The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris 1917-1929 / Edition 1

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Overview

Few decades in the life of any European city have been as rich in musical personalities and achievements as the 1920s in Paris. It was, as Stravinsky said, the hub of the musical world, popular for travelers because it was cheap. Composers working in or near the city included Ravel, Fauré, Satie, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev as well as the up-and-coming members of Les Six, most notably Poulenc, Milhaud, and Auric. Among their collaborators were the painters Picasso, Braque, Dufy, and Juan Gris, while Jean Cocteau kept a watchful eye on new trends. Horowitz, Robert Casadesus, and Vlado Perlemuter all made their Paris debuts in this decade, as did the young violin prodigies Ginette Neveu and Yehudi Menuhin. Women musicians were coming into their own: the composers Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger, salon hostesses like the Princesse de Polignac and Mae Clemenceau. The Harlequin Years charts a nimble course through this remarkable era, noting currents as well as personalities, telling stories as well as pondering the occasional philosophical problem.

Through the whole book runs the double thread spun by Jean Cocteau in his little volume Le coq et l'harlequin: the warp of the traditional French cock being pulled by the weft of the foreign, multicolored harlequinade. Roger Nichols's spirited narrative shows that this was also an uncertain time, as the war had cast doubt on old assumptions. Did wisdom necessarily come with age? Were hierarchies necessary? Irreverence was in, the circus was aesthetically at least as valuable as the finest symphony orchestra. Against all this some composers, like Fauré and Roussel, continued with traditional forms, though each brought to them his own highly personal language and syntax.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan McClary
The Harlequin Years presents a highly readable yet thorough examination of the Parisian music scene in the decade following World War I. Through Nichols's lively prose and in his accounts of institutional politics, reception histories, and behind-the-scenes debates, these places and personalities spring to life.
Publishers Weekly
Nichols (The Life of Debussy; Satie Remembered) draws a detailed picture of the vibrant, often risque Parisian musical culture that flowered after the near debacle of WWI. The author eschews a chronological approach in favor of devoting individual chapters to the different musical institutions: the various orchestra series that had long been a major feature of Parisian musical life and played such an important role in introducing Wagner to French audiences; the opera houses and ballet companies; and the salons and their hostesses, like the Singer sewing machine heiress the princesse de Polignac. Nichols gives overdue attention to the Ballets Suedois, which is usually overshadowed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Its founder, Rolf de Mare, provided opportunities for many young composers during the 1920s and discovered Josephine Baker. Nichols's writing is inconsistent, alternating between dry academic recitations and a more casual program-notes style. The book's compartmentalized structure works well enough until the last two chapters, when it unravels into a series of short, somewhat disconnected sections; the penultimate chapter on the leading composers of the '20s will probably satisfy few fans of their music. Nichols has many lively insights, but this study will appeal mainly to academics and die-hard music history buffs. 60 b&w photos. (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520237360
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 1/6/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Nichols is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, author of The Life of Debussy (1998), and translator of Gabriel Fauré (1991), Selected Letters of Berlioz (1995), and Satie Remembered (1995). He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and lectures widely throughout the United Kingdom.

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Table of Contents

Map: Paris in the 1920s 6
Introduction 9
Acknowledgments 11
Chronology 12
1 The legacy of peace and war 18
2 Orchestras, conductors, chamber ensembles 41
3 The Opera 59
4 The Opera-Comique and other musical theatres 78
5 Operettes, music hall, revues, chansons 106
6 Ballet 134
7 The Establishment: the teaching institutions; the churches; the salons; the press 176
8 Composers old and new 209
9 Paris, the past and elsewhere 250
Select bibliography 279
List of photographs 282
Index 283
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