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Growing Up American in Paris by Donald Harris

Early last June I received an e-mail from an English critic, John France, requesting some background information on a Piano Sonata I had composed while living in Paris in 1956. France had heard about the Sonata from a New York-based pianist/theorist/composer, Daniel Beliavsky, who has become somewhat of champion of my music. Beliavsky had sent him a recording of a concert performance of the work along with an analysis written for a graduate theory seminar at New York University. France sent me a rather extensive list of questions about the piece and about life in Paris in the fifties. I replied as best I could, stretching my memory to recall events that took place fifty years ago, wondering all the time what sort of a article would be forthcoming. Was all of the effort I put in worth the trouble? The answer came in August when I was notified by John France that his article had appeared on a British website. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by the attention that was suddenly being paid to this composition, the first that I completed in Paris. I showed the review to a few people including Graeme Boone, fellow Francophile and animator of this lecture series. Believing that it might hold some interest for young musicians of today, less informed on the subject of Parisian musical life in the aftermath of the Second World War, Graeme suggested that I expand on what John France had written in order to describe in somewhat greater detail what it was like to live in Paris fifty years ago.

Now there is nothing scholarly about the presentation I am about to make. It is no more than a memoir of an exciting and thought-provoking time which I thoroughly enjoyed and as such is more in the realm of what the French would call petite histoire as opposed to History with a capital "H." If it helps to shed some light on the musical climate of the times, it may well have some merit. It may however shed more light on what it meant to be an American in post-war Paris. I can tell you that in my case, no matter how much or how deeply I was affected by French life and culture, living there helped to reaffirm and reinforce my American identity, thus the title: Growing Up American in Paris. As my good friend, Marguerite Yourcenar was wont to say and I paraphrase, we can only be a guest or visitor in someone elseís life. No matter how much I reveled in the joys of Paris, I came to realize that I could only be a guest or visitor in its cultural midst in spite of the fact that by the time I left Paris in 1968, my music was published by a French publisher, I was a member of the SACEM (the French equivalent of ASCAP), and had a permanent carte de séjour giving me the right to work. I had become somewhat of a fixture in this remarkably beautiful and inviting city where I was at the time better known than I was in my own country. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the early years of my residency, I had the good fortune of meeting and working with some very important and significant musical personalities, among then Nadia Boulanger, Pierre Boulez, Max Deutsch, Andre Jolivet, Henri Dutilleux and to a lesser extent, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Georges Auric. But there were also many others, such as Iannis Xenakis, Michel Phillipot, Marius Constant, or André Boucourechliev, to name a few of the other composers with whom I was in frequent contact. This memoir will then attempt to describe what it was like to interact with many of the above during a critical period when my adult musical personality was in the process of being formed. You may note that Messaien, perhaps the most influential of postwar French composers, is not at the top of my list. I did meet him early on when I had occasion to audit his class in analysis at the Conservatoire, the same seminar, by the way, that had been frequented by the young European avant-garde several years earlier, among them Boulez and Stockhausen during their student years. I did not get to know Messaien well, however, until the late sixties and early seventies when I had returned to the US permanently and he and his wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod, visited on two separate occasions Boston and Tanglewood.


In autumn 1954, following completion of a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan the previous spring, I began study in the DMA program in composition. The Doctor of Musical Arts was a newly created degree program that had just been approved at Michigan. It was enrolling its first students. Its objective, as explained then, was to provide the composer with the requisite tools and skills to be able to gain employment in college teaching. This still seems to be the case. I soon found, however, that my mind was not on further academic study nor was it on college teaching. (Little did I know or could I imagine that later on I would spend thirty plus years in teaching and academic administration.) At the time, I longed instead to go abroad and fulfill a lifelong dream, to study composition in France with Nadia Boulanger. Thus in September 1955, armed with a letter of acceptance from the great French pedagogue and a recommendation from my teacher at Michigan, Ross Lee Finney, who had been her student before the Second World War, I sailed for France with high expectations, eagerly expecting to be inspired as I had never been before.

I had formulated a plan that I would spend a year or two in Paris, as long as my funds held out, and then return to Ann Arbor to continue working on my DMA. As everyone knew, composers in the US were earning their living in the teaching profession; there was no reason to believe that my life would turn out any different. But it was destined to be very different as I fell in love with Paris and French culture and did not return to the US to live permanently until 1968, without ever having obtained the DMA. In the autumn of 1955, however, my every thought was about the prospect of living in France, hardly about academic degrees or how I would eventually earn my living. Upon my arrival, I discovered that I had about six weeks to myself before Mademoiselle Boulanger was set to resume teaching in her apartment on the rue Ballu following her summer session at Fontainbleau, at least this is what I learned when I phoned her apartment to inquire when I could begin my lessons. So after finding two rooms on the rue de Passy where I could have a piano, I set about to enjoy the city and partake in its pleasures and attractions.

My most immediate objective was to learn the language. Even though I had studied French in high school and college (I even won the French medal when I graduated from high school), I soon discovered that although I could read fairly well, I had considerable difficulty understanding what was said to me when addressed in French. Conversely I found that those who were trying to understand what I was trying to say in my heavily American-accented French were having just as much difficulty. A female companion whom I had met while looking for lodgings proved to be an invaluable teacher. But I devised another plan, which I anticipated would satisfy both my need to be immersed in French culture and my desire to speak and converse properly. The Comédie Française was in session during September and October. I went to every play that was being given. In the afternoon, I would read the text, try to learn all of the unfamiliar words, and then attend the performance in the evening, hoping that as time went by the language would become second nature. Unfortunately the language of Molière and Corneille was hardly what one spoke in daily conversation, thus the plan was only moderately successful when it came to participating in everyday life. But I was becoming increasingly familiar with French classical theatre and this gave me immense pleasure.

