Uproar as Paris refuses to honour a French composer

Uproar as Paris refuses to honour a French composer


norman lebrecht

March 17, 2015

The town hall of the 4th district of Paris has denied permission for a plaque on the outer wall of an apartment in the Ile S-Louis, where the composer Henri Dutilleux lived for most of his long life.




The reason for the refusal, given by Christophe Girard, Mayor of the 4th arrondissement, and Karen Taieb, a Paris councillor, is that Dutilleux was suspected of collaboration with the Nazi occupation.

This accusation has not been raised before. Dutilleux lived in Paris under the occupation as a teacher and musician. In 1942 he was named chorus director at the Paris Opéra. From 1945 he was head of music production at Radio France.

Among his many works are The Shadows of Time, a haunting memoir of the children deported by the Nazis, as well as concertos for a pair of resolutely anti-Nazi friends, Mstislav Rostropovich and Isaac Stern.

Eminent French musicians, led by the pianist Philippe Cassard and the composer Edith Canat de Chizy, have denounced the anti-Dutilleux decision, which seems to be based on party politics and historical illiteracy. They have launched a petition against the calumny here.

UPDATE: Dutilleux was, in fact, a member of the Résistance. Read here.


  • Nigel says:

    The uproar seems fully justified – with some composers there are grey areas, but in the case of Dutilleux this feels outrageous. None of the serious (and extensive) scholarship on musical life during the Occupation suggests that Dutilleux was any kind of collaborator. He was a member of the Front national de la musique (one of the musicians’ resistance groups), along with the likes of Roger Désormière, Elsa Barraine, Louis Durey and Irène Joachim (who invited him to join the FN). It was there that he met his wife Geneviève Joy. He worked briefly for French Radio during the last few months of the Occupation, but it’s hard to see how that can be considered “collaboration”, especially as he was working with Pierre Schaeffer in the Studio d’essai to record “banned” works by Milhaud, Schoenberg and others for broadcasting after the liberation.

    Mayor Girard and Karen Taieb should either put up or shut up (and reverse their decision). If they have any serious evidence they should say exactly what it is – but the evidence they do cite of Dutilleux’s score for a 1941 film about the benefits of sport is ludicrous, suggesting as it does that any kind of employment amounted to “collaboration”. There’s barely a musician active in Paris at the time who couldn’t be smeared in this way, as could anyone involved in state-supported artistic activity (such as the Opéra or Opéra-Comique).

    A plaque to commemorate someone like Alfred Cortot – who worked actively as a member of Laval’s government and was one of Vichy’s most important cultural advisers – would be much more questionable. But there’s already one for him on the wall of 114bis blvd Malesherbes.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    Crazy politics. Also, Nigel makes a great point about the Cortot memorial.

  • Herrera says:

    Who was NOT a collaborator?

    The great French myth — perpetuated by the self-serving, guilt-ridden, ever-in-denial French — is that there were three types of French during the Occupation: the “collabo” French, those who supported the Vichy Government; the ordinary French, those who went about their daily lives; and the good French, those active in the Résistance.

    Truth is, they were all collaborators in the sense that they all accepted it, no one fought back like the English fought back. So, yes, if Dutilleux just “did his job” and didn’t shoot a Nazi in the head when he walked past one on the street, he was, like millions of his compatriots, a collaborator.

    • Max Grimm says:

      Conformity, compliance and/or obedience are not synonymous with collaboration.

    • jean says:

      You got the wrong Dutilleux apparently – this one became a member of the resistance in 1942 .
      La calunnia è un venticello
      Un’auretta assai gentile
      Che insensibile, sottile,
      Leggermente, dolcemente,
      Incomincia, incomincia a sussurrar. etc etc
      Not so gentile in your case – and certainly not sottile

    • Michael Smith says:

      I’m sick of the lies about Dutilleux. Is he being smeared out of ignorance, or is there a more sinister motive?

      We’re waiting to hear, Herrera.

  • J. says:

    So they should forbid ANY homage to Sartre. He supported two of the three bloodiest dictatorships of the last century.

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    I have singed, as should anyone and everyone else who cares about France, French music and the uniquely wondrous and timeless contributions that Henri Dutilleux, one of France’s most distinguished 20th/21st century musicians, made to both.

    I find it hard to write a coherent response to so gratuitously insulting a refusal on the part of petty French officialdom; the decision must be reversed without delay and the continued tenure of those who made it duly scrutinised (that’s “French” for having the small-minded fonctionnaires concerned handed the French equivalent of P45s immédiatement).

    Mon Dieu!

  • Gijs says:

    This seems to be a rather smelly and camera-horny combination of hyper-politically correct hysteria and historical (if not general) stupidity; since when is the merest (and investigated and even less substantiated) whiff of possible (but not true) uncouth behaviour the reason to act like the person concerned is the worst of criminals? How much people in that town hall, Herr Girard in front have angel-white pasts? So Dutilleux was at work during WW2; has any one of those silly people at the city hall asked themselves if possibly Dutilleux chose to appear harmless to the oppressors so he might help the resistance (of which the forefathers of the ‘people’s representatives’ – of course – were such shining examples, especially after the war) unhindered? Should we pour shame on Messiaen for writing his Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps? Do they wish to stop performing any and all Russian music written between 1917 and 1991? For shame!
    Especially the average politician should refrain from calling any one person who tried to live and remain something of a decent human being in one of the worst periods in Western history a collaborator or anything else considering their own daily unprincipled tradings to gain and maintain their office. Mr. Girard, as staunch socialist, will do doubt be the one exception in his party and be the pinnacle of sound principle, and I have little doubt Mme. Taieb’s pet project at Le Bastille will have no connotations of personal gain or glory, as such are never any part of politics, especially French ones…
    I really do hope the general public is wiser than those who ‘represent’ them here (not at all that hard!) and turn this foolishness around!

  • David Boxwell says:

    Girard and Taieb learned all they felt they needed to know by looking up the composer on “Wikipedia.”

  • Nigel says:

    In fairness to M. Girard, it would appear from Le Monde that he is in favour of the plaque, but the decision has been blocked by a city committee:

    • Mathieu says:

      Indeed. It appears that there will be a plaque after all, but not just right now. Of course, the reasons given for this postponement are ludicrous, and the January attacks are now being used as a pretext for whatever nonsense. But anyway it seems that this plaque will be put up some day in the near future. There has been no legally binding decision whatsoever to block it.

      Much ado for nothing, then, except that Dutilleux’s name and reputation have been smeared, in spite of his inability to defend himself anymore. That’s a shame.

  • Michael says:

    Thank you, Nigel. From the Le Monde piece it is clear that the decision was that it was not an opportune moment, given the attacks in January, the current commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau and the wish to avoid possible demonstrations at this point in time in the rue d’Henri Dutilleux against the plaque.

    M. Girard is reported as saying that the plaque will be put up. Thus instead of “Uproar as Paris refuses to honour a French composer” we could have had “Paris delays plaque to honour a French composer” – less catchy, of course.

  • Nicolas says:

    You can read this interview with musicologist Yannick Simon to get a better understanding of the “Affaire Dutilleux” and the musical life under the occupation:

    Now let’s put this plaque shall we?