Jean Françaix Centenary on 23 May 2012
Jean Françaix’ declared motto of always having aimed to create ’musique pour faire plaisir’ partially conceals the great variability and frequent inscrutability of the music created by this composer, born in Le Mans in 1912. Françaix succeeded in finding and consolidating his own style at an early stage and became known almost overnight with his austere Concertino for piano and orchestra dating from 1932. According to the critic Heinrich Strobel, this work communicated the impression of ’fresh water gushing forth from the source with the elegant originality of all natural elements – and at the same time appears as the creation of an artist with a clarity and awareness seldom observed in our time.’
photo: Marlo Disch
Françaix composed the oratorio L’Apocalypse selon St. Jean during a dark period in history; the work received its first performance during the German Occupation of France in a time during which any attempts at resistance or future perspectives were largely absent. This is the composer’s most significant work in its dimensions, scoring and aesthetic quality. Gravity and contemplation became recurring characteristics observed in subsequent concert works of Jean Françaix up to the end of his life, particularly in compositions commemorating deceased artists, such as the orchestral work Les zigues de Mars dating from 1950 in memory of the author Georges Courteline, the Symphonie en sol majeur in memory of Joseph Haydn composed in 1953, the Pavane marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Maurice Ravel and the Élégie commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Mozart.
These works display a different side of Jean Françaix, but at the same time do not conceal the composer’s inspired felicity of instrumentation which also characterise his eleven ballets, orchestral and chamber music works, piano works and numerous arrangements. In his orchestral composition La ville mystérieuse, Françaix demonstrates how to generate musical humour through part-writing as exemplified by the hilarious duet for two bassoons: an episode which unerringly succeeds in making the audience laugh. He retained his mastery of composition which effervesced with ingenious ideas and musical humour and his ability to combine musical grace and irony up to an advanced age.
To mark the centenary of his birth, we have issued an extensive catalogue of the works by Jean Françaix which provides a comprehensive view of his substantial and highly varied output. This catalogue is available free of charge on our website - simply click on the link below.