Nadia Boulanger

When I began study with Nadia Boulanger, however, there was no need to know French. She only taught her American students in English. At first I was disappointed, as I only wanted to speak French. After all, I hadnít journeyed all that way to speak English. But I soon realized that one did not contradict Mademoiselle. She was a strong personality who always had it her way, and I was in awe of her musicianship as I was of the fact that I was in the presence of one of the worldís great pedagogues. She was vitally concerned about craft, about the tools that she felt a composer needed in order to compose. This was fundamental to her teaching philosophy, so much so that she never ceased to point out deficiencies in the musical backgrounds of her American students. She had designed devilish little tests, if you will, to assess basic levels of musicianship, one of which was to ask a student to play a Bach chorale at the piano, not very difficult in and of itself, but to do it standing up, again somewhat negotiable, with as a final bit of torture the instruction to simultaneously sing, not play, either the tenor or the alto part, in other words playing three of the voices and singing the fourth. Try it some time. Intimidated by her as I was, I did not come through with flying colors. But it is a good exercise for the ear.

The height of cruel and abusive punishment from my point of view came when she asked me to join her in playing a four-hand arrangement of Bartokís Miraculous Mandarin. She took off, magnificent keyboardist as she was, at a furious pace. I could not keep up. She then suggested that I try playing one hand alone, "take your pick, whichever hand you want," she said. Grinning at my failure or rejoicing at having proven her point (again take your pick), I was thoroughly embarrassed, indeed humiliated, when she suggested that I play with one finger and I discovered that I still lagged behind. I donít believe that she thought she was being excessively cruel. It was merely her way of pointing out the level of musicianship that she expected from her students. For my part, I realized that it would have been futile had I protested that this level of mastery was forever beyond my capability, especially since I was already in my mid twenties and as skilled at the piano as I would ever become.

She once admonished me at a lesson by saying that if I were a church organist and this were a Thursday or Friday and a new cantata would be needed for services on Sunday, she would not be able to call upon me. The reference to J.S. Bach was obvious and not the least bit subtle. Nor for that matter did I find it a particularly appropriate request to make of a composer three hundred years removed from the Baroque since such practices were no longer the norm. I remember responding without hesitation with a resounding and somewhat triumphant, "No, you could not." I knew that the French celebrated such skills as witness the traditional requirements for the Prix de Rome. I had read about Debussy and Ravel whose candidacies for the famous prize were judged by their abilities to write substantial cantatas or other large forms in a few short days while locked in a room, or as the French would say, en loge. Mademoiselle Boulanger would point to her one and only French composition student of note, Jean Francaix, as one who possessed this type of craft. "You may not like his music," she would say, "but you have to admit that every note is at its place." I never bought into this way of thinking. In my view, most of his pieces were wholly predictable, rather boring, somewhat rinky-dink and formula-driven, or so I thought at the time. Of course, her assumption was correct, I did not like them. I have not changed my opinion.

She also angered me when speaking of culture in the United States. She may have taught legions of Americans, but she had, in my opinion, a rather dismal view of the art that was produced on this side of the Atlantic. She referred to American culture as the equivalent of Roman culture, whereas European culture, the old continent, was akin to the culture of Athens. European culture alone embodied the great traditions of classical civilization. The best we could hope for was to be viewed as an epigone, like Rome, perceived then as an inferior imitation of a far greater culture. It is a statement that still infuriates me. In all fairness, if challenged, she may have wished to temper her outrageous assertion by the acknowledgement that we were a young culture in transition whereas Europe was old and tired out. This would have been in keeping with the thought process of Paul Valéry whom she greatly admired and who wrote to this effect in his brilliant essay of 1919, La Crise de líEsprit. Many in post Second World War Parisian society considered this essay prophetic, written as it was following the First World War. Valéryís son, incidentally, was an occasional visitor to our weekly seminars which most of her current students attended on a regular basis. Paul Valéry notwithstanding, however, she did not temper her statement and it still sticks in my craw.

She was a great believer in the study of traditional harmony and counterpoint. Even though I considered myself adequately schooled in these disciplines, I was not opposed to further study. I would painstakingly complete the harmony exercises in Dubois or Vidal that she would assign, and I must confess that I enjoyed doing them. There was usually only one solution to a given problem and puzzle solving can be quite satisfying. But disagreements soon crept into our lessons. I was excited about new developments in music. I remember enthusiastically bringing her the score of the Stravinsky Septet (1953) that I had just purchased and which had just been published, pointing out Stravinskyís embryonic use of tone rows. Her response, that I shall never forget, was to dismiss them as an "old man playing with his jewels." Concurrently I found that she was less than interested in what I was composing. And I soon discovered that I was not composing at all, that the will or desire to do so was gone. The end result was that in March, after a bout of jaundice or infectious hepatitis that had sent me to the American Hospital for a week, I wrote her a letter explaining that I needed to take some time off and would not continue lessons for the time being. During my recuperation that was longer than anticipated, both to recover my sense of perspective and change my ideas or simply to get out of the funk that I was in, I took a motor trip through the Swiss Alps and Italy, returning to Paris through the south of France. It did the trick, as I seemed to forget the trials and tribulations of study with Nadia Boulanger. I never went back for further lessons.

