Hommage au compositeur breton Jean Cras à Pittsburg dimanche dernier
Anniversaire de Philippe Argouarch

Publié le 15/11/05 10:10 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

Né à Brest le 22 mai 1879 et mort dans cette même ville le 14 septembre 1932, Jean Cras entra à l'École Navale en 1896 et il réussit à mener de front une brillante carrière d'officier de marine, jusqu'au grade de contre-amiral, tout en développant une œuvre musicale de grande originalité qui fait de lui un des plus grands compositeurs bretons du XXe siècle.

Cette œuvre est désormais de mieux en mieux connue au niveau international, en grande partie grâce aux efforts d'un musicologue, diplômé de la prestigieuse Juilliard School of Music, à l'Université de Boston, et également de la Sorbonne, Paul-André Bempéchat, qui lui a consacré une thèse très importante et qui est également un grand pianiste. Il a donné de nombreuses tournées en Amérique du Nord et en Europe pour faire connaître les œuvres du compositeur brestois et a écrit sur sa vie et son œuvre de nombreux articles.

Il prépare aussi plusieurs livres dont une grande biographie de Jean Cras qui va paraître en anglais en 2006 en Grande-Bretagne et également aux États-Unis. Enseignant à Boston, Paul-André Bempéchat est également président de la Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relations. Depuis 2002, il a été Associé de recherches auprès du Centre d'études européennes et des Départements de langues celtiques et de langues romanes de l'Université de Harvard.

Un événement important a eu lieu le dimanche 13 novembre dernier à Pittsburg, alors que l'on venait de commémorer aux États-Unis comme en Europe la fin de la Première guerre mondiale. Le maestro Sidney Harth, violoniste et chef de renommée internationale, ainsi que le doyen de la faculté de musique de Duquesne University à Pittsburgh (l'une des grandes facultés catholiques des USA), ont invité Paul-André Bempéchat à parler au public après l'entracte du programme de concert (au Carnegie Music Hall) qui offrait la création américaine de "Légende" pour violoncelle et orchestre de Jean Cras (on trouvera ci-joint le texte de ce discours).

De plus, la filiale de la National Public Radio à Pittsburgh, WQED-FM, a réalisé une longue interview de Paul-André Bempéchat pendant l'entracte, durant laquelle il a été interrogé sur Cras par un présentateur extraordinairement impressionné par ses recherches. Cette émission a été diffusée mondialement par le site Internet de WQED-FM (www.wqed.org).

ABP/BLN

Discours de Paul-André Bempéchat à Pittsburg :

Good evening everyone,

I would like to begin by thanking Dean Kocher and maestro Harth for the honour of introducing Jean Cras' rhapsody for cello and orchestra. As we are marking the U.S. Première of his work on Veterans' day weekend, this evening's performance represents both a major milestone and a major coincidence. For Jean Cras is one of the French Navy's most venerated admirals? A twice-decorated hero of the war we are commemorating this weekend, world war I, the war to end all wars, as it has been called. He was decorated by both the French and Italian governments for his victories in the Adriatic conflicts of 1917-18. After ten years of study, and through the thousands of letters made avaliable to me by his last surviving child, Monique, now 95, I have come to assess this man as one of the great renaissance men of the twentieth century, so much so, that my biography of Cras, due to be released towards June 2006, is called Jean Cras, a polymath of music and letters.

To admiral Cras we owe not only profound gratitude and deference for the sacrifices he made in the struggle against and triumph over tyranny and evil, but for the original, eclectic, humanistic legacy of his compositions and for the numerous scientific inventions which, until this very day, continue to bear his name. Indeed, evry French naval cadet learns to use his navigational ruler compass, la règle-rapporteur Cras and most are surprised to learn that during the 1920's and 30's, he was a composer as celebrated as his dear friend and compatriot Maurice Ravel.

Jean Cras' state funeral in 1932 was held on a day of national mourning. It was attended by the highest ranking dignitaries of all branches of the French military, the government, the city of Brest and surrounding municipalities, and untold thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Lengthy necrologies and heart breaking eulogies filled newspapers and magazines across Europe. Dozens of the most prominent musicians attended at his funeral, and immediately thereafter performed numerous pro bono concerts to raise money for his marble memorial that overlooks the harbour of Brest. It is visited regularly and reverentially by sailors of all stripes and ranks.

Logically, one would question why, having bequeathed such a stupendous legacy, Jean Cras was forgotten until recently. Cras is but one of the sixty-odd French composers of his generation eclipsed by the tidal wave of the Twelve-Tone School. Happily, this obsession has waned, and through the relentless efforts of young entrepreneurial recording companies, adventurous performers and innovative music schools such as Duquesne's, this lost generation is now being revived.

Legend forms a vital link within the autobiographical chain of Jean Cras' works. An individualist par excellence, he refused to be attached to any one school of thought and, with his livehood assured by his military career, composed ti the beat of his own drum. His works reflect a career that took him to North America, the Carribbean, across the seas of northern Europe and the Mediterranean, where a memorable visit to the Holy Land as a youth marked him forever. During his extended stays in France's former North African colonies and along the Andalusian coastline, he gleaned influences of Arabic and Mozarabic monody and modality ; through his trips ti French equatorial Africa, he was able to assimilate the ethnic musics of Guinea and Senegal well enough ti emulate their instruments through western ones.

But residing deeply in Cras' heart remained the duality of his Breton and French cultures. Into many of his works, notably Légende, he infused almost exact melodies drawn from the Breton folklore of his childhood. Here, we find a perfectly proportioned fusion of the syntaxes that constitute the fullness of his originality.

Late in 1928, Cras became aware of his promotion to rear admiral and imminent transfert to Brest, the city of his birth, as commander of both the naval and commercial ports. He returned, appropriately, to a hero's welcome. During the months preceding this move, he reflected on his exceedingly difficult life of sacrifice

and inevitably, to the days of his childhood. Consequently, Légende emerged as the first of the four compositions of Cras' final creative period, intimately and intricately tied to his native Brittany.

But beyond any explication of his style, and transcending the importance of an intellectual understanding of this highly intellectual composer, one must first and foremost reckon with the principal challenge he presents to us all : to understand the infinitesimal emotional variations of the human heart. « My music » he wrote to his beloved wife Isaure, « bespeaks the music of the heart in an age where it is both ignored and feared ».

This evening, therefore, we celebrate Jean Cras not only as a great composer, scientist and humanist, but as a symbol of the war he survived, the war which we memorialize each year at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.

Thank you again, Dean Kocher, maestro Harth, maestro Istomin and all the members of the wonderful Duquesne university symphony orchestra, for the honour you have bestowed on me tonight.

Paul-André Bempéchat

Philippe Argouarch

Philippe Argouarch

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Philippe Argouarch est un reporter multi-média ABP pour la Cornouaille. Il a lancé ABP en octobre 2003. Auparavant, il a été le webmaster de l'International Herald Tribune à Paris et avant ça, un des trois webmasters de la Wells Fargo Bank à San Francisco. Il a aussi travaillé dans des start-up et dans un laboratoire de recherche de l'université de Stanford.
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