Georges Auric (1899-1983)
A child prodigy, Georges Auric wrote an article on the subject of the music of Satie, when he was 14 years old. The story goes that when Satie arrived on his critic’s doorstep and asked to speak to Mr Georges Auric, he was greeted by a child in short trousers who replied, “Mr Auric, that’s me”. However the composer did not realize his early promise; he was mainly known for his incidental music for ballet, film, in particular the films by Cocteau: Le Sang d’un poète, La Belle et la Bête, Orphée. After the second world war he spent a period of time as the director of the Paris Opera and president of the SACEM.
Jane Bathori (1877-1970)
A prima donna opera singer, Jane Bathori became the director of the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier when Copeau left for the United States in 1917. She organised many concerts and sang a number of the melodies.
Paul Claudel (1868-1955)
French diplomat, poet, and playwright, Paul Claudel attributed a lot of importance to music. Wagnerian in his youth, he dreamt, while under the influence of the French symbolists, of a renewal of the way in which music and text could come together. He met Darius Milhaud in 1912, at the same time as one of his play was to be put on for the first time. This was the start of many collaborative works such as L’Orestie (Agamemnon, Les Choéphores, Les Euménides) (1912-1924), the incidental music for Protée (1913-1919), the ballet L’Homme et son désir (1917), the opera Christophe Colomb (1927-1928), the dramatic oratorio La Sagesse (1934-1935), as well as incidental music, melodies or cantatas for choir. His meeting with Honegger and the success of Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher made the Swiss composer the favorite collaborator of the playwright, from that point onwards. As well as the La Danse des morts (1938), Honegger composed the incidental music for Soulier de satin (1943), the radio soundtrack of Tête d’or (1947), and the music soundtrack to the documentary Paul Claudel (1951). A final collaborative project, La Cantate de Pâques, was to remain unfinished following the illness of the composer.
Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
French writer with many talents, Jean Cocteau become interested in music early on through knowing Debussy and Satie. He helped form the “Groupe des Six”. Many poems were put to music by the group; as well as Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel, he wrote the libretto for the Pauvre Matelot for Milhaud, and his piece Antigone was transformed into an opera by Honegger, while La Voix humaine was also adapted by Poulenc. He also worked collaboratively with Igor Stravinski on Oedipus rex and gave an unforgettable recitation of the L’Histoire du soldat.
Claire Croiza (1882-1946)
A French prima donna opera singer, Claire Croiza started her career at the Opera in Nancy in 1905, before spending from 1906 to 1913 singing at the “Monnaie de Bruxelles” performing Dalila, Didon in Les Troyens, Erda, Pénélope, etc. She also performed in Paris and became one of the greatest singers of French melodies. In 1915 she produced the Jardin clos by Fauré and in 1924, Le Miroir de Jésus by André Caplet. As a Performer of Pâques à New-York by Honegger and of the Chanson de Ronsard in 1924, close links developed between her and the composer, who dedicated Judith to her. From the end of the twenties, Claire Croiza was mainly a solo performer, and her records are witness to her historic performance of the Choéphores by Milhaud, directed by Louis de Vocht. She was also an excellent teacher, and had pupils such as Janine Micheau, Jacques Jansen, Camille Maurane, Gérard Souzay, Yoshiko Furusawa and Betty Bannerman.
Louis Durey (1888-1979)
The oldest of the “Six” preferred to retire from Parisian life and live in Saint-Tropez. Influenced by Ravel to such an extent that he became less involved in the “Groupe” when they criticized the composer, he continued to compose works that went virtually unnoticed in Paris. His music become more political from 1936 onwards: he joined the communist party and, following the war he composed a number of works related to the political and historical circumstances.
