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Claude–Dénis AUTOBÜSSE (1908–1955)
Fragment (1950) [0:30]
Ils ont sorti de la pluie (They Came From Out of the Rain) (1933) [5:32]
Voyageurs de nuit (Night Travellers) (1945) [4:33]
Le fabricant de fantôme (The Ghost Maker) (1930) [5:29]
L'étranger foncé (The Dark Stranger) (1951) [3:58]
The Antonia: de Grasse (Guitar Concerto) [25:45]
Hymne an der Vaterland (Hymn to Germany) (1943) [6:18]
Symphony No.1 (1946) – Finale [5:35]
Overture (Symphony No.1 – Finale in a new version by Harry Halbreich) (1946 – 1954) [4:50]

Ida Presti (guitar)

Roger Brasseur Chorale

Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Eugène Bigot

rec. live radio broadcast, 21 March 1954, Théâtre du Châtelet. AAD

Experience Classicsonline

If you’ve never heard of Claude-Dénis Autobüsse don’t despair, I doubt more than an handful of people ever have. Even during his lifetime he was a shady figure at best. He was born in 1908 in the Fifteenth Arrondissement in Paris, and spent his whole life living in the Avenue Lowendal, near the École Militaire. An exact contemporary of Olivier Messiaen, he never received recognition for his work and achieved few performances, most of which he paid for himself. His one true moment in the limelight was when Radio France gave two hours to him and his work in 1954, playing the works which are on this disk. He called himself Un vrais carte sauvage de la musique français because he saw himself as something special in French music and boasted to his non musical friends that he was a born Symphonist, who was getting commissions left, right and centre when the truth was that he wrote in his spare time and simply invented stories for self-aggrandisement. He sounds like quite a sad and lonely figure; a man with ideas above his position.

Harry Halbreich knew Autobüsse well and his note in the booklet – derived from his own 1954 radio script – is very detailed. Also included, is a section from Halbreich’s diaries which include his assessment of Autobüsse that he was a fantasist who had delusions of genius, but was really only a part time composer who had a small amount of ability but no real talent. He wrote six or seven Symphonies, three Concertos, several orchestral works and a handful of chamber and vocal pieces. He would create stories about himself and invent his own history. One of his most unusual, and inept, stories was that he studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Maurice Koechlin, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Maurice Koechlin was a famous structural engineer and the Koechlin who was a composer and teacher was actually named Charles!

À propos Charles Koechlin, together with the CD I was sent photocopies of the pages, taken from a complete edition of a new translation, which deal with his correspondence with Autobüsse. This translation has been undertaken by Roger Nichols as a labour of love for there is, as yet, no hope of a publisher. Another of Autobüsse’s weird flights of fancy is detailed in Koechlin’s letters. In a letter dated 24 August 1949, and addressed to Darius Milhaud, who was never a pupil but became a good friend, Koechlin outlines two Autobüsse experiences.

”…and then I had the misfortune to bump into that poltroon Autobüsse. Full of his own genius as usual. He told me that his new Symphony was progressing well and many people were truly excited at the prospect of it. I am sure they are! Then he told me that it was obvious that he knew so much more about music than I ever will, and, in fact, I really knew nothing at all about music. I smiled at him. Ten days later he telephoned me and told me that he’d been appointed artistic director of a chamber orchestra and what repertoire would I advise them to play? What a [expletive deleted]. I have only thing to say: Beware the Fifteenth Arrondissement!”

So now we have some idea of Autobüsse the man, what about Autobüsse’s music?

I can say without fear of contradiction that Halbreich’s version of the finale of the 1st Symphony is the winner here – it’s short and pithy and Halbreich has removed an academic, poorly written, fugue and tidied up the orchestration. The original version, also included, leaves a lot to be desired. I should point out that this version was not played in the radio broadcast; it was recorded after the live broadcast, and after Autobüsse had left the studio.

The five short pieces go nowhere and achieve nothing; the best bit about these works is their titles. During the war Autobüsse collaborated with the Nazis and he went to Hilversum for the premiere of his Hymn to Germany, a paean of praise to Adolf Hitler, with words by, it is claimed, Leni Riefenstahl. This performance has a new text by Johannes R. Becher which extols the glories of the new, post war, Germany. Following the BBC’s broadcasting of the famous V for Victory motif on the radio Nazi-controlled Hilversum Radio started broadcasting a morse V. After this, on the streets of Holland pro–British groups started wearing a white V and pro–German groups an orange V (see Nicholas Rankin Churchill’s Wizards – The British Genius for Deception 1914 – 1945 Faber and Faber (2008) p 299 ISBN 978–0–571–22195–0). Autobüsse was seen wearing an orange V and, indeed, in the photo which adorns the cover of the booklet, the composer can be seen wearing a shirt with, what we must assume to be, an orange V on it. This photo was taken by his friend Chauve-Gagner. Incidentally, all the issues in this new series have a photograph, on the booklet cover, of the artist featured with their autograph, as seen here.

