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A Brief Introduction


Dr David C F Wright


Joseph Marie Guy-Ropartz was born in Guingamp, Côtes du Nord on 15 June 1864.

He is one of the many neglected and forgotten French composers.

There are probably two main reasons for this. Firstly, his music is somewhat severe and in keeping with his strong Roman Catholicism and, secondly, it shows too much influence of César Franck whose music and musical form left, and still leaves, much to be desired.

Although his surname is Guy-Ropartz he is usually referred to as Ropartz.

He was born of an old Breton family. He studied at Rennes, Vannes and Angers. He had a love and a gift for literature but preferred music. He was a very clever intellectual.

He was a pupil of Francoise Clement Theodore Dubois and Massenet at the Paris Conservatory.

Dubois was born in Rosnay in 1837. He studied under Ambroise Thomas and was one of the successors of Saint-Saëns as the organist at The Madeleine, a post which he held from 1877 to 1906. He was professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatory from 1871 and director from 1896 to 1905. He resigned in protest because Ravel was prevented from entering for the Prix de Rome for the fourth time. He composed operas, ballets, oratorios, cantatas, two piano concertos and a violin concerto. He died in Paris in 1924.

Jules Massenet is, of course, better known. He wrote twenty three operas of which Manon (1884) and Werther (1892) are the best known. He also wrote orchestral music and often used the word scenes in his titles. He also wrote a curious Piano Concerto in E flat which I have performed. He lived from 1842 to 1912 and was also a pupil of Thomas.

Ropartz moved on to private lessons with Franck who greatly influenced him.

Franck was Belgian, born in 1822. He studied with Reicha, became the organist of the church of Saint-Clotilde. He developed the art of improvisation and Liszt admired him. But improvisation can be a problem since one of its features can include repetition and too much of it. His early works were influenced by Grétry and are among his better pieces. But many of his other works suffer, in my view and in the view of many others, of being too repetitive as are the works of Schubert. In Franck's only symphony the main themes are done to death (overcooked and badly burnt as Beecham said) which is the sign of a bad composer, one who does not know what else to do but keep repeating the same material over and over again. However, most people like the symphony. It is my professional view that his religious works are worthy of revival such as Ruth, The Tower of Babel, The Beatitudes, Redemption, Rebecca and the masses.

Ropartz and Franck became great friends largely due to their dedication to Catholicism although Ropartz concentrated his music on Breton legends or the legends of Celtic France as in Les Landes, Scènes Bretonnes, À Marie Endormie and Soir sur les chaumes. His La Chasse du Prince Arthus is based on a poem by Brizeuz, ‘Les Bretons’.

He was director of the Nancy Conservatoire from 1894 to 1919 and then was conductor of the Strasbourg Orchestra from 1919 to 1929.

While at Nancy his opera Le Pays was produced on 1 February 1912 and at the Opéra Comique in Paris on 16 April 1913. He wrote incidental music to a stage version of Lôti's Pêcheur d'Islande in 1891, Le Mystère de Saint Nicholas ( 1905) and his ballet, L'Indiscret was produced at the Paris Opera in 1936.

He did compose church and organ music and a Requiem.

Among his other compositions are three violin sonatas, two cello sonatas, a sonatina for flute and piano, a String Trio, a Piano Trio and six string quartets although the first one in G minor does not bear a number. The String Quartet no. 5 in D is subtitled Quasi una Fantasia. He also wrote Prelude, Marine and Chansons for flute, string trio and harp which was recorded many years ago.

As an old man he could often be seen in his black hat and coat and his long white beard walking locally. He had a kind word for everybody.

He was such an admired and loved figure that he was known as ‘The Spokesman for the Bretons’.

He composed five symphonies of which the Symphony no.3 has benefited from a recording.

He died in Lanloup in 1955.

©Copyright David C F Wright 2002

"This article, in part or the whole, must not be used in any way, copied , stored in a retrieval system, downloaded without the prior written consent of the author."

Although this article is short and deals with others in Ropartz's life, Dr Wright intends to follow it up with an analytical discussion of the string quartets which time and circumstances permits.

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