André Gédalge (1856-1926)
Composer and above all an excellent teacher, who influenced many generations of musicians. Professor of fugue and counterpoint from 1905, author of Traité de la fugue, he had as pupils Maurice Ravel, Florent Schmitt, Charles Kœchlin, Georges Enesco, Jacques Ibert, Darius Milhaud…
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)
French composer, the Rome competition award winner in 1919, and known as the director of the “villa Médicis” from 1936 to 1961. His style, typically French in the clarity of writing and lightness, made him a representative of the “neoclassic art” of France between the two world wars. He experimented with virtually all types of music, in particular opera: L’Aiglon (1937) and the operetta: Les Petites Cardinal (1938) in collaboration with Honegger. The friendship between the two men was so close that when Jacques Ibert heard of the death of his friend, he suffered a heart attack.
Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)
Of Russian origin and exiled at the time of the revolution in 1917. He moved to the United States where he became the conductor of the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra (1924-1949), the most French of the American orchestras. He had a particularly important role as patron, when commissioning works by Roussel, Honegger, Milhaud, Martinu, etc.
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
“A Frenchman from Provence, of Jewish religion”, Darius Milhaud is one of the most prolific composers of this century with more than 400 works in his catalogue of works. Born in Marseille, he developed a musical personality that was original, precocious and strong. As early as 1910, he started his opera La Brebis égarée based on the text by Jammes, and in 1912 he met Paul Claudel who entrusted him with the music for L’Orestie by Eschyle, that he had just translated. In 1917 he composed the music for the second part, Les Choéphores, an astounding score that demonstrated his search for polytonality and included a spoken choral part supported by the percussion. In 1917 he left as secretary to Claudel, plenipotentiary in Brazil; he returned in 1919, and subsequently became a member of the “Groupe des Six” where he was uniformly admired. This, despite the fact that his music was having difficulty being accepted by the people, and the critics. The Seconde Suite symphonique de Protée, under the baton of Gabriel Pierné, caused a scandal in 1920, and even works such as Le Bœuf sur le toit (1919) or the ballet La Création du monde (1923) were not well received. His catalogue of work didn’t cease to grow, despite his bad health, with operas such as Christophe Colomb (1928) based on text by Claudel, performed in Berlin in 1930, Maximilien (1930), Bolivar (1943), David (1952), the Symphonies pour petits orchestre, the Symphonies pour grand orchestre (12 from 1939 to 1962), the orchestral Suites, the Concertos, the chamber music with, in particular the impressive group of 18 Quartets, etc. In 1940, the composer was exiled to the United States; he returned to France in 1947 and thereafter split his time and lessons between France and the United States. His language, which could take very diverse forms, was characterized by the use of polytonality.
René Morax (1873-1963)
Poet and Vaudois playwright, he created in 1903 the Théâtre du Jorat in the countryside not far from Lausanne–twin of Maurice Pottecher’s popular theatre in France. He organized many shows, of which he was often the author, and regularly called upon the services of Honegger: Le Roi David, Judith, and also La Belle de Moudon or Charles le Téméraire.
Charles Münch (1891-1968)
French conductor, he directed the “Orchestre des Concerts du Conservatoire” before taking over the Boston Symphony Orchestra from Koussevitzky à (1949-1961). He was a friend of Honegger and he significantly contributed to making the works of the composer known. We owe to him the precious recordings of La Danse des morts, and of the Second Symphony, etc. Characterized by his enthusiasm, he was capable of getting the very best out of ochestras during concerts, using his ability to electrify the musicians and rouse the audience.
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
The third of the great composers of the “Six”, Poulenc was from the beginning an instinctive composer before putting the finishing touches while training under Charles Kœchlin. In the orchestral area, he composed concertos and ballets. He also distinguished himself in opera through three very different works that all enjoyed success when performed: Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Le Dialogue des Carmélites and La Voix humaine. Poulenc was also a great composer of chamber music, songs and choral music, selecting his texts with considerable taste. Using a fairly classical musical language, which was judged old fashioned by some, his works were very seductive to the public and he was in fact the most popular composer of the “Six”.