In retrospect there were occasions when I felt that I was being singled out for special attention by Mademoiselle, one of which was an invitation to turn pages for her when she accompanied a singer, Doda Conrad, at a lieder recital held at an exclusive private club, the Cercle Interallié. I arrived at the appointed time, quite nervous, as the surroundings were very elegant. The Cercle was located a short block from the Elysée Palace, the residence of the President of France, in one of the more fashionable neighborhoods. Seeing how nervous I felt and obviously looked, Mademoiselle told me that it mattered naught when I turned the page. She said that she knew the music by heart, songs of Duparc, Debussy and Fauré, that she only needed to glance at whether the notes went up or down in order to refresh her memory. This is not as surprising as one might think given that her eyesight was so very poor. And it was well known that she had a prodigious memory. Another rather amusing incident worth recounting arose at the time of the marriage of the Prince of Monaco to Grace Kelly. Mademoiselle was Maître de Chapelle to the Prince, which meant that she was in charge of selecting the music to be performed at the wedding. I was among the group of students invited to her apartment one weekend afternoon to copy parts for the selections she had chosen. It was an offer that one did not dare refuse. Students were invited to another command performance, the yearly mass in memory of Lili Boulanger, her sister whom she revered as a composer and whose memory she felt it was her sacred duty to honor and uphold. Lili Boulanger was but twenty-five years old when she passed away. Nadia Boulanger considered Lili to have been an extraordinary talent. The mass was held in March, as close as possible to the anniversary of her death, which occurred on March 15, 1918, at líÉglise de la Trinité, Nadia Boulangerís neighborhood or parish church where she regularly attended Sunday mass. Everyone knew, however, she had little use for the church organist, who was none other than Olivier Messaien, whose music and theories she distinctly disliked. Obviously his improvisations would also not be to her taste, but as there was nothing she could do about it, she seemed to make the best of it. For the record let it be known that I did copy parts for the wedding but was no longer around at the time of the memorial mass.

Several years later I was to renew contact with Nadia Boulanger when she was President of the Jury of the Concours de Monaco in which my Symphony in Two Movements won a prize. It did not win a first prize, as none was given that year, 1961. That was all right with me since the version of the Symphony that I submitted was an unfinished version. Newly married, I needed money so I took a risk and tacked on an ending to the second movement in order to submit it by the required deadline. I was happy to receive the cash, however, about the equivalent of $500, quite a tidy sum for me at the time, following which I leisurely went about the task of writing the real ending. Anyway, entries were submitted anonymously. I remember that my pseudonym was C-Sharp Minor. When the envelopes were opened revealing the identity of contestants, and upon learning that I was the laureate, Mlle. Boulanger sent a request through the Doda Conrad, a friend and long-standing member of the Boulangerie, that I stop by to see her. Years later when I was living in Boston, Harold Shapiro, the distinguished American composer, who taught for many years at Brandeis and who was a member of the Monaco jury, told me how pleased she was to learn that a student of hers had won the prize.

My first wife and I did pay her a visit in 1962, and we had a pleasant conversation about everything and nothing in particular as they say, although my wife, pregnant with our first child, was more than a little taken aback when Mlle. Boulanger questioned the wisdom of giving birth in the conflicted and tormented world in which we were living. On other occasions she had been known to remark that composers should not marry or have children (she once said it to me) so I felt that we had gotten off rather easy, an opinion that my wife, noticeably horrified, did not share to say the least. Later I sent her one of my first published scores, my Fantasy for Violin and Piano. She sent me a very encouraging reply in return which I still treasure. I did not see her again until four years later in October 1966 when she did me the honor of attending the Paris premiere of my symphony. I was very touched when I noticed she was sitting in the box next to mine at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. We spoke briefly backstage following the concert. It was the same theatre, by the way, in which the premiere of Stravinskyís Rite of Spring as well as countless other Diaghilev performances and premieres had taken place.

My relationship with Mademoiselle Boulanger continued intermittently until her death. In 1976, when I was teaching and administering at the New England Conservatory, I received a letter of recommendation she wrote on behalf of a student applying for a Fulbright. I canít for the life of me remember why this particular letter was sent to my attention, but I still have it in my files. In it, she asks if I was the "same Donald Harris whose works I have always followed with such interest." I replied that indeed I was and sent her news of what I was doing. Today, with hindsight, I do not regret the few months that I studied with Nadia Boulanger. In spite of the fact that we were frequently at odds, I did learn from her, from her flawless musicianship, her high and uncompromising standards, and from the strength of her convictions. In the summer of 1954, before leaving for Paris in September, I was a fellowship student at Tanglewood. Aaron Copland was on leave that year and the composition teachers were Boris Blacher and Roger Sessions. I studied with Blacher but had ample opportunity to meet and speak with Sessions. Just before the end of summer and Tanglewood was about to close for the season, I had a conversation with Roger Sessions during which he inquired about my plans for fall. When I replied that I was going to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, his response was: "Good luck, I hope she doesnít ruin you." I canít say that she ruined me and I canít really say that she helped me to any great extent. But letting me understand who she was did help me to understand who I was and who I was becoming.

Letter from Nadia Boulanger, 2/5/64


A few months following my return to Paris from my motor trip through Switzerland, Italy and the south of France, having moved to larger, more comfortable and less expensive quarters on the rue la Boétie, I began to compose my Piano Sonata, the first work that I completed in Paris. Now that I was composing and starting to feel good about myself again, I also began to re-immerse myself into the cityís musical life. Paris in the fifties was full of concerts of varying degrees of quality, some obviously more interesting than others. I had decided from the moment I first arrived, not knowing the performers very well, to attend as many different recitals, operas and ballets or concert series as possible. But there were not many concerts of new music. It was, however, the period when Pierre Boulez was first leading his Domaine Musical concerts.

