The Musical Legacy of Wartime France
Leslie A. Sprout (Associate Professor of Music at Drew University)
California Studies in 20th-Century Music
ISBN: 978-0-52027-530-0

May 2013
Hardcover, 304 pages

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Poulenc’s Wartime Secrets
2. Honegger’s Postwar Rehabilitation
3. Ignoring Jolivet’s Testimony, Embracing Messiaen’s Memories
4. The Timeliness of Duruflé’s Requiem
5. From the Postwar to the Cold War: Protesting Stravinsky in Postwar France

For the three forces competing for political authority in France during World War II, music became the site of a cultural battle that reflected the war itself. German occupying authorities promoted German music at the expense of French, while the Vichy administration pursued projects of national renewal through culture. Meanwhile, Resistance networks gradually formed to combat German propaganda while eyeing Vichy’s efforts with suspicion. In The Musical Legacy of Wartime France, Leslie A. Sprout explores how each of these forces influenced the composition, performance, and reception of five well-known works: the secret Resistance songs of Francis Poulenc and those of Arthur Honegger; Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, composed in a German prisoner of war camp; Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, one of sixty-five pieces commissioned by Vichy between 1940 and 1944; and Igor Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes, which was met at its 1945 Paris premiere with protests that prefigured the aesthetic debates of the early Cold War. Sprout examines not only how these pieces were created and disseminated during and just after the war, but also how and why we still associate these pieces with the stories we tell—in textbooks, program notes, liner notes, historical monographs, and biographies—about music, France, and World War II.

"Sprout’s book addresses a singular – and singularly compelling – period in modern French history, and does so with a remarkable degree of insight and nuance. It is bound to make an important contribution to twentieth-century music history."—Eric Drott, author of Music and Elusive Revolution

“Leslie A. Sprout has written a sophisticated and nuanced book about the complex realities of French culture under Nazi rule, and the relationships between music and politics. It is also an original and successful attempt to describe how the first representations of postwar times created long-lasting misconceptions on the past. Far from opposing history and memory, this book provides a comprehensive analysis of both historical realities and historical legends.”—Henry Rousso, Institut d’histoire du temps présent (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris)


(1) During the war, Poulenc navigated among the diverging visions for French music promoted by German occupiers, Vichy officials, and Resistance agitators. The premiere of Poulenc's Les animaux modèles, juxtaposed with Werner Egk's Joan de Zarissa, epitomized the competing agendas of German and French officials for new ballets choreographed by Serge Lifar at the Opéra. The Violin Sonata paid homage to Federico García Lorca, and Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon set Resistance poems to music; both were performed and published in occupied Paris. The wartime genesis and postwar reception of Figure humaine, which set to music Resistance poetry by Paul Éluard, bolstered Poulenc's reception after the war as a celebrated national figure who successfully balanced his public career with his composition and performance of musical secrets.

(2) Honegger enjoyed significant professional success in occupied Paris: major wartime premieres include his Symphonie pour cordes, performed by Charles Münch and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. Yet Honegger made controversial wartime choices before composing Chant de Libération, a song for baritone solo, unison chorus, and orchestra that received one performance in liberated Paris before French musicians imposed a six-month ban on the composer's music in retaliation for what they regarded as acts of collaboration. I juxtapose Chant de Libération with Chant de la Délivrance (Honegger's postwar pastiche of a Resistance song) in order to explore the role his music played in his postwar rehabilitation. The swiftness of his rehabilitation calls into question the seriousness of his wartime offenses.

(3) Composed and premiered in 1941 in a German prisoner-of-war camp, Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time has become emblematic of the French wartime experience for today's listeners. Yet, although the music of numerous French soldier-composers received repeat performances and positive press coverage in German-occupied Paris, where repatriated prisoners were symbols of hope for a nation shamed by its swift military defeat, wartime critics gave Messiaen's Quartet decidedly mixed reviews. I contrast the wartime reception of Messiaen's Quartet with that of Jolivet's musical and verbal documentary, Trois complaintes du soldat, to discuss the ways in which the Quartet demonstrates Messiaen's remarkable ability to write ethereal music that transcended his physical ordeals more than it engaged with them.

(4) Duruflé's Requiem is notable for its faithful use of Solesmes plainchant and for the long postwar denial of its historical connections to wartime France by critics obsessed with its “timelessness.” Selections of the work were sung at the 1996 funeral of President François Mitterrand, who died amid controversy about his own wartime past. The Requiem is unique among Duruflé's compositions in its symphonically conceived orchestral accompaniment to choral parts based on plainchant. I argue that Duruflé, who originally envisioned his Requiem as an organ suite, adapted the work to his 1941 Vichy commission to write a symphonic poem destined for performance by one of occupied Paris's symphony orchestras, which received state subsidies to perform new French works, including state commissions.

(5) Although the 1945 protests in Paris against Stravinsky's latest music initially concerned aesthetics—rejecting neoclassicism—rather than politics, French students’ heckling of a prominent prewar composer touched a raw nerve. The students, led by Serge Nigg, associated neoclassicism with the discredited Vichy ideal of a French national tradition. Yet in defending Stravinsky, composers allied with the Resistance (including Auric and Poulenc) made ominous references to questionable wartime choices by those who supported the protesters, such as Jolivet. Nigg's prominent role in the protests prefigured his complex political and musical trajectory in early Cold War France after 1948, when the Soviet Union pressured him, along with fellow French Communist Party members, to replace “falsely cosmopolitan tendencies” with the music of their national heritage.