of Lysanias(La Mort de Virgile)at
Malesherbes. The first performancewas planned for November, 1966. JB
fell ill during the summer and was unable to finish the work. He worked on
it again, particularlyin 1973, a short while before his death, but did not
finish it.
1967, 24 April. The Danish pianist Elizabeth Klein played the Sonata at a
concert in Copenhagen, unawarethat it was the first public performanceof
the work, previously known only from the record and the score.
1967, fourth quarter. Aldo Bruzzichelli published... au-delAdu hasard.
1968, 8 February. JB completed the final manuscriptof Le Tempsrestituein
242 of NewMusic

1968, 4 April. First performanceof Le Tempsrestitueat the Royan Festival:

Helga Pilarczyk, soprano; soloists of the French Radio Choir (directed by
Jean-PaulKreder); Ensemble du Domaine Musical, conducted by Gilbert
Amy. The first Parisperformancewas at a Domaine Musical concert on 25
1968, 5 August. Chant apres chant was performed in Avignon with
Josephine Nendick, soprano; Christian Ivaldi, piano; Percussions de
Strasbourg,conducted by CharlesBruck.
1968, Summer-Autumn. JB worked on the Concerto in Perros-Guirec
and completed it in Florence in late October.

... Concerto, more than urgent. The orchestral material must be

finished by the end of October. I don't know how I can do it. But I
will finish it. A strange work-perhaps the only one I have dreamed
about-outside myself, on the fringe of amusement, of laughter, play-
ing in dramaand sadness. A sumptuous virtuosity which comes, goes,
plunges, oblivious of surrounding landscape ... like a kite. Yes, some-
thing like that .... (Letter, 7 September 1968)

1968, 20 November. First performance in London of the Concerto:

Hubert Rostaing, Tristan Fry, BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by
Gilbert Amy. The manuscriptwas dedicated 20 March1969 to Claude and
Hubert Rostaing.
1968, late November. Fire in the building at rue Patureauafter an explo-
sion caused by a gas leak. For severalmonths JB stayed with friends or in a

... In the course of my moves I LOST all the dossier and half the writ-
ten score of Portiquesdu Feu. I cried over it like a madman. You can
understand how inadmissibleit is, how dreadfulfor a creatorto lose a
piece of eternity forever, to forget it forever. Even if I begin again-and
I will-it will never be the same ... (Letter, 7 October 1969)

1969, mid-April. JB moved to 113, rue des Moines.

1969, 12-14 July. Claude Helffer recorded the Sonata in Copenhagen for
Valoisrecords (MB 952). JB was present at the recordingsessions.
1969, 6 October. JB, in hospital for a check-up, outlined a project for
L'Hommecouche(La Mort de Virgile),a lyric work he did not complete. It
seems to have been planned in three acts. JB detailed the literarythemes on
severalpages in January1972.
JeanBarraque 243

... As soon as I recover I shall go back to Lysanias, then Hymnesa

Plotia, then Portiquesdu Feu, then... a very big project I'd like to talk
to you about, which would be the sum of all my creativethought. It
would be a kind of opera on all the myths... (Letter, 7 October 1969)

... What is myth? It's something passed on by word of mouth which

everyone recognises. And the great composer today who would create
lyric work, it would be a work everyone could identify with-as it was
in ancient Greece for example, when the stories of Orestes were
told ... and then ... for example, the Mass, or the Passions.... Or are
Dachau and Buchenwald a myth? I don't know yet. But what is there
that everyone can identify with, what "myth" is there? There is very
little. The only real myth is that of Death ... and every artist, every
creator, is committed to [estaxe sur] what I would call the "creation"
of Death. So there are not many myths: Love, Death, Night-that's
all. (JB interviewed by Florence Mothe, 30 April 1969)

... So... here I am in hospital again... still more stripped away, flayed
further .... Yes I know, Music waits for me; but before I become a
statue I should like also to be a man; almost like others .... The sub-
lime is beautiful, but from a distance .... I am sad and weary. Don't
oppress me with consolations... you don't know where an implacable
creative drive can lead, especially when, in a mad thirst for torment,
one has invented the intolerable"perpetual incompletion." ... Write.
Franz [Schubert]and I send you a kiss. Ludwig [Beethoven] has decid-
edly too bad a character.Let him grumble. (Letter, 7 October 1969)

1969, 20-23 December. Sequenceand Chant apreschant were recorded in

Copenhagen for Valois records (MB 951), with Josephine Nendick, Noel
Lee, the Prisma Ensemble, and the Copenhagen Percussion Group, con-
ducted by TamasVeto. JB was present at the recordingsessions.
1970, 1 October. JB started a score which he called Arrachede... commen-
taireenformede lecturedu TempsRestitue.Three staves for clarinetsand cho-
rus entry (SATB) marked "Sprechstimme. Imprecise pitches but different
in pitch register."
1971, 1 June. JB applied for the post of professor of analysis at the Paris
1971, 15 June. The High Court of Paris ordered JB and Editions du Seuil
to pay 3000 francs in "moral damages" to the estate of Erik Satie for the
passage concerning relations between Satie and Debussy in the book
Debussy,published in 1962. JB appealed.
244 of NewMusic

1971, 22 July. JB was notified that his applicationto the Conservatoirehad

been rejected by the appointments board.
1971-72. JB was hospitalised severaltimes and was operated on.

... I simply wanted to tell you this: I believe I have won ... a kind of
austerity and gravity that forbids any frivolity. This is the cost of La
Mort de Virgile,which has cut me off (if I may say so) from ordinary
lives. Humble I am, proud too, not because of myself-it seems to
me-but because of "that which I represent" (you know the quota-
tion) in other words Music, my only life ... (Letter, 29 January1972)

1972, 25 February. Fran9oiseThinat gave the first public performancein

Franceof the Sonata, in Orleans.
1972,15 March. The ParisCourt of Appeals upheld the verdict of 15 June
1971. The incriminatingpassagewas changed.

1972, 13 July. JB drew up a detailed plan of composition for Portiquesdu

Feu ("what ought to be beyond T[emps] R[estitue]") and signed and dated
it. A single page of music in fair copy survives (for three sopranos, three
mezzos, three altos, three tenors, three baritones, three basses).
1973, 9 April. Performancein Paris, Maison de la Radio, of Sequence(with
Bernadette Val and an instrumental group conducted by Alain Louvier)
and Le Tempsrestitue(Anne Bartelloni, French Radio Chamber Choir, Ars
Nova instrumentalgroup, conducted by Jean-PaulKreder).
1973, 15 April. Roger Woodward played the Sonata at the Royan Festival.
He had recorded it in London in autumn 1972 for EMI records (EMD
5511);JB was present at the recordingsessions.
1973, 29 June. JB was made Chevalierof the Ordre National du Merite.
1973, 10 August. JB was stricken with hemiplegia and taken to the Beau-
jon Hospital. He was transferredto La Salpetriereon 13 August, operated
on for intracerebralhaematoma the next day. He died on 17 August and
was buried at the cemetery in Trelevern.

-translated by Adrian Jack

JeanBarraque 245


1. Letters were made availableto the present writer by their recipientsand

since the vast majority wished to remain anonymous, no names are