I had heard of Boulez when I was a student at Michigan so I more or less knew what to expect. Not only did I regularly attend his Domaine Musical concerts, I also went to the productions of the Jean-Louis Barrault, Madeleine Renaud Theatre Company for which he was musical director. I remember, in 1955, being most impressed by an unbelievably elaborate and complex production of Orestie by Aeschylus in a translation of Claudel, in which Boulez composed some highly intricate and difficult music for actors, all of whom were wearing masks. At the Domaine Musical, I heard one of the earlier performances of Le Marteau Sans Maître in 1956, which Boulez conducted (I still own the live concert recording that was made), as well as performances he would lead that same year of new pieces by Messaien, Pousseur, Stockhausen, Nono, Henze, Barraqué, and in subsequent years Maderna, Berio or Xenakis, and many others, as he began to conduct the Domaine Musical on a regular basis. As everyone knows, Boulez was early on the champion of Webern, whose music figured prominently on his programs; some Schoenberg, particularly the early pre-twelve tone works like Pierrot Lunaire, hardly ever works from his American period which he considered retrogressive and uninteresting; certain pieces of Stravinsky like a memorable performance of Les Noces at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées that I vividly remember; much Varèse and Debussy, some Ravel, but infrequently works of Alban Berg. This would come later as his taste matured and developed. I especially recall a brilliant performance of Wozzeck that he conducted in 1962 at the Opéra de Paris. The cause of new music in Paris in the fifties would have been seriously deficient without the presence of Boulez, but with him, it was not only exciting and controversial, it set a new or higher standard by which new music performance would be measured. His initiatives were a wake-up call to virtually all other organizations interested in new music. They were obliged to stand up and take notice.

It was following a Domaine Musical concert at the small Théâtre Marigny that I decided that I ought to meet this man. But how would I go about doing it? I decided to consult the Paris telephone directory and sure enough, there was one entry in the Quatrième Arrondissement for a Boulez P., rue de Beautreillis. I picked up the phone and called him. To my great surprise, he invited me over. He lived in a fifth or sixth floor walk-up (I forget which) in what was called at the time chambres de bonnes or pigeonniers. His accommodations, small but comfortable, were simply decorated with only the necessary including an upright piano. After a few minutes of polite conversation, I showed him my recently composed Piano Sonata. He proceeded to look it over, quite carefully I might add, and then made some suggestions, principally that my harmonic language was based upon intervals that were spaced too close together, in other words that I ought to seek to widen the space between the intervals I was using so that thirds, sixths, etc. would exploit different ends of the spectrum and create more varied sonorities and juxtapositions. "Ça rappelle trop le passé," was the way in which he justified his reservations. While this was an admonition I was willing to consider and could understand why it was a concern for him, I did not follow his advice to the extent that I believe he intended. Some European composers at the time wanted a clean break with the past but I was not about to abandon a more traditional harmonic language with which I felt comfortable. This has remained a concern of mine to this day as my harmonic language continues to develop. With respect to this Sonata, I perceived then and continue to feel now that one of its chief virtues is in its deliberate attempt to provide a link with the harmonic tradition from which it sprang.

Boulez also showed me his Structures for two pianos, explained the different parameters of its organization, and then analyzed with a similar emphasis on structure parts of the second cantata of Webern, which I believe he was about to program. I didnít see him much after that. For one thing, I had begun studying with Max Deutsch, a student of Arnold Schoenberg. For another, Boulez was less and less often in Paris as his career expanded internationally. We had a chance encounter when I saw him walking along the Rhine following the performance a year or so later in Cologne of his Troisième Sonate pour Piano on the same concert that saw the premiere of Stockhausenís Gruppen. Every few years following our paths would cross and he always seemed to recall our initial visit. For some reason or other, I never showed him a piece of my music again. Maybe it was timidity or fear of rejection or simply stupidity on my part, but in the seventies when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic, I was ever so delighted and surprised to receive a note from my publisher telling me that he had programmed a piece of mine, LUDUS II for five instruments, on one of his Prospective Encounter concerts. We continue to stay in touch periodically. In 1991, shortly after I had become dean at Ohio State, he invited me to lunch in Cleveland. We devised a plan to bring his Ensemble InterContemporarin to Columbus during their tour the following year, a plan that unfortunately was aborted for lack of funds. Uncharacteristically, I have sent him one of my recent pieces. He is without any doubt one of the most remarkable and gifted musicians that I have ever met.

Truthfully I canít recall why I decided to write a solo work for piano when I returned to Paris from my rather long vacation in 1956, but the composition, begun in October of that year, was completed the following January. I do remember that I hadnít planned to write a sonata at the outset. The first movement I composed was the third, the Scherzo. While composing this movement, initially conceived to be a short piece for piano, I discovered that I was playing around with a twelve-tone row. I proceeded to write down some row charts and explore some of the possibilities that they opened up for me. I then wrote what is now the final movement, Theme and Variations, and only then did I think that I had the material to write an entire sonata. But I was thinking of a three movement sonata in which this movement would be the first, the Scherzo the second, leaving only a final movement to compose. The actual first movement, which I then proceeded to write, was originally thought to be the final movement. Only after completing it did I discover that it made a perfect first movement and the entire structure began to take shape. I knew then that I needed to compose a slow movement to round out the four-movement form. By the time I completed the work, I realized that from the outset I had been exploring ways of combining extended concepts of tonality with certain aspects, albeit rudimentary, of twelve-tone technique.