The biggest work on this disk is a piece intriguingly titled The Antonia: de Grasse, which is a large scale Guitar Concerto. This is in the usual three movements and the middle one is an homage á la jazz and includes a drum kit. This is exactly the kind of movement which Malcolm Arnold achieved so well in his own guitar concerto. The genesis of the piece needs some explanation. Autobüsse, and his friend, the photographer, dance band drummer and transvestite, Jean Chauve-Gagner were accused of stealing a sum of money from people who trusted Autobüsse. Chauve-Gagner, who had lived in Berlin during the 20s playing in various bands – including the Weintraub Syncopaters (whose arranger was a man later to become known as Franz Waxman) – and enjoying the tranvestite bars took to cross dressing and continued in this vein on his return to Paris. On the accusation of theft he left the country for Australia and  Autobüsse visited him there, travelling on the Antonia, the largest ship in the de Grasse line. He was so impressed that he wrote this work as a depiction of that trip. In later life, when he was suffering with testicular cancer, he was heard to speak of a woman named Antonia de Grasse who was a good friend who was suffering from the same cancer – obviously a very ballsy lady! Chauve-Gagner plays the drums in this performance, he returned to Paris some five years after the scandal, and it’s pretty tepid drumming. Mind you, it’s pretty tepid music as well. The broadcast was heard in Germany and an unnamed reviewer in the Berliner Zeitung, 23 March 1954, wrote:

“(his work is) not thought through according to the objective standards of the contemporary composer, but flirts embarrassingly with elements of modernism. Despite modernist touches, it has a monumentality that suits the style of the memorial to the war of liberation and of the Bismarck on the Rhine monument. This composer in Paris is a gigantic poseur. His work is an advertisement less for the future of French music than for the supposed originality of the writer. If he had more of a composer’s skills, his compositional style would have more structural consistency, and at the same time it would have fewer distracting flourishes, through which he directs attention to himself. He has the grandiose self-consciousness that unites supposed genius and dilettantism. He is unskilled, which prevents him from being a master composer in the true sense, and it enables him to manage his material in the kind of naïve fashion from which the skilled composer, thinking about the practical and purposive design, would inevitably shy away.”

That review cannot be bettered by me and it sums up Autobüsse and his work perfectly. It was this review, contained in Das Gute und das schlechteste im deutschen Musikjournalismus (Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1955), which sparked my interest in Autobüsse.

This music really is poor stuff so why am I bothering to write about and why is MusicWeb interested in carrying a review about it? The answer is simple. Why do we enjoy listening to Florence Foster Jenkins? It is a case of Schadenfreudethe pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others or, as defined by Theodor Adorno, the largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate (see John Portmann When bad things happen to other people Routledge, New York (2000) p 186 ISBN 0–415–92335–2). There is certainly an element of there but for the grace of God go I. I threw away all my compositions when I realised that they were not the towering masterpieces I thought they were and my youthful folly was happily eradicated. Some people don’t do that, and thus never move on from their self-delusion, and it’s obvious that Autobüsse was one of those. Why is Radio France issuing this disk as part of its new series of Légendes par Radio de la France (Radio France Legends)? As the notes tell us, basically, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth and this re–issue is an example of the rough. It’s cheap enough at €2.50 or it’s free if you buy any of the other four issues in this series,

STALL 1 Ravel Fanfare to L'Éventail de Jeanne, Einojuhani Rautavaara A Requiem in our Time (French premiere), Hindemith Das Marienleben (1922), Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica (French premiere) – Elisabeth Söderström (soprano), Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Manuel Rosenthal (a live 1956 concert)  

STALL 2  Britten Suite on English Tunes op. 90 "A time there was...", Delius Double Concerto for violin and cello, Saint-Saëns "La Muse et la poète" for violin, cello and orchestra – Christian Ferras (violin), Pierre Fournier (cello), orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, Sergiu Celibidache (a live 1980 concert) (€5.00)

STALL 4  Honegger The Five Symphonies (recorded in the presense of the composer), Phillippe Gaubert: Les Chants de la Mer, Frank Martin William Tell Festival Music (recorded in the presense of the composer) – Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Georges Tzipine (studio recordings, made in 1953, for radio broadcast only) (3 CDs - €12.50)

STALL 5 Sibelius The Dryad, op.45/1 (1909), Yrjo Kilpinen Lieder um den Tod, op.62 (1928), Leevi Madetoja: Symphony No.3 in A (1925) – Gérard Souzay (baritone), Orchestre national de france, Jorma Panula (a live 1981 concert) (€5.00)

For some reason MusicWeb has not been sent any of the above for review purposes.

Looking back on what I have written I do find myself feeling glaukenstucken, a word less well known, or used, than Schadenfreude, which literally means guilt over having felt schadenfreude – yes, the Germans even have a word for that. However, I am afraid that my cynicism is greater than any feelings I may have of glaukenstucken so I would urge everybody to get this disk and have a really good laugh at someone who should have known better.  

Bob Briggs


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