A Rare Live Interview with French Composer Florent Schmitt at the Jeunesses Musicales de France (1957)

Cliquez ici pour écouter l’interview de Schmitt/Gavoty sur YouTube.

Florent Schmitt French Composer 1953

French composer Florent Schmitt, age 83, photographed in 1953, several years before his interview with Bernard Gavoty at Jeunesses Musicales de France. (Photo: ©Boris Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet)

For devotees of the Florent Schmitt Website + Blog, we are pleased to provide a link to a rare taped interview of the composer, done on February 20, 1957 when Schmitt was 86 years old.

The interview was conducted at the Jeunesses Musicales de France by Bernard Gavoty, the famed French organist, author and music critic who interviewed many musical personalities during the 1950s and 1960s.

Listening to the discussion, which was conducted in French, one can easily tell that Florent Schmitt, always known for his sense of wit and irony, had lost none of those qualities even after more than eight decades.

It is fascinating to hear the composer speak about La Tragédie de Salomé, his most famous work, as well as the notorious 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du printemps, about which Schmitt wrote so convincingly (and scathingly) in the newspapers at the time.

Here is a link to the spirited interview, conducted in the presence of a lively audience that clearly found the discussion highly interesting and — judging from the amount of laughter and applause — thoroughly engaging.

As Fabien Gabel, music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec puts it, “Schmitt has no barriers.  He had a good sense of humor!”

Bernard Gavoty

Bernard Georges-Marie Gavoty (1908-1981)

We are indebted to Nicolas Southon, French musicologist and a specialist in the music of Francis Poulenc and Gabriel Fauré, for unearthing this rare taped document that gives us the opportunity to hear Florent Schmitt in all of his witty glory.

It’s even more special that the Gavoty interview was captured just two years before the end of Schmitt’s long and eventful life — a career that spanned the most glorious era in all of French music — as it gives us the chance to hear Schmitt’s perspectives based on the benefit of hindsight that comes from “a life well-lived.”

Florent Schmitt Bernard Gavoty Jeunesses musicales

An article written by Clarendon (nom de plume of Bernard Gavoty), published in Le Figaro following Florent Schmitt’s appearance in front the Jeunesses musicales concert-goers (1956).

Jeunesses musicales de France posterIncidentally, the Florent Schmitt interview was one of a series of “Meet the Composer” events that were mounted by the Jeunesses Musicales de France during the 1950s. The format for each program consisted of performing a work in its entirety without interruption or comment. Next, the composer would be introduced and interviewed about the work just heard. Thereafter, the piece would be played a second time.

Reirha Khalfound-Mesloub

Reirha Khalfoun-Mesloub, a faithful reader of the Florent Schmitt Website + Blog, has the distinction of having attended several of the Jeunesses musicales’ “Meet the Composer” events — occasions that remain fresh memories six decades on, so she reports.

In addition to Florent Schmitt, the artists who participated in the “Meet the Composer” programs included Henry Barraud, Luigi Dallapiccola, Arthur Honegger, Andre Jolivet, Frank Martin, Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, Goffredo Petrassi and Francis Poulenc. What an opportunity for the musical youth of France to gain first-hand exposure to some of the most celebrated composers of the era!

Florent Schmitt Richard Strauss Bernard Gavoty Philips

Paul Paray’s award-winning 1958 recording of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé was selected by Bernard Gavoty for inclusion in Philips Classics’ Plaisir de classique series of distinguished recordings.

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