Following my meeting with Boulez, I put the sonata in a drawer and didnít think too much about it. I really didnít know many people in Paris and had no idea how to get a piece performed. I had been wandering about somewhat aimlessly since leaving the class of Nadia Boulanger, trying to decide where or with whom I wished to continue to study. The Piano Sonata was the first piece I wrote entirely on my own without having shown it to a teacher of composition. Although I was not unhappy with the result, I was after all in Paris to complete my education. It seemed to me that I really ought to take advantage of what educational opportunities the city offered to the young composer. The next step I took with this in mind was to enroll in a stage or short training course at the studios of Musique Concrète which were located on the rue de líUniversité on the left bank. I had heard a lecture on musique concrète as a student at Michigan, and had thought that it might be interesting to learn more about it at its source so to speak. Phillipe Arthuis was in charge of teaching the stagiaires, and I worked briefly with him. Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, the founders and prime instigators, were still around but we had no personal contact with either. Technology was a far cry from what it has become, however, and using it was not without its dangers. After recording different sounds or noises, the basic materials of musique concrète, we would manipulate or transform them through a lot of cutting and splicing of tape with razor blades, causing more than a few cuts, luckily minor, on our fingers. We were working with large, bulky reel-to-reel Ampex machines, by todayís standards rather primitive recording equipment but highly sophisticated then. I never completed a piece while there, probably because I didnít have the patience. I also didnít stay long enough, only a few weeks. But while there, I met an Italian composer, Girolamo Arrigo, who totally out of the blue introduced me to Max Deutsch, about whom I knew absolutely nothing and with whom I would study regularly until some time in 1958 and on an irregular basis in succeeding years. Deutschís class was quite small at the time. There were five of us, myself and Arrigo, the German critic, Heinz Klaus Metzger, the American composer, Eugene Kurtz, and another Italian composer, Sylvano Bussotti. In future years Deutschís class would become quite large as his reputation grew and more and more students were referred to him.

Max Deutsch

Max Deutsch is a difficult man to describe. He was Viennese. He had begun his studies with Schoenberg in Vienna before the First World War but studied with him primarily in Mödling and Amsterdam in the years following. He was contemporary with Steuermann and Kolisch, both of whom expressed admiration for Deutsch, but he was never included in the inner circle as they were. That Schoenberg had a real affection for him can be shown from the few letters that have survived. But it is also known that he was banished at one point and their relationship was badly in need of repair for many years. The incident that caused the rupture seemed to have taken place in Amsterdam and probably involved Schoenbergís daughter. I never found out what actually happened, and I will leave further explanation to conjecture, but immediately following the break-up, Deutsch left for France where he lived for most of the remainder of his life.

Deutsch was a composer. I have some of his scores in my library. They are quite romantic; even fin de siècle if you will, hardly hard core twelve-tone. In fact in all of the years I knew him, we rarely, if ever, discussed twelve-tone theory. We spent a lot of time musing on the pre-twelve-tone works of Schoenberg especially the First Chamber Symphony, the Book of the Hanging Gardens, and the Five Pieces for Orchestra. He did have a particular fondness for one early twelve-tone work, however, the Suite, opus 29, which he recorded in 1950 and sent to Schoenberg for his approval. It provided the occasion for a lively exchange of letters, which led to their reconciliation. But Deutsch was definitely a product of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I enjoyed very much the fact that he would discuss and analyze Wagner with me as well as other operas such as Bizetís Carmen, a favorite of Mahler, or Tosca, a favorite of his. As a composer, this was not music to which I had paid much attention before.

He was destined to be a conductor but things never quite worked out as he wished. But he did make several recordings of Schoenbergís music, including the Five Pieces for Orchestra and the Variations for Orchestra, opus 31, both of which along with the Suite have been reissued on a CD. He was a superb pianist, or so it has been recounted to me. I hosted a party one night in Paris when Ross Finney was in town. Ross sang American folk songs, accompanying himself on his guitar (I have a tape recording of that) and Max improvised wonderful waltzes in a schmaltzy Viennese or café concert style, which unfortunately I did not record.

If anyone has influenced my own way of teaching composition it would be Max Deutsch, although I also owe a lot in this respect to Ross Finney. But Deutsch saw the larger picture more than anyone else with whom I have studied. He would approach a piece globally, leaving us, his students to work out the details. None of his students were alike. He brought out the best in all of us, encouraged us to find our own ways. I can say without the slightest hesitation that as much as Nadia Boulanger seemed to have stifled my will to compose, Deutschís way of teaching had the exact opposite effect. One of his favorite sayings, which he often cited, went as follows: "La jeunesse a toujours raison." (Youth is always right.) Though cryptic and easily subject to multiple interpretations, it was intended to be a confidence builder. I thought it was a real tribute to Max Deutsch, as he advanced in age, when Henri Dutilleux retired from teaching the popular and well-known class in composition at the École Normale de Musique, heavily frequented by foreign students, and turned it over to Deutsch. It was a class that had a distinguished list of incumbents and was previously taught by Arthur Honegger.

He had an unpredictable side as well. One year he asked me to pay for several months worth of lessons in advance. He was hoping to develop a pool of funds in order to raise a lost galleon from the bottom of the Seine. He was certain there was a wealth of gold to be found in the alleged shipwreck. I obliged as best I could but never heard what became of his plan. More than likely it was a wild goose chase. He was an inveterate ladies man who cut a very elegant old-world figure when dressed up to go out to a concert or other event. When greeting someone of the opposite sex, he always employed the baisemain, although by this time hand kissing had distinctly gone out of fashion in France. I recall conversations with Yvonne de Casa Fuerte, an old friend of his who was in charge of the music program at the Embassy in which she would always ask: "Comment va Max? Il était si beau." (How is Max? He was so handsome.) There were, I am told, many other old acquaintances of a certain age who felt the same way and who would surface from time to time.