Ida Rubinstein (1883-1960)
An important figure in artistic life during the first half of the century, Ida Rubinstein did not merit being overlooked in later years. She first appeared on stage in the Russian ballets by Diaghilev, in May 1909 in Cléopâtre, then a triumphal success in Shéhérazade. At the same time she took lessons from Sarah Bernhardt and Julia Bartet. Because she was a mediocre dancer and due to the fact that she had not started training from a young enough age, she looked for work that was a synthesis of different roles, where she would be happy, not just as a performer, but equally importantly, as a sponsor.
In 1911, she left the Russian ballet and d’Annunzio wrote Le Martyre de saint Sébastien for her. Debussy, aided by André Caplet, composed the music. From this point she commissioned many works where she appeared as a dancer, mime artist, or actress; more than twenty in total, that were to experience a mix of fortunes. Every year from 1918, she rented for a few days, at her own expense, the Paris Opera, where she performed her shows free of charge. The shows ranged from plays with a significant musical support, such as Anthony and Cleopatre by Shakespeare with music by Florent Schmitt, the ballets (Le Boléro by Ravel, Salomé by Florent Schmitt, and Le Baiser de la fée by Stravinski) or the melodramas (Perséphone by Gide and Stravinsky).
Partly due to her training, Ida Rubinstein attributed great importance to movement. Her dramatic creations were very influenced by Greek theatre; following on from Wagner and the symbolists, she dreamt of a reuniting of the three facets of art: music, poetry and dance, while at the same time using all the resources of decoration and costumes, in unprecedented amounts and richness.
That which Stravinsky was for Diaghilev, Honegger was in some way for her. In this role he composed the music for L’Impératrice aux rochers by Saint-Georges de Bouhélier and for Phaedre by d’Annunzio, the orchestration by Bach of Noces d’Amour et de Psyché, and above all Amphion, Sémiramis and Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher.
Paul Sacher (1906-1999)
A principal musical figure of Switzerland, Paul Sacher founded the Basler Kammerorchester and the Basler Kammerchor, but above all commissioned many works that he subsequently directed and distributed, to Honegger, Frank Martin, Bela Bartok, Bohuslav Martinu, Igor Stravinski, Paul Hindemith, Richard Strauss, as well as to composers like Henri Dutilleux or Hans-Werner Henze. In particular we owe the success of works such as the Second Symphony by Honegger, the Music for strings, percussion and celesta by Bartok, the Double Concerto by Martinu, the Symphonie concertante by Frank Martin, etc. He becomes, for Honegger, an extremely precious friend and an important source of support. In 1986, he set up in Basel the “Fondation Paul Sacher” that welcomed the multiple manuscripts of Stravinski, Webern, Honegger, Boulez, etc.
Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)
The “Lady of the Six” is a endearing figure in the group. She had a troubled life, that affected the development of her career. However, the works that she composed are still interesting, and bear witness to a certain competence in her area.
Paul Valéry (1871-1945)
French poet and critic. Profoundly influenced in his youth by Mallarmé and French symbolism, he started a project of Orphée with Claude Debussy. In fact we had to wait until 1929 to see the project restarted by Ida Rubinstein, this time in the role of Amphion. We see the reoccurring problem in this work, of trying to produce a work that is “total art” through mixing poetry, theatre, music, dance, mime in the form of a large show that is almost liturgical and neoclassic in nature. Valéry was to be disappointed by the “Russian ballet” treatment that she put his work through, but nevertheless composed for her, Sémiramis, also with Honegger, in 1933.
Andrée Vaurabourg (1894-1980)
Following her studies at the Paris Conservatoire where she left with First prize in counterpoint, Andrée Vaurabourg distinguished herself as a pianist and teacher. She married Honegger in 1926 and was a particularly dedicated spouse for her husband, accepting the conditions that he demanded: namely that they would live in separate apartments and would only meet at the end of the day to dine or go out. She would frequently play her husband’s music during concerts and the Concertino for piano was composed for her. Professor of counterpoint, she had as a pupil a certain Pierre Boulez.