I have a trove of letters he wrote to me either during brief visits home or when I had returned to the U.S. permanently. He did not own a fountain pen. Nor had he acquired one of the new ballpoint pens that had just been released on the market. All of his letters were written longhand in large broad strokes with an old-fashioned pen point that he would carefully dip into an open ink well every other word or so as if he were still living in a bygone era.

He was not without strong political sentiments. And they were more than just words to him. He spent some of the years immediately preceding the Second World War in Spain, where he fought against Franco, and then most of the war itself in central France where he had joined the Résistance. I was very touched a year ago when I was on leave in the south of France at the Camargo Foundation and received a call from his stepdaughter, Josephine de Yznaga, who took great pains to remain in contact with his former students wherever they were. She asked me to have a coffee with her when I was in Paris and then informed me that she wanted to send me something. In the mail a week or so later I received a registered package in which was placed Schoenbergís original 1950 edition of Style and Idea with a dedication in French, "pour mon ami Max Deutsch, cordialement Arnold Schoenberg, mai 1950." Schoenberg died one year later. I had a tear in my eye as I opened the volume and saw the dedication. Of all of Max Deutschís students, and there were many, I donít know why Josephine signaled me out for this special attention. It made me happy, however, to possess this further proof that his relationship with Schoenberg had finally been repaired, and this fact gives the volume an even more special meaning. Max Deutsch passed away in 1982 at the age of ninety.

Style & Idea, Schoenberg dedication

There were on occasion visitors to Deutschís weekly classes, a supplement to our private lessons. One of them was a young British pianist, Susan Bradshaw who subsequently enjoyed quite a distinguished career in Great Britain performing new music. I cannot recall how it came about, but in early October 1958 there was a private concert at the residence of a Parisian patron of the arts involving some of Deutschís students where Susan Bradshaw played the actual premiere of my Piano Sonata. It was, as I recall, a fine performance though view the circumstances, somewhat unnoticed. The public premiere took place three years later, in January 1961, by noted French pianist, Geneviève Joy, at a concert presented at the Centre Culturel Américain on the rue du Dragon. Geneviève Joy is the wife of composer, Henri Dutilleux, who had earlier championed the sonata by arranging a recording for the French Radio. This recording was selected that same year to represent the United States at the Deuxième Biennale de Paris. As I wrote in a program note to the sonata, these several events in 1961 were a "most welcome opportunity that fortuitously but rather auspiciously launched my career in Paris." Thanks to fellow Deutsch student, Eugene Kurtz, I was introduced to the publisher, Denise Jobert-Georges. The Editions Jobert published the sonata in 1965, as well as subsequently all of the works I composed in Paris.

One day in 1960, Max Deutsch asked me if I wanted to spend part of the summer in Aix-en-Provence, an incredibly attractive and picturesque city in the heart of Provence and home to a summer music festival of great renown. Deutsch explained that the composer, André Jolivet, was about to inaugurate the first season of a summer course of study for composers with the lofty and rather pretentious title of Centre Français díHumanisme Musical (The French Center for Musical Humanism-whatever that means) that was to be marginally linked to the festival. In order to qualify for a government subsidy, Jolivet needed a handful of students from foreign countries ostensibly to demonstrate that his center would further contribute to the dissemination of French culture abroad and thereby further enhance its prestige. My wife and I would be able to attend at no cost, which meant tuition, board and room, and tickets for festival concerts. To put it mildly, for a newlywed, it was an offer not to be refused. Jolivet, whose music was often performed in Paris, especially at the French Radio, and who was someone in whom I was interested ever since my arrival five years earlier, intrigued me for another reason. He had been music director of the Comédie Française, thus frequently in the pit at the Salle Richelieu, its principal home, where I attended plays during my first few weeks in Paris. He would be conducting scores of Lully, Rameau or others, often in his own arrangements, which served as incidental music for productions of Molière, Racine and other French classics that comprised the national theaterís traditional repertory.

When I first arrived in Paris, Jolivet and Boulez seemed to follow similar career paths, Boulez, as I have said, as music director for Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud, Jolivet then for the Comédie Française. What a neat way for a composer to earn a living, I thought, and I looked forward to hearing Jolivet speak about his experiences. It turned out that my rather romantic notion of these two jobs seemed ill founded. Boulez soon left the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault to spend more time conducting, a career choice that led to the international career we all know. Jolivet left the Comédie Française as soon as his finances allowed. After several purely administrative positions, he became a professor of composition at the Conservatoire, a position more to his liking, which left more time for composing and kept him evenings at home.

Even though they may have held similar jobs at least for a time, Jolivet and Boulez were very different people, rivals to be frank. One might almost say enemies. I am not certain how it all started but I remember clearly how their relationship degenerated. By 1960, due to their increasing success, Boulez had moved his Domaine Musical concerts from the smaller Thèâtre Marigny to the larger Salle Gaveau. I remember the first concert in the new venue. David Tudor played some John Cage; the concert also included the Paris premiere of Stockhausenís Zeitmasse. In the program book, however, Boulez, always outspoken, complained bitterly at the way his concerts were treated by the "authorities," lashing out at the government for not according him a subsidy, blaming the whole thing on Jolivet. He referred to Jolivet as Monsieur Joli Navet, an amusing play on words. A navet in French is a turnip, but in French slang it is a bad piece of art. For instance a bad play or a bad composition might be referred to as a navet. A few weeks later, at a concert at the École Normale, in which works of both Boulez and Jolivet were performed, Boulez was accosted backstage by Madame Jolivet, commonly known to all as Hilda. I was at the concert but I was not backstage. However the incident that transpired was well reported in the press. Evidently Hilda Jolivet approached Boulez, saying words to this effect: "Monsieur, we have a score to settle." Boulez is said to have replied, "Madame, is that a hat you are wearing or have you put your brain in the deep freeze." Whereupon Hilda Jolivet slapped him and a lawsuit followed. Boulez was eventually condemned to damages and interest of one franc, less than a penny, but a moral victory nonetheless for Hilda Jolivet. Jolivet protested that he had nothing to do with the fact that Boulez did not receive a subsidy, something I could readily believe. Boulez had powerful adversaries in high places, far more powerful than Jolivet.

I did ask Jolivet about the incident when we were together in Aix. His reply was an eye opener, to me more interesting than the incident itself. "Boulez treats me like Milhaud treated Ravel," was Jolivetís response. To put the phrase in perspective, you have to understand the subtleties of French musical opinion among composers around 1960. Milhaud was not always well considered. His star had fallen, whereas Ravel was of course already elevated to sainthood. So Jolivet, by comparing himself to Ravel and Boulez to Milhaud, was in fact saying that he was the greater artist. But there is always an element of truth to these seemingly apocryphal statements. It was true that Cocteau and Les Six, inspired by Satie, were critical of the delicacy and refinement of Ravel, his high-brow approach to art if you will, preferring the more rough-edged popular culture of daily life like the circus or the music hall. You have only to compare Le Boeuf sur le Toit with Daphnis et Chloé to see the point.

All of this notwithstanding, I really liked Jolivet. There was nothing ostentatious or affected about him in spite of the pretentious title of his Center for Musical Humanism, on the contrary he was down to earth, someone with whom it was delightful to have a nuts and bolts conversation, composer talk if you will where we would exchange ideas and information about instrumentation, rhythm or whatever happened to be of interest for the moment. It was a bit different with Hilda who acted the role of the busy bodying composerís wife to the hilt. My wife remarked to me one conversation she had with Hilda when the subject of my musical welfare was broached. Hilda suggested that if I wanted to really become a maître, I should study with her husband. Needless to say, I didnít follow her advice. I was perfectly happy with Max Deutsch. Jolivet was the first teacher I had, however, who really knew something about non-pitched percussion. A student of Varèse, his music also employed an extraordinary array of unusual percussion instruments. He was also a master of orchestration. I didnít realize it at the time but the greater than customary use of percussion in my Symphony in Two Movements, the next piece I was to write, as well as some of its instrumental colors were a direct result of my contact with Jolivet during that summer. I donít recall if the Center lasted for more than one summer, but Jolivet continued to show interest in his students after we had all returned to Paris. There were occasional reunions at his home to which I was invited even though I continued to study with Max Deutsch, a fact that Hilda would not hesitate to point out. Nonetheless Jolivet generously introduced me to the performers who premiered my Fantasy for Violin and Piano, a work that I had written with Deutsch. And in July of 1962, Jolivet sponsored a concert of his students with the Radio Orchestra of Marseille, now defunct, and he asked me to make an orchestral version of my Fantasy so that it could be included.

I always felt that Jolivet was under-appreciated in France. Maybe it was his spat with Boulez, which continued to plague him and caused him the wrath of the avant-garde, or maybe it was the personality of Hilda Ė even loyal friends would sometimes flee when she approached, or maybe he was simply eclipsed by his colleague Messaien who could claim Boulez and Stockhausen as students and whose stock in trade continued to soar as they gained in popularity. But whatever it was, Jolivet was never given his due during his lifetime and I am always pleased when I see his music appear on concert programs of today. In my opinion there is more than a passing debt to Varèse in his music, particularly in some of his earlier work like his collection of piano pieces, Mana, written in 1946. Perhaps the link between these two proponents of a vigorous non-repetitive rhythmic style in which varying harmonic densities collide and intermingle has never been properly evaluated or understood. I think it would be worth looking into. Hilda Jolivet, by the way, published a biography of Varèse in 1973 and three years ago in 2002, Christine Jolivet-Erlih, their daughter, edited a volume of correspondence between Jolivet and Varèse, spanning over thirty years, which further illuminates their relationship.

My summer in Aix also saw my first encounter with Francis Poulenc. A staged version of Poulencís Voix Humaine with Denise Duval in the title role was being performed at the Festival and Poulenc would appear at our Center, actually a lovely 18th century hôtel particulier, from time to time. I had seen Poulenc in Paris at various concerts but never spoke with him. He was always seen at the Domaine Musical concerts, an indication of the breadth of his interests for one could hardly imagine that he was into the avant-garde fare that Boulez was promoting. One special occasion where he was present was at a concert in honor of Darius Milhaudís seventieth birthday at the Abbey of Royaumont, just north or Paris. Poulenc was the speaker and his remarks were designed to please Milhaud. "Darius," he said,"toi, tu étais toujours le représentant de líavant-garde parmi nous." (Darius, you always represented the avant-garde in our group.) Everyone seemed to enjoy being in Poulencís presence. He had an air of joie de vivre about him just like his music. He was also kind and deferential. I remember the last time that I saw him. It was at a reception in honor of Marius Constant at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). I left early as I was leaving on a trip back to the States the next morning and needed to pack. I was literally running down a huge flight of stairs, the escalier díhonneur, when I almost knocked over a gentleman climbing up to attend the reception. When I turned around to see whom I had practically run into, mortified I shouted an embarrassed, "Excusez-moi, Maître," whereupon Poulenc smiled and bowed slightly toward me to acknowledge my presence, hopefully to forgive my clumsy behavior. I never saw him again. He died a few weeks later, news that I received during a broadcast of the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein.

Darius Milhaud was a horse of an entirely different color. Although I knew him better than I knew Poulenc, I never felt completely comfortable in his presence. I first met him in Aspen during a trip home in the summer of 1961. Having been introduced by a friend that told him that I was a student of Nadia Boulanger, which of course was no longer the case, he invited me to attend his seminar where, much to my dismay, he played up the Boulanger connection, as if to tell his students that her doctrinaire approach was the only true path to becoming a composer. I was only in Aspen for a few days but long enough to realize that he had the typically French habit of treating his students condescendingly. Though I was treated respectfully, I was glad to get away, but not before he asked me to be a judge of the annual summer composition contest of his students, an invitation that I found somewhat embarrassing as I considered myself only slightly distanced, if at all, from still being one of them. Since the end of the war, Milhaud had divided his time between Paris and California, teaching alternate years at Mills College, outside of San Francisco, and the Paris Conservatory, but always spending summers teaching in Aspen.

While in Paris he resided in a tiny walk-up apartment in a nondescript building located midway between the Place Blanche and the Place Pigalle, in the same neighborhood as the Moulin Rouge and other salacious nightspots, a quartier that was frequented chiefly by prostitutes, hordes of tourists looking for cheap thrills, pickpockets and other low lifes. For a man paralyzed from the waist down, obliged to spend his waking hours in a wheel chair, it was not an ideal location. Absolutely nothing was handicap accessible. Each time he left his apartment, he needed to call a service. For a composer who might have required silence or at least an atmosphere of calm and tranquility, it was a neighborhood that was one of the noisiest in Paris at any given time of the day or night. But his apartment was not without charm, and on the walls were paintings or drawings by Derain, Cocteau, Léger, Dufy and others, as well as some posters from his earlier years. In May, 1966, following the Festival of Contemporary American Music that I had just produced, the Milhauds hosted a reception in their apartment for Festival artists and composers. Milhaud would be sitting in his wheel chair by his desk, as guests would approach to enjoy a few moments of conversation. This was at the time of his 75th birthday, and as I took my turn to exchange greetings, I told him how wonderful it must be to reach the grand old age of seventy-five and be treated to so many concerts in his honor. I will never forget how astonished I was at his reply. "Harris," he said, "Ma musique est beaucoup negligée." (My music is much neglected.) I never knew if he was referring to his lack of performances in France or in the world at large. But it was clear that he had become a bitter man, or so it appeared, and I felt sorry for him.

The only other member of Les Six I knew was Georges Auric, although when I arrived in Paris, I had a letter of introduction from Leslie Bassett to meet Arthur Honegger. Leslie had studied with Honegger several years earlier. Unfortunately Honegger passed away in November 1955, so I decided to do the next best thing and attend his funeral, which was held at a Protestant cathedral in Paris. As I entered the Temple de líOratoire, I remember seeing Jean Cocteau just a few feet away from where I was standing, dressed in the full regalia of the Académie Francaise, wearing the traditional bicorne hat with the academicianís sword at his side. How incongruous, I thought, to see this great iconoclast looking like a character out of an operetta, but I was just getting to know the French. I hadnít yet understood why the non-conventional Cocteau wished to become a member of the so very conservative French Academy. I was soon to learn how much the French were attached to these institutions, however. Titles and honors were of such consequence that they often would flaunt them. Olivier Messaien gave me his carte de visite (business card) once. It reads like a CV and includes his principal honors. I have kept it to this day.

Messaien Carte de Visite

One who rose to great positions of power and prestige was Georges Auric. As President of the SACEM and later general director of the Paris Opera, he was a very imposing and intimidating figure. He also had an austere or severe look about him. As much as I had no problem calling a Boulez on the telephone, or speaking with a Milhaud or a Poulenc, I was timid when it came to addressing Georges Auric. Young people seem to believe that those in high places can sit in judgment on their careers or hand out favors. This may be true in some instances but more often than not, it is not the case. As President of the SACEM, Auric was probably not in a position to do anything for anyone, much less for young composers. Be that as it may, I didnít appreciate that fact then and although I frequently ran into Auric at concerts or receptions, rarely did I do more than nod in his direction, much to my regret today. Years later when I was a dean, I would think back on Georges Auric wondering if I was having the same intimidating effect on the young people I would meet, hoping that it was not the case but fearing that it was.

In the interest of time I shall interrupt these memoirs here. Perhaps, if you find them of interest, I can present a second installment at a later date. I have yet to comment on some of the other composers like Berio or Xenakis with whom I interacted, and who have been mentioned in passing. Nor have I discussed the program of American music sponsored by United States Information Service (USIS) that I began in 1965 when I became music consultant to the Centre Culturel Américain and which led to the previously mentioned Festival of Contemporary American Music that I produced in 1966 in collaboration with the French Radio. This Festival, a series of four concerts, one of which was with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the French Radio, another with the Ars Nova, a French Radio Chamber Orchestra, showcased twenty-one different American composers, ranging from Charles Ives to Milton Babbitt, Samuel Barber to Elliott Carter, and Stefan Wolpe to George Crumb. With one possible exception, every piece selected was being given its first performance in France. It was not only the first manifestation of its kind in Paris since the Second World War and the first festival I ever produced; it became the singular most important event that precipitated my return home permanently. But that story will remain for another day. Perhaps in the time remaining, however, we can hear a bit of the Piano Sonata, which was the catalyst that set these memoirs in motion, or I can simply answer any questions you might have.

Thank you very much for your attention.


Donald Harris

November, 2005


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